Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Strawberry ice cream

Ever since recently acquiring a copy of Nigella's 'Forever Summer' on DVD and watching her make strawberry ice cream, I have been wanting to make some myself, which is funny, as I don't even like strawberry ice cream.  Perhaps I should clarify, I don't like commercial strawberry ice cream, or strawberry flavoured milk, or any of those artificially flavoured products.  To me they are overly sweet, and taste nothing like real strawberries.  So it was the possibility of making an ice cream that actually tasted like fresh strawberries that appealed to me.  I decided however not to go with Nigella's recipe, simply because it used 10 egg yolks (to 1L of milk and cream), and instead found a recipe that uses 5 yolks (to 750ml of milk and cream).  This recipe is from 'Iced' (edited by Katri Hilden and Emma Hutchinson).

The recipe calls for the pureed strawberries to be sieved to remove the seeds (as did quite a few of the recipes I found before settling on this one).  I don't really understand why.  To me, strawberry seeds are pretty inoffensive, and so what is the point of removing them?  To make your homemade strawberry ice cream look more like a commercially prepared one?  To remove the evidence that it had in fact been made from actual fruit?  Nonetheless, I attempted to comply, even though I was pretty certain my finest strainer would not be fine enough to remove strawberry seeds.  I was right - strawberry seeds were going through, and all it was really doing was holding back some of the pulp which would be needed for flavour, so I gave up and just put all the strawberry puree in, unsieved.

The flavour of this was really nice, and hooray - did actually taste of real strawberries!  My husband said it was like eating fresh strawberries and cream, but in frozen form.  The only thing I would say though, is it is not the creamiest ice cream I have ever eaten.  Having been churned in the ice cream machine, it wasn't icy either, just not as creamy as I would have liked.  I think this is partly my own fault.  The custard uses half cream, half milk, and all I had to hand, indeed all I ever have to hand, is low fat and skim milk.  So I used low fat, and normally this doesn't seem to detract from the finished product too much.  In this case though, I think it did, and I think it is because of the combination of the lower fat milk, plus the volume of strawberries once frozen is obviously going to add more iciness than creaminess to the finished product, so therefore perhaps needs a creamier base custard to counterbalance.  All the recipes I've found similarly use half milk, half cream, so perhaps merely using full fat milk would have made a difference.  I will have to try it next time and see, or else increase the proportion of cream to milk.  Nigella's recipe with the 10 egg yolks would make for a thicker custard, which would help the creaminess, but then it also contains twice as much strawberries.  I think it does also help if one is patient and does let the ice cream soften a little before hoeing in!  In any case, this cooking experience has redeemed strawberry ice cream for me, which I previously avoided (except in those curiously compelling strawberry sundaes sold at the Ekka - Brisbane's yearly show). 

Strawberry ice cream

Makes 1L

375ml milk
375ml cream
115g caster sugar
5 egg yolks
250g very ripe strawberries, pureed and sieved

Heat the milk, cream and sugar together in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the milk is nearly at boiling point (but do not allow to come to the boil).  Remove from heat.

Whisk the egg yolks together and then add 1/4 of a cup of the milk mixture and whisk to combine.  Whisk in the remaining milk mixture, then tip back into the saucepan.  Stir constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture has thickened sufficiently to coat the back of a spoon.  One way to test if the custard is ready, is to dip the spoon into the custard, pull it out of the mixture, and using your finger, draw a line through the mixture on the back of the spoon.  If the mixture is thick enough that the two halves remain separate, then the custard is ready.  If the mixture runs off the spoon, or the two halves run together, return the pan to the heat and keep stirring and retest in another couple of minutes.  Do not allow the mixture to boil.  Once ready, tip the custard into a container, cover the surface with cling film (this prevents the surface of the custard from forming a skin), allow to cool slightly, and then place in the fridge to chill completely.

Stir the pureed strawberries into the chilled custard and churn in an ice cream machine.  Otherwise, transfer the mixture to shallow metal trays and freeze, whisking every few hours to break up the forming ice crystals until the mix is frozen and smooth.  Freeze for 5 hours or overnight.  Allow to soften in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving.

custard and strawberry puree
combined custard and puree before churning
the ice cream immediately after churning

Monday, September 20, 2010

Coffee toffee meringues

This recipe is from Nigella's new book 'Kitchen' that just came out this month.  I made the meringues to use up the egg whites I had left over from making custard base for strawberry ice cream.  I didn't have the hazelnuts (which are optional) and left out the Frangelico (which I do have but wanted to keep it non-alcoholic for myself and my 2.5 yr old son) - though I think both additions would be yummy).  I don't think you need anywhere near 600ml of cream!  I got 8 meringues out of the recipe, and I only had about 150ml of cream, which was enough to top 4 meringues, so 300ml would probably be enough, depending on how much cream you put on each one.  My oven is fan-forced - I didn't reduce the temperature to compensate, and the meringues were done after 35 minutes.  Nigella says just to put the 'merest dribble' of sauce on, which I would agree with, so even though it doesn't make much, you'll probably end up with leftovers.

Coffee toffee meringues

Makes 8-10

For the meringues:
200g caster sugar
50g light brown sugar
2 tsp of instant espresso powder (mine was a bit granular, so I crushed it to a powder first)
pinch cream of tartar
4 egg whites
100g toasted chopped hazelnuts, for topping (optional)

For the toffee sauce:
15g butter
75g golden syrup
25g soft light brown sugar
60ml double cream
2 tsp Frangelico hazelnut liqueur (optional)

For the filling:
600ml double cream

To make the meringues:
Preheat oven to 140C / gas mark 1 and combine caster sugar, brown sugar, coffee powder and cream of tartar in a bowl, and set aside. 
Whisk the egg whites in a dry grease-free bowl until soft peaks start to form.  Begin to sprinkle  in the sugar mix 1 tbs at a time while still whisking, until you have a glossy thick meringue.  This process is much easier with an electric beater, or better still, a freestanding mixer.  You need to allow adequate time between each addition for the sugar to dissolve.  Undissolved sugar in meringue is what causes 'bleeding' - where you end up with syrup running out of the meringue.  You can test whether the sugar is dissolved by rubbing a little of the meringue between your fingers - there should be no graininess.
Line a baking sheet.  Spoon out dollops of meringue (about 2 big dessert spoonfuls) to give roughly 8-10 6cm circles.  Spike or fluff the tops to give texture.  I used 2 spoons to transfer blobs of mixture to the tray (one to scoop up some meringue, one to ease it off the spoon onto the tray), then used my clean finger tip to shape them.  Sprinkle the top of each meringue with 1/2 tsp of chopped hazelnuts, saving the rest for serving.
Put in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, by which time the meringues should be dry on the outside, but still gooey in the middle, and a little fragile to touch.  Take them out of the oven, but do not remove them from the baking sheet.

To make the toffee sauce:
Melt the butter, golden syrup and light brown sugar in a pan over low heat, swirling gently (but not stirring) occasionally, then bring to a boil and let it bubble for 2 minutes.  Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the 60ml of cream and liqueur.  Pour into a small heatproof jug and leave to cool.

To serve:
Whip the cream until firm but not stiff.
Crush a dent into the top of each meringue (the shells will splinter a bit), then split it a little and fill from above with a dollop of cream.  Drizzle on some of the sauce and sprinkle with some of the reserved chopped hazelnuts.

Meringues can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container.  Sauce can be made a day ahead and kept in the fridge covered with Glad Wrap.  Remove from the fridge 1-2 hours before needed to allow it to come to room temperature.

meringues prior to baking
after baking

butter, golden syrup and brown sugar mixture bubbling
toffee sauce after the addition of the cream

Monday, August 9, 2010

Yet more cupcakes...

Mum asked me to make some cupcakes for her (male) cousin's birthday.  Cupcakes would not have been my first thought when considering what to bake for a man's birthday, but I went with it and was pretty pleased with the results.  The request was for half chocolate, half vanilla.  The vanilla cuppies were made using the usual Nigella recipe.  I have made chocolate cuppies before by substituting cocoa for some of the flour, but decided instead to make chocolate cherry cupcakes from Nigella's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess'.  I haven't made these in quite some time, but they are seriously good.  I found the recipe yielded 18 rather than 12 cupcakes - no matter, more left over for us!  I used Lindt 70% cocoa dark chocolate, which made them very rich.  I couldn't get the stipulated morello cherry jam, so instead used dark cherry jam.

To decorate, I used Cake Mate frosting (the one that comes in a pressurised can) in chocolate fudge, cloud white and blue.  To decorate the chocolate cherry cupcakes, rather than use the star nozzle that comes with the icing, I decided instead to dispense the icing out of the can and use a piping bag and Wilton 1M tip, which I think makes really nice swirls for topping cupcakes.  Unfortunately, it also uses a lot more icing than a smaller star tip, and I found I was only able to ice 9 cupcakes with one can of icing, which made it a pretty expensive way to decorate.  I had intended to ice all the vanilla ones in blue, but was unable to get more blue icing.  I had enough in the cupboard to ice 6 of the 9 vanilla cupcakes I needed using the small star nozzle that comes with the can, and iced the remaining 3 in cloud white icing (I needed 9 vanilla and 9 chocolate cherry cupcakes to fill my cupcake stand which Mum borrowed for the occasion).  I would have preferred to ice the vanilla ones with the 1M tip too, but was unable to get more icing, so had to economise by utilising the smaller tip.  I do think the chocolate ones that were iced with the 1M tip look better though.   

The iced choc cherry cuppies looked so nice with their choc fudge swirls of icing, that I just left 3 of them as they were.  Another 3 I sprinkled with some tiny silver cachous.  The remaining 3 I sprinkled over Wilton blue sprinkles (blue coloured sugar crystals).  To decorate the blue ones, 3 were sprinkled with the silver cachous, 3 had chocolate sprinkles scattered over.  The 3 white cupcakes were decorated with the Wilton blue sprinkles.  On the whole, I thought it looked a tad classier than my mother's planned decoration of Smarties!

My elder son is having a fundraising day next week, where the year 10 students will be selling donated cupcakes to raise money for the RSPCA, so I foresee more cupcake making in my near future!

the completed cupcakes ready in the Cupcake Courier's trays

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cupcakes for my grandmother's 90th birthday!

My lovely grandmother, Sal, celebrated her 90th birthday on Friday 25th June.  My mum asked if I would make some cupcakes to celebrate the occasion, and I gladly complied.  I used the usual recipe (Nigella's from How to be a Domestic Goddess), and again cheated by using the Cake Mate icing that comes in a pressurised can in white and pink.  For some reason the icing didn't come out looking quite as nice as it did when I did the cuppies for DS2's 2nd birthday. 

Mum was going to make roses to decorate the tops, so all I did was load the iced cupcakes into my Cupcake Courier (the first opportunity I have had to use it!), along with some sprinkles in case we needed them.  At first Mum intended to do piped roses with royal icing because her plastic icing and gone a little dry, but she ended up only making one plastic icing rose plus some leaves, and bought some roses.  I have icing tips - I really should have a go at making some piped roses one of these days.  We didn't have enough flowers for the 18 cupcakes that my stand holds, so some cupcakes had just sprinkles on them (I used some pearlescent sprinkles in pink, white and yellow).  The overall effect looked pretty, and they tasted good too!  Thank you, Nigella! 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Baci di ricotta

This recipe comes from Nigella's book 'Feast'.  There is also a savoury version of the recipe in the book which I haven't tried, but I've made these sweet ones a few times now.  They have the flavour of donuts with the cinnamon, but I like to pretend they're healthier than donuts - the protein in the ricotta makes them healthy, right?!  I think they're also easier to make than donuts - no yeast, no proving.  I've only ever made these for my husband and kids, and it does take some time to get them done when you are only doing 5-6 at a time and you do need to pay attention with hot fat, so I am not sure if I would be game to try doing them for guests, but then again if you have someone over that is happy to chat while you attend to frying the baci, it would probably be fine.  If serving to guests, you might want to do a bigger batch, as these are pretty popular!   

Makes 30 (I only managed 22 this time - some were a little big)
  • 200g ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 75g plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 15ml caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • vegetable or corn oil for frying (I used sunflower oil)
  • icing sugar to serve
  1. Beat the ricotta and eggs together until smooth.  Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, caster sugar and vanilla.  Beat until the batter is smooth.
  2. Fill a wide shallow pan with about 2cm of oil and heat until 160C (or until it sizzles when some batter is dropped in).  I normally do use a fry pan to make these, but this time I used my deep dryer.
  3. Drop rounded teaspoons of the batter into the pan, about 5-6 at a time.  Cook them until golden brown (about 2 mins), then flip them over using a slotted spoon and cook the other side for around a minute until brown.  I used 2 teaspoons to try and shape the balls a bit before dropping them into the oil, but as you can see, mine are never particularly round.  Once they have puffed up and are dusted with icing sugar, I don't think it really matters much.  They taste good anyway!                                          
  4. Use the slotted spoon to remove the baci from the oil, allowing the oil to drip back into the pan, and place them on some paper towel to drain.  Pile them onto a plate or bowl, and dust with icing sugar to serve.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Creme brulee

One of my friends adores creme brulee.  I have made it for her before, both a normal vanilla version and a Bailey's version.  Since watching George Colombaris demonstrate it recently in a Masterclass on Australian Masterchef, I have been tempted to make it again.  My friend and her new partner are coming over for dinner the day after tomorrow.  Perfect opportunity for some blowtorch wielding action, right?  I thought so.  The creme brulees would be served to both children and my pregnant self, so the Bailey's option was out, and I have misplaced my usual recipe for the vanilla one.  So I thought I'd give George's recipe a crack.  Then I read the comments - most people had had the recipe fail as their custards would not set (a little ironic given George was giving the recipe after the French challenge where the contestants making creme brulee had met with the disaster of unset custards).  I read through all the alterations people had tried to get their custards to successfully set - using an extra yolk, dividing the mix up into 6 ramekins instead of 4, and venting the foil covering.  Would I succeed where others had failed by using these alterations, or would I too fail?  I decided the safest option would be a trial run in advance.

I decided to research further, turning to two ever trustworthy Australian cooking icons  - Margaret Fulton and Stephanie Alexander.  Their instructions both started off with a stirred custard cooked on the stovetop.  This seemed to me less than authentic (but perhaps it isn't), and even to be cheating a little.  Nope, I wanted the cook-in-a-water-bath-in-the-oven recipe.  Many recipes had the exact same cream to eggs ratio George's recipe employs - 100ml of cream to 1 egg.  Some others had a substantially higher proportion of eggs to cream - 8 egg yolks to 500 or 600ml of cream - but wouldn't that be too eggy flavoured?  I decided to go ahead and use George's recipe, adding an extra yolk, 6 ramekins and venting the foil.  It is in the oven now, and so far is looking like a fail :( .  It has not set in the specified 30 mins, and we are now up to about 50 mins and it isn't even close to setting.  I am feeling pretty disappointed and lacking in confidence, when a baked custard has never scared me off before.  I will keep cooking it, and might turn the temp up and remove the foil top to see if that helps, but if it still won't set, I am going to go back and look at Margaret Fulton's recipe and Stephanie Alexander's recipe, and go with whichever of these sounds better and just do the stovetop method in the hope of having something I can serve to my visitors.

Hmmm... the custards are officially a fail.  After spending more than double the time specified in the recipe, and still being incredibly runny, I got sick of checking every 5-10 mins, so I took the foil off, turned the heat up to 140C, and left them to it.  They finally set, but I think I left them too long, and the custard has split a bit.  Thank goodness it was only a trial run!  Now debating whether to do the stovetop method, or make something else entirely for Wednesday...  Decisions, decisions...

Now, I was very tempted not to post any photos of my failed attempt, but I think I gave it a good shot, and there must be something missing in the recipe's instructions. Surely so many people wouldn't end up with unset custards unless there was something missing in the recipe?

Beaten egg yolks and caster sugar - in the segment, George says the lighter the yolk mixture, the better the custard will be, but I have my doubts about that.  I think I took this advice too far, as my custard mixture was frothy.
Scalded cream and vanilla beans seeds - love the speckle of vanilla bean seeds :).  I brought the cream to just under boiling point, because my understanding is if you boil the milk, you alter the proteins needed for the custard to set.

 The uncooked custard after the cream had been added to the yolk mixture - definitely too frothy, unless I was making a milkshake.

The uncooked custards sitting in their water bath.
 Covered with foil but vented over the custards - I also left the sides loose so that there wouldn't be too much steam accumulating under the foil to drip condensation back onto the custards.
cooked custard

Cooked custard - still soft in texture, and the mixture has split.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bread and butter pudding

Bread and butter pudding is a part of many people's childhood memories.  I don't believe I ever had the pleasure of eating this dessert as a child; I don't recall my mother ever making it.  She didn't tend to make a lot of sweet things for us to have at home though.  Occasionally we were given homemade biscuits or slice for afternoon tea, but rarely did she make dessert for the family unless there were guests coming over.  I believe the first time I tasted bread and butter pudding would have been at a restaurant, where it seemed for a while to gain some popularity on restaurant menus back in the 90s, and still does appear on some.

The recipe I use is the ginger-jam bread and butter pudding from Nigella Bites.  The recipe stipulates brown bread, which is surprisingly good, and you can convince yourself it is healthier that way, but this time I have used white bread as that was what I had to hand.  You can change the ingredients around to suit yourself.  If you don't like the idea of the ginger jam, you can use whatever flavour you like.  I have done this recipe before with apricot jam, and I substituted ground cinnamon for the ground ginger in the topping, and that was delish.  If you don't want to use rum for soaking the sultanas, you could try using juice instead to help them plump up.  I particularly like the crunch the demerara sugar gives to the top.   Keep an eye on it towards the end of the cooking time - my exposed crusts were starting to get too brown, so I did cover the top for the last 5 minutes of cooking, but probably should have covered the top earlier than that.  If they are starting to brown too much and you still have some time to go, maybe cover the top and then remove it for the final 5 minutes so the top will still be crunchy.

You can find the recipe here.