Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Coffee break: Eclipse

Don’t be fooled by the Collins Street address: the entrance to Eclipse is in Flinders Lane, hidden away at the back of the refurbished Intercontinental Hotel.

Red-brick walls hide a nightclub-like interior, its darkness illuminated by spotlights on the walls. The serving area and Synesso machine dominate the small interior, with a few wooden tables, including two communal tables, and a glass cabinet of pastries the only other furniture of note. There's also plenty more tables outside for those who can't cram inside, and table service is offered.

Queues are long at peak times but the city-cool-chic staff are quick and gracious under pressure. Although most customers take away, the pastries and a lunch menu that has expanded considerably since Eclipse opened, offer a reason to stay in.

But the focus is on the excellent coffee. An aromatic espresso, a rich brew with unsweetened cocoa and woody notes, is a powerful drink, while a toasty, nutty cafe latte is equally masterful: a balanced blend of chocolaty coffee with creamy milk that slips down very easily. Rotating single-origin beans on offer might include a chocolaty Brazilian blend that teases the palate with a brief burst of flavour.

A relative newcomer to the CBD coffee scene, Eclipse is already overshadowing nearby rivals and promises to be a stayer.

7A/495 Collins St (enter off Flinders Lane), Melbourne

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fast and tasty muffins

Some people don't believe me when I tell them I find it faster and easier to bake than I do to buy a cake or biscuits. Because I have a well-stocked pantry, I can mix up flour, eggs, butter and sugar into a tasty cake as quickly as if I loaded two children into the car, drove to the supermarket, agonised over the multitude of choices in the biscuit aisle and then queued to pay.

Of course, there are always times when convenience will win out, but a recipe such as for these tasty muffins shows that baking can be just as quick and easy. There's also the added bonus of minimising preservatives and additives and, to me, home-made always tastes better.

Not only are these muffins, which come from Allan Campion and Michele Curtis's excellent In The Kitchen cookbook, very quick to whip up, they are also toddler-friendly: it's easy for little hands to mix together, although you might find a few of the white chocolate bits make it into little mouths rather than the finished product!

Raspberry and white chocolate muffins
Recipe from In The Kitchen by Allan Campion and Michele Curtis

200g self-raising flour
150g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon, chopped
60g melted butter
125ml milk
1 egg
100g raspberries
95g white chocolate chips
Icing sugar to serve

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper cases.*

Mix the flour, caster sugar and lemon zest together. Beat the butter, milk and egg together in a separate bowl. Mix the dry and wet mixes together to form a smooth batter, then fold through the raspberries and chocolate.

Divide the mix into the muffin cases and bake for 20 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Allow to cool, then dust with icing sugar to serve.

* Note: the recipe says this makes 10 muffins, but I found it made 18 small-sized (not Texas) muffins.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The ultimate comfort food

Baked custard might be an old-fashioned dessert but it is a dish that deserves to be made more often. It is the ultimate comfort food: its silky-smooth texture makes it deceptively easy to eat half of the dish before you realise how much you've eaten, but it also has an easy elegance to it that is more than the sum of its simple parts of cream, milk, eggs and sugar.

Thankfully, Donna Hay has resurrected this lovely dessert in the latest issue of her magazine. There's a step-by-step guide to making basic baked custard, plus twists to the base recipe using spices, chocolate, rice and brioche for a modern take.

I had forgotten how much I loved this dessert until I made it recently. Surprisingly, my toddler was not overly enthused by the custard, but Adam and I quickly polished off the dish before we realised how quickly we'd eaten it! Not to worry - this is a dish that doesn't keep and tastes best warm from the oven. Its comforting texture will enfold you like a cosy doona and it is a dessert to enjoy on cold nights.

Baked custard
From Donna Hay Magazine, issue 50

500ml single (pouring) cream
250ml milk
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs and 3 egg yolks, extra
110g caster (superfine) sugar

Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celsius (300 degrees Fahrenheit). Place the cream, milk, vanilla bean and seeds in a saucepan over high heat until the mixture just comes to the boil. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place the eggs, extra yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until well combined. Gradually add the hot cream mixture to the egg mixture, whisking well to combine.

Strain custard into a 1.5 litre capacity (6 cups) ovenproof dish.

Place dish in a water bath* and bake for 1 hour 25 minutes or until just set.

Remove from the water bath and allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 4-6.

* To make a water bath, place the custard dish into a deep-sided baking dish and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the custard dish.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Coffee break: 65 Degrees

The north-eastern end of Exhibition St is an unlikely home for a world champion barista. It's a quiet area, away from the main CBD shopping strips, but that hasn't stopped 65 Degrees becoming a big hit with those in the know. There's a steady crowd of loyal regulars lining up for take-aways - even three businessmen, who were in Melbourne for just six hours, were thrilled by the tip-off that led them there. "We'll definitely be back!" they chorused as they left.

Con Haralambopoulos, one of three brothers behind the cafe, has an impressive list of coffee titles to his name, including world espresso champion and world latte art champion. The brothers previously ran 7 Grams in Richmond, but closed that to start this new venture. The obsessive attention to coffee detail even extends to the name: 65 degrees Celsius is the correct temperature for milk when making coffee.

The narrow but light-filled interior has tall tables and stools at the front and smaller tables at the back. The best seats are those by the leadlight full-length windows that overlook Exhibition St. This end of the street is quite pretty, lined with trees, and with less traffic than other, busier streets in the CBD (there were even some carparks available out the front on the morning that I visited).

A substantial breakfast and lunch menu is chalked on a blackboard at the front of the cafe and the glass display case is full of sweet and savoury treats. But the focus is on coffee, made here with beans from Gridlock, and Con's impressive coffee skills. Warm cocoa notes dominate in a smooth and silky short black that is a delight to sip. The cafĂ© latte is simply stunning: there’s a hint of toasted nuts but no flavour predominates in the smooth, balanced brew that slips down without effort. I am in raptures as I drink it: this is, quite simply, the best cafe latte I've ever had in my life!

The only drawback to 65 Degrees is that it is at the opposite end of town to my office, so I can't visit as often as I would like. If you love coffee, do yourself a favour and get to 65 Degrees as soon as you can: it's a must-visit destination.

65 Degrees
309 Exhibition St, Melbourne
Mon-Fri 6.30am-4pm

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hot pies

Subscribing to food magazines makes me realise how quickly the months slip away. I feel like I've just opened an issue and a new one is already on the doorstep. Donna Hay Magazine's 50th birthday issue has just arrived, and it has a magnificent chocolate layer cake on the front cover that is begging to be made.

I haven't missed an issue of Donna Hay Magazine since I first subscribed to it and I find inspiration in every issue. To make sure I get the most out of my food magazines, I file them according to season (so I put all the autumn issues together). Each year, when the season changes, I take out that season's past issues and flick through them to see what I've made in the past that I enjoyed, or to get some new recipes to try.

Tonight's dinner came from my random flickings. I rediscovered this easy but tasty pie dish that I had first made in 2008 and marked as "definitely make again". It is such an easy dish to make but it is very impressive, whether you serve it as a weeknight dish for the family or dress it up for dinner with friends. The Dijon mustard is the hidden secret here, adding piquancy to the pie filling. I made two large pies, as specified by the recipe, some smaller pies for the children, and had some filling left over that I piled into ramekins and topped with leftover pastry scraps to make a lid. The pies are easy to reheat as leftovers.

Easy chicken, leek and mushroom pie
From Donna Hay Magazine, issue 38 (April/May 2008)

1 Tb olive oil
50g butter
1 leek, sliced
200g button mushrooms, chopped
2 x 200g chicken breast fillets, trimmed and chopped
sea salt and cracked black pepper
2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 sheets store-bought butter puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over high heat, add the butter, leek and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Add the chicken and cook for 2-3 minutes until sealed and lightly browned. Add salt, pepper and mustard and mix to combine.

Cut 4 x 14cm rounds from 2 sheets of pastry and 4 x 16cm rounds from remaining sheets. Place 14cm rounds on baking trays lined with baking paper, top with chicken mixture and brush edges with egg. Top with remaining pastry, press edges to seal and brush with egg. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve with steamed green beans or a simple salad.