Monday, March 24, 2008

Cider sorbet

I love ice cream and I also love flavoured water ices, like sorbet and granita. The problem about making flavoured ice at home is that you either need an ice cream machine or several hours of work to get the ice as smooth as the commercial stuff. When I made this experiment I was not lucky enough to have an ice cream machine (this has since changed), but I had read up on the old method of making dessert ice and decided to test it. I didn't have all of the ingredients for custard ice on hand, so I decided to make sorbet instead. I also did not have access to enough ice to make a salt/ice mixture for freezing, so I used the freezer compartment of my refrigerator.

I cooked up some simple sugar syrup, made from an equal volume of white sugar and water (in this case 200 ml of each). This I dumped into a saucepan and cooked until the sugar was melted. I then quickly cooled the syrup by putting the saucepan into the sink with some cold water. When the syrup was cool, I measured out 200 ml of syrup into a freezer safe bowl (the rest I bottled for later use). To this I added 150 ml of non-alcoholic pear cider and mixed it well. I then put a lid on the bowl and stuck it in the freezer.

After 90 minutes or so I took it out – the mixture had started freezing – and gave it a good stir to break up the forming ice crystals. I then returned it to the freezer. For the next three hours I would go back every 30 minutes and give it another good stir, and every time the mixture was thicker. Finally, when it had got hard to stir and was thick and felt very cold on the tongue, I spooned it into dessert glasses with lids and allowed it to freeze completely. When I taste tested it the texture was a little coarser than that of commercial sorbet, but it was very good, with a rich flavour much better than any commercial sorbet I had tasted. I decided that next time I had guests for dinner I would serve them home-made sorbet. The ice cream machine will make it much easier and less time-consuming.

If you want to try making sorbet, follow the description above and if you want a different flavour, any fruit juice or even fizzy drink works well in these proportions. For pure lemon or lime juice, you need to use less juice or the mixture will be too sour. Lemon sorbet, BTW, is a very good palate cleanser that is sometimes served between the courses of a meal to clear away the taste of the precious dish before a new one is served.

If you have an ice cream maker, made the sorbet mix and follow the instructions for freezing sorbet.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Recipe of the week from Sweet Food: Saffron Spice Cake

I chose this recipe because my mother recently came back from the Canary Islands and brought me more saffron than I use in about 5 years of cooking, plus I already had some.

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Serves 8.

250 ml (1 cup) freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbs finely grated orange zest
1/4 tsp saffron threads
3 eggs
155 g (1 1/4 cups) icing sugar
250 g (2 cups) self-rising flour (or 2 cups plain flour plus 3 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
370 g (3 2/3 cups) ground almonds (almond flour)
125 g unsalted butter, melted
Icing sugar, extra, to dust
Thick (double) cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), or 160°C if you have a convection oven (or as indicated by manufacturer or your experience).

Lightly grease a 22 cm round cake pan and line the base with baking paper. Mix orange juice, zest and saffron in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the temperature and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool.

Beat the eggs and icing sugar until light and creamy. Fold in the sifted flour, almonds, orange juice mixture and butter until barely mixed and smooth. Spoon into the cake pan.

Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes and turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Before serving, dust with a little icing sugar and serve with whipped cream.

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Recipe review:

I started by making the ground almonds since I could not find any in any supermarket. I used my handy little electric coffee grinder and ground a little at a time and sifted it to get an even size of almond granules.

There was more dough than I thought there would be, and I ended up using two baking pans, one 20 cm and another 18 cm in diameter, and got two luscious cakes. The baking time was about 45 minutes at 160°C in my convection oven. That temperature was a too hot, as evidenced by the cakes rising a bit too much in the middle.

The cake itself is a lovely pale saffron colour, with a dense texture and a nice orage flavour with undertones of saffron, which is good because too much saffron in food tastes somewhat medicinal to me.

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Book verdict:

If you enjoy food porn and great desserts, buy it. It is full of all sorts of desserts, and the three I made during the week were all good.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sample recipe from Sweet Food: Pineapple Upside-down Cake

Serves 6-8.

20 g unsalted butter, melted
2 tbs firmly packed soft brown sugar
440 g can pineapple rings in natural juice
90 g unsalted butter, softened
125 g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
125 g (1 cup) self-rising flour (= 1 cup plain flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease a 20 cm (8 inch) ring pan and pour in the melted butter to coat the base. Sprinkle in the brown sugar. Drain the pineapple and reserve 80 ml (1/3 cup) of the juice. Cut the pineapple rings in half and arrange them on the base.

Beat the softened butter and the sugar together until light and creamy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla essence and mix well. fold in the flour alternating with the pineapple juice (the recipe recommends using a metal spoon, but I use the beater on my mixer at the slowest speed). Spoon or pour the batter evenly over the pineapple and smooth the surface. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

I made this cake on Sunday, and it’s very good: moist but still light as a cloud and tastes great. Although there is pineapple juice in the batter, the cake doesn’t have a pineapple flavour. This may be due to me having used cheap canned pineapple with less flavourful juice than the more expensive stuff. Whatever the reason, the cake is still good. Another time I might use condensed pineapple juice.

I don’t have a ring pan, so I used a regular cake pan and baked the cake a little longer than the recipe suggests. I only needed 5 1/2 pineapple rings to cover the base.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sample recipe from Sweet Food: Cinnamon Gelato

I bet this is good – and since I have an ice-cream maker, it would be easy work to make.

Serves 8.

1 vanilla bean
550 ml (2 1/4 cups) thick cream (double cream)
550 ml (2 1/4 cups) milk
2 cinnamon sticks
6 egg yolks
100 g (1/2 cup) caster sugar

Split the vanilla bean down the middle and put it in a saucepan with the cream, milk and cinnamon sticks. Bring to the boil, remove immediately from the heat and leave to infuse for 1 hour.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until light and creamy. Pour the milk/cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture and whisk quickly to mix. Pour the custard into the saucepan and cook over very low heat (barely simmering) until it begins to thicken, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Do not let it boil! To test for thickness, dip the spoon into the custard, then draw a line on the back of the spoon. When the line stays and the custard does not run into it, it is ready.

Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod and mix into the custard. Strain the custard into a bowl, remove the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick and leave to cool.

To freeze, either churn in an ice-cream maker according to instructions, or pour into a freezer-proof bowl and freeze, whisking every 30 minutes, until the ice-cream is too stiff to stir. The whisking will give the ice cream a creamy texture. Once the ice cream is set, keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sample recipe from Sweet Food: Chocolate Mud Cake

I love a good chocolate cake, and this one looks promising:

Serves 12.

125 g (1 cup) plain flour
125 g (1 cup) self-rising flour (= 1 cup flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)
60 g (1/2 cup) dark cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
625 g (2 3/4 cups) sugar
450 g dark chocolate, chopped
459 g unsalted butter
125 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk
2 tbs oil
2 tbs instant espresso coffee granules or powder
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 160°C (315°F) or a lower temperature as instructed for a convection oven.

Brush a deep 23 cm (8 1/2 inch) square cake pan with melted butter or oil. Line the pan with baking paper, extending at least 2 cm (4/5 inch) above the rim.

Sift the flours, cocoa and baking soda into a large bowl. Mix in the sugar and make a well in the centre. Put 250 g chocolate and 250 g butter and 185 ml (3/4 cup) water in a saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly. Gradually stir this mixture into the dry ingredients using a large spoon.

Whisk together the buttermilk, oil, coffee and eggs and add to the mixture, stirring until smooth. Pour into the pan and bake for 1 hour 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan, the turn out onto a serving dish, upside down.

Combine the remaining chocolate and butter in a small pan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Cool to room temperature, stirring often, until it is thick enough to spread. Spread the icing over the cake. Allow the icing to set slightly before serving.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cookbook of the week #22 : Sweet Food, including a recipe for Almond, orange and cardamom biscotti

I’m back. I have had a lot going on in my life since I last posted, but now I am ready to pick up where I left off.

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This week’s cookbook was published by Murdoch Books, part of a series of themed books that are in equal measure recipe collections and unabashed food porn. There is a photo of every dish, each one designed to make the reader hungry. The book is divided into chapters for baked goods, desserts and pies & tarts, and other than the chapter divisions, there is no rhyme or reason to the way the recipes are collected, so that for example, the 5 cheesecake recipes in the book are to be found in two chapters and none of them on adjacent pages. This makes for interesting browsing. I have found that I can open this book at random and be almost certain to find something I want to try. I have had to eliminate several recipes I would have liked to try because of hard-to-find ingredients.

Note: The tbs called for are 20 ml tbs, rather than 15 ml ones.

The first recipe I chose is Almond, orange and cardamom biscotti

In Italian “biscotti” means “twice baked”, but according to Wikipedia, in Italy the term is used for any type of cookie. In North-America it refers to twice-baked pastries like the ones in this recipe, which in Italy are called “biscotti di Prato”, “cantoucchi” or “cantoucchini”.

I would like to imagine that when J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about lembas, he had something like biscotti in mind.

Makes about 40.

2 eggs
155 g (2/3 cup) firmly packed soft brown sugar
125 g (1 cup) self-rising flour (if you don’t have self-rising flour, use 1 cup plain flour and add 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
90 g (3/4 cup) plain flour
125 g (1 1/4 cups) almonds
1 tbs finely grated orange zest
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

Preheat the oven to 160°C (315°F), or lower temperature as indicated for convection ovens. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Beat the eggs and sugar until light and creamy. Sift the flours into the bowl, add the almonds, zest and cardamom and mix to a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, divide in two and shape into two loaves, about 5 x 20 cm (2 x 8 inches) in size.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack. When cool, cut the loaves into 1 cm (2/5 inch) slices with a serrated bread knife. The biscotti will be crumbly on the edges, so work slowly and if you can, hold the sides of the loaves as you cut.

Arrange the slices on baking trays in one layer and return to the oven for 10 minutes on each side. If the slices look like they are not completely dry when removed from the oven, don’t worry – they will become crisp when they cool. Allow to cool before serving.

Great with coffee.


Recipe review:
I made this recipe yesterday after I posted it. The dough was EXTREMELY sticky, so sticky that I ended up just forming it into one rough loaf and then I went to scrape a thick layer of gluey dough off my hands. Next time I will wet my hands before handling the dough. The raw loaf looked like a misshapen lump of lava, but it baked up smooth and when I sliced it it looked like biscotti should. In the instructions it says to cool the loaf – I would just let it cool for about 10 minutes and then slice it, because fully cooled it was hard to cut because the crust was so hard. The biscotti are very good, with a mild orangey flavour and just a hint of cardamom.