Sunday, May 31, 2020

Jane's Mum's apple torte

May 9-10, 2020

I've been building a habit of baking once a week throughout this lock-down period, most often from the Lab Farewell Cookbook. Jane reminisced that this dessert was usually cooked for a crowd in her family, originally by her mum. It is intended to tower at seven cake layers, making "~20 small but adequate servings". I've kept those quantities below but in practice, for lack of a crowd, I made two-thirds the recipe quantity into a four-layer cake. 

The cake baking is a little unusual. Jane explains that it's a little more like a biscuit dough, and instead of using a regular cake tin that dough is rolled out into big flat circles, each baked separately. I couldn't fit 9-inch circles on my trays, but I stretched as large as I could and traced circles onto baking paper in an attempt to build neat, consistent layers.

Between those biscuity layers, there's stewed apples and whipped cream. I stewed 6 apples, in the assorted varieties I had to hand, with 4 cloves, a tablespoon of brown sugar and a splash of water. I only stewed them to a point where they were soft but still held their shape. They made for pretty chunky layers in the torte and didn't spread out easily. I enjoyed their texture, but stewing the apples to collapse might make for a neater, more even torte.

The final direction is to give the torte a few hours rest between assembly and serving. It's a handy approach for a spreading out any party hosting stress, and it renders the torte easier to slice and serve. Our two-thirds torte made around 10 servings and they were more that adequate: they were a treat we looked forward to all week.

Jane's Mum's apple torte
(a recipe shared by Jane in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

340g butter, at room temperature
255g sugar
3 eggs
255g self-raising flour
255g plain flour
(note: these two flours are equivalent to using 500g plain flour + 1 tablespoon baking powder)
generous pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
600mL cream, whipped with 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups stewed apple (Jane recommends 12 small tart granny smith apples with 5 cloves, a small sprinkle of sugar, and a small amount of water)

Preheat an oven to 160°C. Get out your largest baking trays, roll out a sheet of baking paper for each one, and trace a 9 inch-diameter circle on each paper. Roll out one extra sheet of baking paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar in a medium-large bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift together the flours, salt and cinnamon, and gradually mix them into the butter mixture to form a soft, sticky dough. Divide the mixture into 7 balls. Place a ball on the blank paper sheet, then one of the circled papers on top, and roll out the ball until it fits the circle. Flip it over, peel off the plain paper, and place the biscuit and its circle paper on a baking tray. Repeat for the baking trays you have, then bake the biscuit layers for 10-12 minutes, until they're only just starting to brown at the edges. Repeat until you've baked all 7 dough balls into big biscuit circles.

When the biscuit layers have cooled and you're ready to assemble the cake, whip together the cream, vanilla and sugar until it's thick and sturdy. Spread a layer of stewed apple on each biscuit and place the first one apple-down on a serving plate; spread the top with 1/7th of the cream. Repeat each layer apple/biscuit/cream until everything is used up. Give the cake several hours at rest before serving: the flavours will mingle, the biscuit layers will soften, and the cake will be easier to cut.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Kaiserschmarren mit Zwetschgenröster

March 10, 2019 & May 2, 2020

In the Lab Farewell Cookbook, Edith introduced me to a traditional Austrian treat that's found in restaurants, and that she and her mum also make at home. Kaiserschmarren is simple and appealing, a pancake that's shredded into bite-sized pieces, showered in icing sugar, and served with plum compote. Apparently you can eat it any time of the day, as a main or a dessert, and I gave it a shot for a weekend brunch with our online quiz club.

Making the pancake was a boost to my kitchen confidence! I'm often put off by the process of separating eggs, whipping whites, and gently folding everything together. But I pulled it off for a recent cake, and I was ready to go again here. Making and flipping a huge pancake is another task that gets me nervous, but this one puffed up beautifully and held together as long as I needed it to. This probably doesn't even matter, since it's all shredded up before serving, but I was mighty pleased to watch it cook so neatly. As an added bonus, the shredding stage gives you a chance to cook through any runny bits of batter that might still be hiding right in the centre of the pancake. It's almost a failproof technique!

Edith mentioned but didn't include a plum compote recipe, so I did a little searching and found this one on Cinnamon & Coriander. It's got a mulled wine style to it, and adds depth and contrast to the cloud-like pancake pieces. The leftover plums made their way onto my yoghurt-and-granola breakfasts.

(a recipe shared by Edith in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
and credited to Kronen Zeitung Koch Buch)

150g plain flour
30g sugar
generous pinch of salt
3 eggs, separated
milk, as needed
icing sugar, to serve

In a medium-large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the egg yolks, and whisk in enough milk to form a thick dough.

In a separate medium bowl, beat the egg whites until they form peaks. Fold the egg whites into the pancake batter.

Heat substantial layer of oil (Edith says a finger thick; I did maybe 5mm) in a cast-iron frypan. Pour in the batter; allow it to cook until the pancake is bubbling on top and browning underneath. Flip the pancake to cook on the other side. Don't panic if it's a messy flip! When the pancake is cooked through, it's time to rip it into little pieces with two forks.

Transfer the pancake pieces to a plate and sift over some icing sugar just before serving.

(slightly adapted from a recipe on Cinnamon & Coriander)

60g sugar
600g (about 6 large) plums
300mL red wine
juice of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon vanilla-infused white rum

Place the sugar in a medium-large saucepan over even, medium heat until the sugar is melted and turning golden brown. While the sugar is melting, wash the plums, slice them into halves and remove their stones. When the sugar is golden brown, carefully add the red wine and cinnamon stick. (For me, the red wine hissed a lot and the sugar seized up - don't worry too much about this.) After letting the mixture cook for about a minute, add the orange juice and plums. Cook the plums, stirring regularly, until they're tender and the sauce has thickened a little. I took about 20 minutes on a low bubble for mine, because I was happy for the plums to collapse. Turn off the heat and stir in the rum. Allow the compote to cool to room temperature and store it in the fridge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Fully loaded cornbread

April 30, 2020

When I was planning dinner around a Georgian kidney bean salad, I was on the look-out for something vege-filled and cheesy, with a plan for bread on the side. As I flicked through the brunch section Ottolenghi's Simple, our neighbourhood groupchat lit up with offers of corn and coriander, and this cornbread recipe appeared as the ideal dish to cover all bases. 

We claimed our neighbours' veges and I figured out we could crank up the cornbread quantity by 50%, plenty to send a small-sized loaf back to them in thanks. (I've just included the standard recipe quantity below.) It's an ostentatious recipe, with charred corn plus green flecks of spring onion, coriander and jalapeño in a dough heavy with sour cream. Then it's loaded further with toppings: red onion, two kinds of cheese, jalapeño rings and (if you can find them - I couldn't) nigella seeds.

The one hitch during preparation was that as soon as the polenta hit the sour cream, it turned cement-like and very difficult to mix. Stirring didn't get any easier as I attempted to introduce the dry ingredients, herbs and veges. In the method below, I've reordered the process as an attempt to make things easier next time.

I was thrilled with the final product, and proud to share it. The cornbread was so tender, and tasty, and varied from mouthful to mouthful, savoury and sweet with a little kick of chilli. Cornbread typically goes stale fast, so we made sure to reheat our leftovers and were just an enamoured of them as the wedges that we cut that first time out of the oven. 

Fully loaded cornbread
(very slightly adapted from a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's Simple)

the kernels from 2 cobs corn
140g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
50g brown sugar
180g polenta
salt and pepper
360g sour cream
2 eggs
120mL olive oil
4 spring onions, roughly chopped
10g coriander leaves, chopped
2 fresh jalapeño chillis, 1 finely chopped and 1 sliced into rounds
100g feta, crumbled
100g sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

Preheat an oven to 170°C. Line a high-walled baking dish (around 28cm square) with paper, and spray it with oil.

Set a dry frypan over medium-high heat. Add the corn kernels and fry them, stirring occasionally, until charred on some sides. Set them aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda, cumin and cayenne. Stir through the sugar, polenta, plus salt and pepper.

In a second medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs and olive oil. Pour it into the dry ingredients and stir everything together until combined. Fold in the spring onions, coriander leaves, finely chopped jalapeño, and toasted corn kernels.

Turn the cornbread dough into the baking dish and spread it out as evenly as you can. Scatter over the jalapeño rounds, feta, cheddar and onion. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature, and be sure to reheat any leftovers as cornbread goes stale fast.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Georgian kidney bean salad

April 30, 2020

Yung was one of my longer-serving colleagues in the Lab, and (along with Cassie) a key organiser of the annual culinary competition. We've been talking about and sharing food for over a decade, and I was confident that the unassuming kidney bean salad she submitted to the Lab Farewell Cookbook would be something special.

I'll come clean straight up and admit that I used canned and not dried kidney beans for the job. As I read through the recipe I was tempted to use ready-ground spices, too, but that would have been a mistake. The freshly toasted coriander, fennel and fenugreek brought a lot of life to this dish! There's also plenty more flavour to be had from three fresh herbs and a dousing of wine vinegar. This dish could easily be shared between two people for one meal, and I'll likely double all quantities to ensure generous leftovers in future.

We asked Yung what she likes to serve alongside her Georgian kidney bean salad, and her recommendations had my mouth watering: 
...we often have it as part of  a meal w other salad-y dishes like grilled eggplant rolls stuffed w labneh & roast capsicum or grilled zucchini topped with feta & and a drizzle of balsamic & olive oil or roast fennel topped w grated cheese. But always some good bread to accompany it.
A pattern of grilled/roasted vegetables with cheese, and bread on the side. We didn't end up researching more recipes from Georgia; instead I reinterpreted these features and made a cornbread stuffed with vegetables and herbs, and topped with cheese (recipe up next!).

Georgian kidney bean salad
(a recipe shared by Yung in the Lab Farewell Cookbook;
she adapted it from Olia Hercules' Mamushka)

200g dried red kidney beans (or 400g can kidney beans, drained and rinsed)
1 small-medium onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
salt & pepper
1-2 tablespoons dill
1-2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped
1-2 tablespoons coriander leaves and stem, chopped
2 tablespoons sunflower oil

If you're using dried kidney beans, cover them in at least 8cm of water and soak them overnight. Drain the beans, put them in a saucepan and cover them in fresh cold water. Bring the beans to a boil, then simmer them for 35-50 minutes, until they achieve your preferred texture. Drain the beans.

Place the coriander, fennel and fenugreek seeds in a dry frypan and toast them over medium heat until fragrant. Transfer them to a mortar, add 1/4 teaspoon rock salt, and crush the spices to a powder with a pestle.

Heat the sunflower oil in a frypan over medium heat. Add the onions and fry them until they're soft and caramelised, at least 15 minutes. Add the cooked beans, pepper to taste, and the ground spices, stirring everything thoroughly.

Transfer the beans and onions to a serving bowl, and add the sugar, salt and wine vinegar to taste. When you're happy with the flavour balance in the dressing, stir through the fresh dill, parsley and coriander. Serve warm or cold.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Flourless chocolate cake

April 25, 2020

Yes, it's more cake from the Lab Farewell Cookbook! And it's another classic style of recipe that's worth having in one's repertoire: a gluten-free chocolate cake shared by Bron. 

The preparation and final product both reminded me of brownies as much as cake. The batter builds up from melted butter and chocolate in a saucepan, fills out with almond meal instead of flour, and develops a distinctive elasticity when the eggs get mixed in. The egg yolks, anyway... the spot where this differs from a brownie is when you skip the baking powder, separate the eggs, and fold in puffy whipped whites at the end. It's a neat way to deal with what's otherwise a very dense batter.

I most appreciated Bron's advice on baking time: 
undercooked = creamy mousse, overcooked = cakey. Can't go wrong!
Since I like my baked goods closer to fudgy than cakey, I picked the minimum cooking time of 55 minutes. By my assessment, this generated a texture right on the boundary between fudgy and cakey. I'll be tempted to try a 45-50 minute bake next time round to see just how fudgy this can get!

Bron's other excellent parting advice was to serve this cake with thick cream or yoghurt, and some strawberries. I did, and they set it off perfectly.

Flourless chocolate cake
(a recipe shared by Bron in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
where it's credited to Sue Shepherd's Irresistibles for the Irritable)

1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup water
150g butter
150g dark chocolate
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/4 cups almond meal
4 eggs, separated

Preheat an oven to 150°C. Line a 22cm springform cake pan with baking paper, and grease it.

Set a medium saucepan over low heat, and add the cocoa, water, butter and chocolate. Continue cooking and occasionally stirring until everything is melted and smooth. Turn off the heat and whisk in the sugar, almond meal, and egg yolks. (I didn't get going with the egg separations until after I turned off the heat, which gave everything a little time to cool down.) Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large bowl. 

Place the egg whites in a small-medium bowl and beat them with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Gently fold half the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then follow up with the second half. Pour the cake batter into the cake pan.

Bake the cake for 55-65 minutes, and allow it to cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes. Serve with plain yoghurt or thick cream, and strawberries.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Dolla's (husband's) cheesecake

April 18-19, 2020

This Lab Farewell Cookbook recipe is one I was guaranteed to love: it's a classic, unbaked cheesecake. It comes from Dolla, who famously doesn't like to cook, but has shared food from other family members at the annual Lab Culinary Competition. I have fond memories of her mum's felafel and dolmades, and this cheesecake is her husband's specialty.

I'm posting the full recipe quantity below, but I actually halved it this time around. My half-quant still generated about six servings to take us through the week, and I was able to assemble them in some cute little tins I received for my birthday last year. The biscuit crumb base should be ground finer than you can see pictured above; sadly our food processor conked out while I was preparing this recipe, and I finished the job clumsily with a pestle and mixing bowl. (I reckon my usual baking paper-and-rolling pin approach would beat it.)

The filling is so simple and so effective; just cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, and lemon juice. It's creamy and tangy, and it sets firmly without being gelatinous. I couldn't get hold of fresh blueberries that I was happy with, so I had some fun trying my hand at the candied lemon topping.

Dolla's (husband's) cheesecake
(a recipe shared by Dolla in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

200g milk coffee biscuits
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
160g butter

2 x 250g blocks Philadelphia cream cheese, at room temperature
2 x 395g cans sweetened condensed milk
juice from 4 lemons

topping option 1
400g blueberries

topping option 2
finely sliced rind of 2 lemons
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup caster sugar

Line a 22cm springform cake pan with paper and spray it with oil.

Grind the biscuits and cinnamon in a food processor until they form fine crumbs (mine, photographed above, were too coarse). Melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour it into the food processor, blitzing further to thoroughly combine. Press the crumbs into the cake pan, forming a wall up the sides of the pan as well as covering the base completely. Refrigerate the base.

Use a food processor or electric beater to thoroughly combine the cream cheese, condensed milk and lemon juice, until they are completely combined and smooth. Pour the filling over the base and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, ideally overnight.

For topping option 1, place the blueberries on the top of the cheesecake when it's ready to serve.

For topping option 2, remove as much pith and pulp as you can from the lemon rind. Place the rind, water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring them to the boil, allowing the syrup to thicken. Arrange the rind and syrup over the cheesecake when it's ready to serve.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Pearl couscous salad

April 18, 2020

With this Lab Farewell Cookbook salad recipe, Cassie nailed our cooking style! It's made substantial with couscous, green and leafy with mint, studded with nuts, and shimmering with Ottolenghi's favourite ingredient, the pomegranate seed.

Still, it's not a repeat on any of our usual recipes. It's years since we bought pearl-sized couscous, and I enjoyed its bubble tea-type chewiness. I didn't realise that we're outside pomegranate season, so the fruit was a bit paler than it should be. Cassie has since advised me that you can buy pomegranate seeds frozen, so I'll be more attentive and keep that option to hand in future.

This is the kind of dish that's great as a dinner-time side, leftover on its own for lunch, or as a potluck contribution. I can imagine its flashes of green and red looking very festive as part of a Christmas spread. This time round, the two of us paced it out over a few days in tandem with a roasted cauliflower, grape and cheddar salad.

Pearl couscous salad
(a recipe shared by Cassie in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup pearl couscous
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
pinch of ground allspice
juice of 1 lemon
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup pistachios, toasted
small bunch mint, leave picked and stems discarded
seeds of 1 pomegranate

In a medium-large saucepan, bring the stock to the boil and add the couscous. Cook until couscous is soft (timing can vary a lot depending on its size; check the packet for guidance). Drain, if the water is not all absorbed. Stir half of the oil into the couscous, and set it aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

Place the remaining oil, pomegranate molasses, allspice, lemon juice and spring onions in a jar. Screw on the lid and shake the jar vigorously, until the dressing is emulsified.

In a large bowl, stir together the couscous, dressing and remaining ingredients. You may like to set a few pistachios and pomegranate seeds aside to sprinkle over the top.