Monday, November 26, 2007

Daring Bakers challenge - potato bread

Cows and chooks around the world breathed a sigh of relief as this month the Daring Bakers had a savoury theme. There was not an egg or any milk in sight as we made tender potato bread.

This month's host, Tanna (My Kitchen in Half Cups), had thoughtfully provided metric and imperial measures, so this was an easy recipe to tackle. The only ingredient I didn't recognise was "whole wheat flour" but I assumed that is what we know in Australia as "wholemeal flour". The recipe was very straightforward: boil some potatoes and mash, mix with the cooking water, add yeast, wholemeal and plain flour, and then knead. We were warned that the dough was extremely sticky and we would probably need to knead in 1-2 extra cups of flour to get it to the desired consistency. I have made potato bread before (to a different recipe) and I don't remember it being so soft and sticky. Anyway, despite the softness of the dough, it rose beautifully in two hours and was extremely light and airy to touch. Once we reached the point of forming the bread, we were invited to unleash the Daring Baker within and to make the dough in whatever form we saw fit (loaves, focaccia, rolls etc).

I decided to make focaccias. For one topping, I fried up bacon and red onion and spread that over the top. For the other, I scattered sea salt, chopped rosemary and an olive mix over it. Then it was 10 minutes in a hot oven to cook.

Both focaccias turned out beautifully. The texture of this bread was soft and fluffy but the potato lent it a denseness. We ate portions of it after it had cooled a little from the oven and the next day, we heated up some leftovers and filled them with salad. Both worked equally well.

This was a great recipe to try. Like most yeast recipes, it requires time but the recipe was straightforward and easy and the end result was a big hit. Thanks to Tanna for hosting this month and for choosing such an excellent recipe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A month of Christmas baking

It might feel too early to be getting into the Christmas spirit, but Christmas decorations are being put up all around the city and boxes of shiny tinsel and fat mince pies have been in the supermarkets since October. I feel like we've barely packed up the decorations from last year and it's time to get them out again.

But I don't really mind because Christmas is my favourite time of the year. I love the preparations, particularly planning the Christmas Day menu and the food treats that I'll make as gifts.

Regardless of the weather, we've always had a traditional Christmas lunch in our house, with ham, roast turkey, roast vegetables, peas with mint sauce and tomatoes topped with breadcrumbs, followed by plum pudding with brandy sauce and thick custard. It's a menu more suited to the snowy English season than to a hot Australian summer but it's our tradition and we love it, despite the fact that seafood is now becoming a much more popular (and well-suited) choice. As my mum's birthday is on Christmas Eve, we usually have seafood or a BBQ that night (and Santa and his reindeer were always guaranteed a big slice of birthday cake to keep them going!)

November is the time to make plum pudding and Christmas cakes and to get organised for other baking. I've been stockpiling my supplies of butter, flour, sugar, dried fruit and nuts in preparation and have already picked up frozen suet from my butcher. I'm the designated pudding maker in my family and I'm also the custodian of my grandmother's recipes for shortbread and fruit mince tarts. To these old favourites, I've added new ones over the years, including a chocolate panforte, panettone, assorted gingerbread and spice cookies, and sweet treats for gifts, such as pistachio and cranberry nougat and chocolate fudge.

I wish I could say that I use an old family recipe for our Christmas pudding but that's not the case. My dad has fond memories of the rich plum pudding his mother made each year, with a penny hidden inside. It hung in its cloth wrapper in a cool dark place for at least six weeks before Christmas. Alas, the recipe appears to have died with her. The recipe I do use is an old one and it is from Stephanie Alexander's grandmother. It was first published in The Age many years ago and also appears in her book The Cook's Companion. I've been making it for many years now and it's always eagerly received. I make it in two old pudding tins that belonged to my great-aunt, rather than in cloth, as I've never had any luck using cloth. The pudding is extremely easy to make and the only drawback is that you need to set aside a day to make it, as it requires six hours boiling time (plus at least an hour's boiling time on Christmas Day to reheat it). But the end result is well worth it.

Here is my grandmother's recipe for shortbread. My grandmother and mother have made this every year for Christmas that I can remember and it makes a lovely gift. You can make this at any time of the year but it is a nice festive treat, particularly if you use a Christmas tree-shaped cutter.


270g plain flour
60g rice flour
210g butter
90g caster sugar
a few drops of vanilla extract

Beat the butter until as white as possible. Add vanilla extract and then slowly add sugar. Continue beating until soft and fluffy. Sift flours, add to mixture and stir to a fairly dry dough.

Press dough out to approximately 2-3cms thick. Cut out with a Christmas tree cutter (or other shapes). Place on baking trays lined with baking paper and cook at 180 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Gently lift with a spatula and cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I recently discovered a wonderful New Zealand food magazine called Cuisine.<Hausfrau bakery in Yarraville thoughtfully has a stack of food magazines and cookbooks available for customers to browse through as they sip coffee and munch on one of their delicious European-inspired cakes. I picked up Cuisine and was instantly impressed. The photography is wonderful and inspires you to try the wide range of recipes. It is a little simliar to the Australian magazine Delicious, but obviously the food and wine news is centred on New Zealand. Cuisine was recently judged the best food magazine in the world at the Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards, beating other prestigious food magazines such as Gourmet Traveller, Vogue Entertaining & Travel and Donna Hay magazine (all of which I love as well), so I thought it was definitely worthwhile surfing around on Cuisine's website to learn more.

has a great website, with an archive of more than 1000 recipes to search, as well as a recipe of the day to try. A recipe for beef and spinach empanadas was recently featured and, with a backyard vegetable garden overflowing with fresh spinach, I decided this would be a good recipe to try. The empanadas were easy to make and extremely delicious. We ate them as a main course with sweet chilli sauce for dunking and a salad on the side, but they would also make excellent nibbles at a party. I'm looking forward to trying more Cuisine recipes soon.


For the pastry
3 cups white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup ice-cold water

For the filling
300g minced beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 large tomato, chopped
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 chilli, chopped
1 large bunch spinach, washed, wilted over heat in a saucepan then chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil for frying

To make pastry: place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. With the motor running, tip in the oil until it is all incorporated. Add the water slowly and, when the dough starts to come together in beads the size of tiny pearls, switch off the motor and tip the mixture out onto a floured board. Draw the dought together by kneading gently. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. (Note: I found the dough quite dry and needed to add some extra water).

For the filling: heat a large frying pan and cook the mince for about 10 minutes until it is crumbly and lightly browned. Add the onion, garlic and spices and cook a little longer until the onion softens. Add the remaining ingredients, except the spinach, and cook over a high heat until the juices start to evaporate. Stir in the spinach and adjust the seasoning. Allow to cool.

To assemble the empanadas, roll out the pastry to about 3mm thick. Using a 10cm-diameter pastry cutter, cut out 15-20 circles. Place about one heaped tablespoon of the filling in the centre of each dough round and fold over to form a half-moon shape. Seal the edges with a little water and crimp together. Heat oil to a depty of about 2.5cm in a frying pan until it is quite hot but not smoking. Fry the empanads until golden brown on each side, about 3-5 minutes. Drain and serve.