Sunday, March 28, 2010

Preparing for an Easter feast

My latest issue of delicious magazine has arrived and I've already bookmarked lots of recipes to try. My favourite spread is the Easter baking
feature by editor Kylie Walker. White chocolate truffle cake, Easter biscuits, braided fruit loaf, orange drops, chocolate coconut Easter cakes - I want to try them all!

The hot cross muffins particularly attracted me. I like the idea of an alternative to hot cross buns, which, while fun to make and delicious to eat, are reasonably labour-intensive. These looked easy to make and I had all the ingredients in my larder, so I decided to try out a batch in preparation for Easter. This recipe gets the thumbs-up: easy to make and even easier to eat! The aromatic muffins are a cute twist on tradition and, if you leave off the cross, they are also yummy enough to whip up year-round

Hot cross muffins
From delicious magazine, April 2010

135g dried cranberries
1 cup (150g) currants
2 1/2 cups (375g) self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 cup (165ml) sunflower oil
1 cup (250ml) buttermilk
2 eggs
200g caster sugar, plus extra 2 Tbs
80g icing sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Grease a 12-hold muffin tray and line with paper cases.

Soak dried fruit in just enough boiling water to cover for 10 minutes. Drain well, then pat dry with a paper towel.

Sift the flour, soda and spices into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs and sugar until combined. Add to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Gently stir in the fruit. Divide the mixture among muffin cases, then bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, place the extra 2 Tbs sugar in a pan with 2 Tbs water and simmer over a low heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Brush the glaze over the muffins.
Sift icing sugar into a bowl. Add lemon juice and just enough hot water to make a thick, pipable icing. Use a piping bag, or drizzle from a spoon, to draw a cross on each muffin, then serve.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A cure for most ills

When you enjoy baking as much as I do, baking for others can sometimes be more stressful than people expect. Friends and family are surprised if I stress about what cake to bake or dish to cook. "But you're a good cook," friends say. "You have heaps of recipes to choose from."

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem. Too many recipes, too much choice, too much pressure to come up with the perfect dish for the occasion. A simple slice is easy to make but will it have the 'wow' factor? Should I risk making a new cake that I haven't tried before? Biscuits are a nice treat but will they seem too small and boring?

Of course, all this pressure is self-imposed. Most people are impressed simply by the fact that someone has gone to the trouble of baking something homemade for them. The cook may bewail the fact that the corner of the cake broke when it came out of the tin, that the icing didn't set properly, or that the finished product doesn't look picture-perfect, but I guarantee that most of the recipients won't even notice.

If you want to impress people, I find that a homemade chocolate cake is always a winner. A chocolate cake can be dressed up or down, adorned with simple butter icing or a rich ganache, filled with whipped cream, or left plain. Morning tea, afternoon tea, dessert, birthdays - chocolate cake suits all occasions.

This chocolate cake, from Allan Campion and Michelle Curtis's excellent In The Kitchen, is a recent addition to my repertoire but an instant hit and one I've made several times since. I made this cake recently for the regular Friday morning tea at my work. Although I normally serve it plain at home, usually dusted with a mixture of icing sugar and cocoa, this time I dressed it up with a chocolate ganache. It is a rich fudgy cake that is guaranteed to impress - there were definitely no seconds when I served this one!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Artisan bread - Dench's Bakery

I've long wanted to visit Dench's Bakery in North Carlton, especially as my friend John continually regales me with tales of this wonderful bakery, its enticing aroma of freshly baked bread, and the wide variety of breads available.

Dench's has an impressive website, filled with some of the most stunning, evocative shots I've ever seen. Ciabatta, baguette, focaccia, schwarzbrot, panini, beer, farmhouse, spelt, brioche, raisin, potato and walnut, apricot and honey are just some of the loaves available from its store in Scotchmans St, North Fitzroy. There is also a cafe, which serves breakfast and lunch and baked treats such as pastries, cakes, tarts and biscuits, and Genovese coffee.

My friend John recently discovered that Dench's also sells bread at the Queen Victoria Market and he brought me in a loaf of grain bread as a present. Although the loaf sat in my bag under my desk for the day, every now and then I would catch a smell of fresh bread, which made my mouth water. I couldn't wait to get home and try some!

Made from wholemeal flour, the grain bread also contains sunflower kernels, linseed and sesame seeds. It is soft and chewy, with the seeds giving it body and depth. This bread elevated my simple sandwich of ham, cheese and lettuce to another level, making it truly special. I can't wait to try more loaves in the range.

Dench's Bakery, 109 Scotchmer St, North Fitzroy

Monday, March 8, 2010

The milkman returns

I didn't grow up in the city, so the milkman delivering milk early in the morning was never part of my life experience. Growing up in the country, all of my neighbours were dairy farmers, so we bought billies of fresh milk from them. It wasn't until I moved to Melbourne as an adult that I began to drink what I called "shop milk" from a carton.

Now, with two rapidly growing children, we consume a large amount of milk, as well as bread, butter, cheese and orange juice. Many times I've had to load the children in the car or pram to duck out and buy some milk and bread to replenish supplies. And supplies always seem to dwindle or run out just when we are busiest and have no time to go to the shops!

So I was thrilled when my friend Trudi told me about Aussie Farmers Direct, a free home delivery service offering fresh products that are 100 per cent Australian owned and produced. AFD has a My Milkman, My Green Grocer and My Butcher, meaning that most of your fresh produce needs can be met.

The AFD website says that it cuts out the middle man, ensuring that the produce comes directly from farmers and is delivered straight to the customer's door. Orders are taken online, making it a fast and easy service to use.

The AFD milkman delivers to my area on Mondays and Thursdays and my first order arrived this morning. Packed in a soft esky bag (provided free of charge), my milk, bread and orange juice were fresh and cold. We didn't hear the milkman but the order was on our doorstep when we checked at 7am.

I'm very excited to discover this service. Not only is it saving me time in rushing out to buy a few essentials, but I'm always happy to support Aussie farmers.