Monday, August 31, 2009

Pistachio gelato

Sometimes I think I should rename this blog 'Gadget Queen'! One of my favourite (although only occasionally used) appliances is my Sunbeam Gelateria ice cream maker. It has its own compressor, so no pre-freezing of the bowl needed. Not that pre-freezing of the bowl would be a big problem in most cases - making ice cream is not usually a spur of the moment thing. Most ice creams have a cooked custard base, and the custard needs to chill before churning, so it is often easiest to make the custard the day before you intend to churn it, which allows you to pre-freeze the bowl overnight. The ice cream then usually benefits from a couple of hours in the freezer to properly firm up. But the reason I love my machine with its own compressor is that a) I don't have much freezer space for a freezer bowl anyway, and b) it allows me to make back-to-back batches of icecream if I want, as only 5 mins pre-chilling is needed.

The great thing about making your own ice cream is there is no limit to what flavours you can create, and you can make it with top-quality ingredients. Another potential bonus is when you see how much effort and time goes into making it, you might not eat as much at a time. My DH still dreamily remembers when I made a coffee ice cream with cinnamon sugar-crusted macadamias stirred through. The macadamias were left over from Christmas and it seemed like a good opportunity to use them up. It was a heavenly combination, and not something you would be able to buy. My favourite ice cream is Nigella's cheesecake ice cream with crushed digestive biscuits stirred through (recipe from Forever Summer) - mmmmm...!

If you buy an ice cream maker, you can get fantastically smooth results, and I would definitely recommend it if you plan to make ice cream regularly. The flavour and texture of homemade ice cream is so much better than the bought stuff. If you don't have a machine, you can freeze the mixture in a tray and beat it every hour until frozen to break up the ice crystals.

I had some egg yolks leftover from another recipe, so I decided to use them up in a custard base for some pistachio gelato. The recipe is from '500 Ice Creams' by Alex Barker. I'm not sure how authentic this recipe is, using as it does cream rather than milk and eggs. My brief research tells me that eggs are often not used to emulsify gelati, and that it is usually milk, not cream, that is used. Not that gelati never include cream or eggs, but often don't. So the custard base in this recipe is more like normal ice cream, but using nuts as flavouring is more typical of gelati. Either way, it was pretty moreish! If you want a potentially more authentic recipe, check this one out. I think the pistachio paste might be hard to get hold of, but then you could possibly just make your own as this recipe does.

The recipe (makes about 750ml)
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 600ml cream
  • 225g pistachios
  • few drops vanilla extract
  • few drops almond extract
Firstly, make the custard base. Heat the cream until bubbles appear, then remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Do not allow to boil.
Beat the yolks and sugar together in a heat proof bowl until thick and creamy. Gently beat the cream into the yolk mixture. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir with a wooden spoon until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.
At this point, you could allow it to cool and then churn in an ice cream machine for gelato di crema.
For pistachio gelato, soak the pistachios in boiling water for 5 minutes, and then rub in a clean tea towel to remove the skins (sounds easy, but I found this a bit time consuming). Blend with vanilla and almond extract and a little hot water to form a smooth paste. Stir through custard base. (My paste was quite thick, so I loosened it with some custard, and stirred the custard gradually into the paste, not the other way around so that it would be smoothly combined).
Once cold, churn in an ice cream machine (this took 15 minutes in my machine, and I then left it with the chiller running for another 10 minutes before transferring to a container and placing it in the freezer to firm up). Transfer to the freezer to firm up. Allow to soften for 15 minutes before serving. Use within a month.

The pistachios after they had been soaked waiting for their skins to be rubbed off. I found this to be time-consuming and was wishing there was somewhere local that sold the pistachios already blanched.

Before and after blending

Left: the pistachio paste; right: loosened with some custard

Mixing the custard into the pistachio paste

The egg yolks and sugar - I used my 'Sticky Bowl' (an Australian invention) to hold the Pyrex bowl in place.

Beating the yolks and caster sugar using the Dualit handheld mixer

Custard-making can be a bit nerve-wracking. Proper custard is just yolks, milk / cream, sugar and vanilla. The thickening comes from the protein in the yolks setting, unlike some custards which have cornflour added and can be allowed to boil to thicken. If this type of custard boils, it splits or curdles, becoming grainy. Stirring the custard over simmering water rather than over direct heat helped to avert the danger of letting the custard boil. It takes a bit longer, but I might do it this way more often in the future.

This is the point you are looking for with cooked custards - for it to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and if you trace a line through it with your finger, the 2 areas should remain separate. I did cook it for a bit longer beyond this point to thicken it slightly further before taking it off the heat.

Putting cling film directly in contact with the surface of the custard prevents a skin from forming.

Nicely thickened after chilling time

My ice cream machine :)

After 5 mins of chilling time, the paddle motor is switched on and the custard is poured in.

Churning the gelato

Once the mixture is finished churning, I leave the chiller on for another 10 minutes before taking the gelato out so that it is a bit firmer before it goes into the freezer to finish firming up.

The gelato after a couple of hours in the freezer - still softish around the edges, but firm enough to serve :p

This pistachio gelato is ultra rich, so once scoop is enough for me. It got the thumbs up from the family, including the 18mo!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chocolate, marmalade and hazelnut cake

For fans of jaffa cakes or those needing a gluten-free cake... This is another recipe from 'Bake' (Rachel Allen). I myself don't need to avoid gluten, but I love cakes that have ground nuts instead of flour. The texture and flavour is always amazing. Because this cake has no flour, and no raising agent apart from beaten egg whites, it rises while baking, then sinks on cooling. This is quite normal for a flourless cake, so don't be concerned by its deflated appearance.

The recipe

Preheat oven to 190ºC. Grease and line a 22cm loose-bottomed pan (I used a springform tin and lined the sides as well).
Melt together 175g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa) and 175g of butter - I do this in the microwave.
Grind 150g of hazelnuts, with skins on, in a food processor. Separate 5 eggs. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with 175g of caster sugar until mousse-like in texture. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Add 200g finely-cut marmalade, grated zest of one orange and the ground nuts to the chocolate mixture and stir to combine. Add the beaten egg whites, one third at a time, folding gently through.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 170ºC. Bake for a further 35-40 mins or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the centre of the cake (the skewer test wasn't helpful for me - see further down). Cool for 20 mins before removing the cake from the tin and leaving to cool completely on a rack.

When completely cool, make the topping. Melt together 75g of dark chocolate (70% cocoa), 75ml cream and grated zest of one orange. Spread over the cake with a spatula and leave to set for 30 mins - 1hr (note from my photo that I didn't let it set - too eager to tuck in!).

Serves 12

I loved the 5 egg yolks making a flower in the bottom of my KitchenAid mixer bowl :)

I used the KitchenAid for the yolks and sugar, so I decided to crack out the Dualit to beat the egg whites. This is her maiden voyage. Looooove my Dualit! She doesn't just look purty, she does a fantastic job too. And as much as I love my KitchenAid mixer, sometimes I can end up feeling a bit detached from the process. I turn the mixer on and let her do her stuff. The Dualit lets me be a bit more involved in the process.

I am always fascinated by the transformation that takes place when you beat egg whites. Going from this...

to this...

Before, during, after...

Adding the ground nuts, marmalade and zest to the melted chocolate and butter.

ready to bake

On the left, the cake after baking; on the right, the cake after cooling - you can see it sank a bit in the middle, which is normal for flourless cakes. Although the recipe states to cook until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake, I baked the cake for about 15 mins longer, at which point it felt firm in the centre, but there were still moist crumbs on the skewer. I pulled it out to cool at this point as it was firm enough and was starting to get quite dark around the outside.

You can see here how incredibly moist this cake is (and why the skewer test wasn't a helpful guide). It is very very rich - I couldn't manage a second helping, which is unusual!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Marble loaf cake

I have fond memories of marble cake from childhood - usually involving pink swirled through as well as chocolate and vanilla. I also loved the rainbow layer cake my grandmother sometimes bought when I was younger - a layer of chocolate, pink and vanilla sponge in a loaf shape, sandwiched together with mock cream. Somewhat to my surprise, I recently discovered the local bakery here still makes it.

This particular recipe is a variation on the Victoria sponge cake in David Herbert's 'The Really Useful Cookbook'. There are no garish artificially coloured pink sponge swirls; this is a more elegant option, I think, and probably more acceptable in my male-dominated household. My excuse for whipping this up was I thought DS1 might be bringing a friend home from school; love an excuse to bake! I have made marble cake before, but not for years.

Super simple and quick to make. Here's the recipe...

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Grease and line a medium loaf tin (I used a silicone pan, so just sprayed it lightly with oil).

Using an electric mixer, beat 175g of softened butter and 175g caster sugar until pale and fluffy.

Using a fork, roughly mix 3 large eggs and ½ tsp vanilla extract. Slowly add this into the butter and sugar mixture in about 5 lots, beating well in between. Add a spoonful of the 175g of SR flour if the mixture looks like it will separate. Using a metal spoon, lightly fold through the remainder of the flour. Divide the mixture between 2 bowls. Mix 1 heaped 15ml tablespoon cocoa (UK measurements) and 2 tbs (30ml) boiling water. Stir thoroughly through one portion of the batter.

Spoon the 2 batters alternately into the prepared tin. Using a flat bladed knife, cut through the mixture twice in opposite directions to swirl the colours. Tap firmly on the bench to level. Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in tin for 20 mins. Remove from tin to a cooling rack to cool completely. Sift icing sugar over the top.

the 2 mixtures spooned into the loaf pan

The recipe stated to cut through twice, but I couldn't only do it twice - I can't resist fiddling and ended up cutting through 4 times, and that was exercising willpower not to do any more! Here it has been swirled and then levelled.


It never ceases to amaze me how much nicer a sprinkle of icing sugar can make things look.

The verdict

The cake was moist with a really nice texture and flavour. Very quick to make, and the end result was quite attractive. Will definitely make this again.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Moulded chocolates

My mum was great with making fancy decorated birthday cakes for my brother and I when we were young. I have wanted to do more with cake decorating, and rather rashly agreed to make a birthday cake for a friend's son's 7th birthday. I was hoping he'd request something simple. Nope, he wants a Batman cake!

I spotted some cute Batman logo lollipop moulds on eBay and decided I'd make some logos in chocolate to use on the cake. I had originally planned to tint the chocolate a shade closer to black with icing colouring gel for the bats, but as the colours I've ordered haven't arrived, I went ahead and made some, just using dark chocolate for the bat and tinting white chocolate yellow for the background. They're not perfect, but I'll probably only use one, in which case I can choose the best one.

Sometimes it is useful to use a paintbrush to paint the chocolate into the moulds if you are trying to highlight part of the design. The bat was pretty big though, so I just spooned it in and used a skewer to help distribute the chocolate. It is a good idea to tap the mould firmly on the bench a few times to remove air bubbles. The chocolate was then placed into the fridge to set before adding the yellow-tinted white chocolate layer.

I was an 80s kid. My uncle had an Atari and I loved playing Space Invaders and Frogger. I spotted this silicone ice tray by Fred and had to have it. I ordered it online last week in the hope of making an army of chocolate space invaders to decorate my brother's birthday cake, but I didn't end up making him a cake, and the mould arrived 2 days too late. I decided to make a small sample of invaders in dark chocolate as I was melting some to make Batman logos anyway. I think they turned out rather well.

The Fred silicone mould after moulding a couple of chocolates. This mould is intended for making ice, but I think the cavities are a perfect size for making little chocolates, and the silicone makes it incredibly easy to pop the chocolates out once they are set. I used a skewer to move the chocolate into the small sections of the mould.

Cool, huh?!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

White chocolate & macadamia blondies

I spotted this blondie recipe on the Exclusively Food blog, and had to make some for my brother's birthday as he is a big white chocolate fan. The recipe is here.

Now unfortunately I wasn't able to take these to my brother's for his birthday last night. I'd left it late to start making them, and in my haste I burnt 2 of my fingers on a hotplate which I had turned on to melt the butter and chocolate. So having one hand vitually out of commission with pain, I enlisted the help of my hubby for the small amount of chopping necessary, and I took far longer than I normally would have to get the mixture ready to bake. By then, we were running late, so as soon as the blondies were cooked, we left them to cool and left them behind and rushed to my brother's place for dinner.

When we got home they were cool, so I removed them from the tin and cut them. They tasted good last night, but they taste even better this morning! They are beautifully moist, and the mild creaminess of the macadamias goes perfectly and doesn't take over the flavour of the white choc. I probably prefer the peanut butter and white chocolate blondies I made recently, but for serious white chocolate afficionados or non-pb lovers, these are it!

I didn't attempt to reduce the fat of these at all - I used normal butter and Cadbury Dream chocolate. I cut 24 pieces as the recipe suggests, and this makes for quite small pieces, but they are very rich, so this seems a good size to me. They work out at 4.5 points each (WW).

I should be seeing my brother tomorrow - hopefully there'll be some left to give him!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Silicone moulds

I recently purchased these TreeParty Design silicone moulds. They look exactly like some NordicWare deigns, but with the flexibility (no pun intended!) of silicone - so they can be used in the oven, the fridge, or the freezer. I decided to try them out using my favourite cupcake recipe - from Nigella's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess'. This recipe is incredibly quick and easy, and results in cupcakes which are moist and delicious, and keep well for about 5 days in the fridge - though usually they don't last long! I've been using this recipe for about 5 years now. I did try one of the cupcake recipes from the Crabapple Bakery book, but it was extra work with separating eggs, and the end result wasn't as good as Nigella's much simpler recipe.

The 'blossom flower' pan features miniature versions of some of the popular NordicWare bundt tins - including the cathedral, star and original bundt designs that I own. The silicone of this mould is thinner than the bugs one, but I think as the designs are quite small and delicate, this makes it easier to unmould the cakes without damaging the designs. The bugs are a lot bigger, and so the the thicker silicone gives the shapes more support.

If you haven't cooked with silicone before, then it is important to know you need to put your mould on a tray to support the mould when transferring it into the oven. Silicone has non-stick properties, but I like to spray the moulds lightly with oil to ensure easy release.

I managed to fill all the blossom cavities and all but one of the bug cavities with one quantity of the cupcake mixture. Once baked, the cakes released easily, but needed some minor surgery to cut off the rounded tops so that the cakes could sit flat on a plate (also had the added bonus of yummy offcuts :p!). The cakes from the blossom mould lost a bit of definition, which was really just the result of baking a batter that rises in such small moulds - they didn't come out looking as perfect as I'd hoped, but once trimmed and dusted with icing sugar, they looked quite presentable. The bugs also lost a bit of definition, but you could decorate them with icing to highlight the designs more. I chose just to dust them with icing sugar too.

I think I would like to try moulding chocolate in the blossom mould. With the size of the cavities, I think it would be perfect for that, and it would highlight the designs more. But I was pretty happy with the end results, and they were certainly tasty. The cupcakes have such a nice vanilla flavour, and are so moist, you don't really miss having no icing.

The recipe

125g butter
125g caster sugar
125g SR flour
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 tbs milk

Preheat oven to 200ºC. Line a 12 cavity muffin tin with cupcake cases.
Add all ingredients except for the milk into the bowl of a food processor and blitz to combine. Pulse while adding the milk down the funnel. (You can also do this the more traditional way of creaming the butter sugar, beating in the eggs, and then folding through the flour and milk).
Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases.
Bake for 15-20 mins, or until golden and firm.

NB I baked the blossom mould cakes for about 13 mins, and the bugs for about 20 mins.

Lightly oiled moulds; filled moulds
(I tapped the moulds once filled quite firmly on the bench to try to get rid of any air pockets that would spoil the detail of the designs)

the cooked blossoms and bugs

The cakes cooling - you can see the bases of the designs would need to be trimmed if they were to sit flat on a plate.

performing surgery to allow the cakes to sit nicely

the trimmed cakes

Although my intial reaction after turning the cakes out was that I might not use the blossom mould again for baking cakes (but would use it for chocolate instead), I think I was being overly critical. After I went back and looked again, the little cakes really did look quite pretty once they were trimmed and dusted (and for very little effort), and they tasted so delicious with their eggy vanilla flavour. Plus they are a very appealing size being just bite-sized - I can imagine them being quite popular at a party when people often just want small nibbles so they can try a bit of everything or so that they feel they're not over-indulging.

I love the shapes left in the icing sugar!