Wednesday, 27 August 2014
I first became aware of dulche de leche a few years ago. It kept popping up on American food blogs - a sweet South American staple which had been appropriated further north as a frosting on cakes, and a flavour of ice-cream. It was paired with bananas in pancakes and muffins, dolloped in thumbprint cookies, oozed out of doughnut holes and molten chocolate desserts, and was purportedly so good, it was eaten straight out of the jar.
The next time I was in the States, I made it my mission to track some down, but I was in Seattle, a town known for many things but not its huge Latino population (or Latino grocery stores). To cut a long story short, after a great deal of research, I got my hands on two jars (one for me and one for my friend Elizabeth), lugged them all the way back to Australia, only to discover that I could make it myself with nothing more than a tin of condensed milk (readily available in any old supermarket). Well, technically speaking, dulche de leche is made with a few more ingredients, and Smitten Kitchen has a recipe I have no doubt is great if you want to go that route. But just know that the same rich, thick, copper-coloured caramel can be yours with one ingredient, an oven and a bit of time. And once you've got a jar of this stuff, the dessert world is your oyster. It's a quick and easy way to turn something quite standard - like the humble shortbread cookie - into something special.
Alfajores are Argentinian cookies - thick, dark dulche de leche sandwiched between two pale discs of melt-in-your-mouth shortbread. The good news is that the cookies are as easy to make as the caramel. They're lighter than traditional shortbread, a good thing given how rich the filling. I like them with a cup of black coffee to balance the sweetness, but milky coffee drinkers, and drinkers of plain old milk will no doubt revel in the creaminess of that combo. So next time you're in the supermarket, pick up a can of condensed milk. One will yield enough dulche de leche to make these cookies, and leave some leftover for you to experiment with... or just eat straight from the jar. Por qué no?
Wednesday, 20 August 2014
My friend Amy and I have known each other since we were babies. We grew up with mothers who were excellent cooks, and sandwiches in our lunchboxes made with wholemeal - and often homemade - bread, so naturally our form of rebellion was not so much cigarettes or binge drinking as Sara Lee frozen desserts. Which is why it's so hilarious that I found myself making pie at her place last weekend. And not once but twice - as the first time I mistook the sugar for salt and vice versa, resulting in a dough that would - if my error had not been spotted - have derailed forever our homemade efforts. To be honest, I've always been a little afraid of pie dough. Somehow it always seemed like science, and that's never been a strong suit of mine. To minimise risk, I'd always made it in the food processor and the first batch I made - more play doh than pie dough - I did that way. But when it became clear that a second batch was needed, the food processor was under suds in the sink and the clock was ticking (Amy's four year old, who'd enthusiastically assisted in the mixing of the fruit filling, was expecting THE WORLD'S BEST PIE - no pressure there - before bed) so I hastily threw flour and chilled butter into a bowl, along with some sugar and salt (in the correct proportions) and ice-cold water and did what all the books and blogs tell you to do. Don't handle it too much. Leave big streaks of butter. Don't worry if it seems dry. And you know what? It worked. Pastry that was flaky, beautifully browned and buttery. Though I love cherries, it's not a flavour of pie I'm usually drawn to as they've a tendency to be gloopy. Not this one. We demolished it as soon as it was out of the oven, and not just because there was a four year old up way past her bedtime.
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
Winter in Australia is different to winter in other parts of the world. It means strawberries. It means the occasional day that is not merely mild, but downright warm. With this being my 100th post, it seemed as good a time as any for ice-cream... well, strawberry sorbet to be exact. It's hard to believe that just three ingredients and very little effort (all the heavy-lifting is done by the machinery involved) produces something as spectacular as this. The whole lemon gives a lovely zing to a fruit that in refrigerated (much less frozen) form can often be quite blandly sweet. Instead, with its inclusion, the flavour matches the colour in intensity - scarlet, sticky, sweet.
Have it in a cone, or a bowl, or straight out of its freezer container with a spoon. Have it simple and unadorned or marry it with mascarpone, meringue, rose petals and pomegranate seeds - like Yotam Ottolenghi in this month's Bon Appétit - for a Middle-eastern mess. Have it with kids, with a vegan (no eggs or dairy!), or even a person who doesn't like strawberries (I swear, it may convert them). However you have it, ice-cream is always a celebration. Happy 100th. Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, 5 August 2014
My mother and I are very different cooks. I'm a recipe-follower, she's more of a free-wheeler, adding and subtracting ingredients, changing cooking times, processes, and equipment, following her instincts. I clean as I go when I cook (a by-product of living in an apartment with a small kitchen) and she, well, to put it bluntly, does not. These fundamentally different approaches mean that when the two of us are in the kitchen together we drive each other crazy. After every visit home I vow never to put myself in that situation again. But her tomato chilli jam is so good it was worth making an exception.
My mum, a keen gardener, jokingly refers to this savoury jam as dynamic lifter. And indeed, it does elevate anything it's spread on to a whole new level of flavour. Mum uses it most often on a sandwich or with crackers and cheese, but it would be great dolloped on eggs, corn fritters, served alongside a sausage roll or swirled into sour cream as a dipping sauce. The heat of the chilli is offset by the sweetness of the tomatoes (and the sugar they're cooked with!) so if you're worried about serving it to anyone averse to spicy things, don't be. Conversely, if you like things hot (and you're more of a recipe-meddler, like my mother), you may want to up the chilli content. Whatever your approach, you can't go wrong.
Tuesday, 29 July 2014
I love winter. But after a while it can get a bit monochromatic. Which is perhaps why I found myself drawn, as if by magnetic force, to a tray of tangelos in my local supermarket. I'd never made marmalade before (or indeed anything with tangelos), but as luck would have it, my mother - a master marmalade maker - was down staying with me, so I took advantage of an in house consultation. And in reward she received a still warm jar to take back with her on the plane to Brisbane. My reward was a breakfast the next morning that was bright and sunny, sugary and sharp, a blaze of orange to obliterate the grey. This recipe uses spices for extra warmth. They're subtle, but still, a nice calm counterpoint to the juicy sour/sweet of the citrus. Smeared on toast, with a cup of black coffee, it's the tastiest cure for seasonal affective disorder, not to mention oh so pretty in that sleepy winter morning light.
Tuesday, 22 July 2014
It's great when you discover something you really, really love, and find out later that it just so happens to be gluten-free, even vegan. This is not because I have any food intolerances (in fact, one could accuse me of being intolerant of intolerances), but I do have a growing number of friends who do. Socca is not any new-fangled food made with faux flour or dairy substitutes. It's something that's been around for generations in the south of France and further afield in the Mediterranean. I must have had it when I was a 16 year old exchange student going to high school in Cannes, but my food memories of that time are mainly of pain au chocolat and cheese, which I'm sure is all I subsisted on at that time. My more recent memory of socca is of eating it at bloodwood, a restaurant that opened in my old neighbourhood just before I moved away. It's the sort of place that you wish was walking distance from your house and now that it's not, I'm forced to recreate their dishes all the way over the other side of town. Luckily, it's not that hard. All you need is chickpea flour, water, oil and a cast-iron skillet.
Socca, or farinata, or torta de ceci, is basically a savoury chickpea pancake - a crispy at the edges, nutty in the centre, burnished golden base on which to pile all manner of good things. My favourite toppings are labneh or goat's cheese with mushrooms (sautéd with garlic, thyme and rosemary) but really, you could do anything you like. Roast pumpkin would be lovely, blue cheese too, but if you're vegan, by all means skip the dairy.
There's a bit of advance thought required for this, in that you have to make the batter two hours ahead of time but really, when it's just a matter of putting ingredients in the one bowl and whisking them together (do it at breakfast time for lunch or dinner that day), it couldn't get any easier. It's the real definition of fast food, on the table in less time than it would take to pick up takeaway or wait for it to be delivered.
Adapted from a recipe by David Leibowitz, from his book The Sweet Life in Paris
You can use the quantity below to make one thick pancake or two or three thinner ones. I tend to favour the one big one, so that you can pile on your toppings, then slice it up at the table, family-style. You can find chickpea flour at health food shops, good delis or Indian grocery stores.
1 cup (130g) chickpea flour (besan)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (280ml) water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
freshly-ground black pepper, plus additional sea salt and olive oil for serving
Mix together the flour, water, salt, cumin, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let batter rest at least 2 hours, covered, at room temperature.
To cook, heat the grill in your oven. Oil a 9- or 10-inch (23cm) cast-iron skillet with the remaining olive oil and heat the pan in the oven.
Once the pan and the oven are blazing-hot, pour batter into the pan, swirl it around, then pop it back in the oven.
Bake until the socca is firm and beginning to blister and burn. The exact time will depend on your grill (but it should be somewhere around the 5 minute mark).
Slide the socca out of the pan and onto a cutting board, then shower it with coarse salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Tuesday, 15 July 2014
You'd think it would be impossible for someone like me, such a devoted devourer of baked goods, to discover anything new about the chocolate chip cookie. But you'd be wrong. For I've recently stumbled across not one but two game-changers. The first is evident in the title of this post: wholemeal flour. Now, I've got nothing against the plain white stuff, as the recipe index of this blog will attest. But wholemeal flour with butter, brown sugar and bittersweet dark chocolate chips is a total revelation, adding a layer of nutty, chewy complexity to a classic cookie combination. So the second revelation: you can freeze cookie dough. Not as one big lump - that would defeat the purpose - but as individually rolled balls, to be taken straight from the freezer, popped on a tray, sprinkled with sea salt and baked to order.
This means you can have freshly made cookies any time you like. In just sixteen minutes. For unexpected guests. For totally expected cravings. For no reason at all other than to amaze your friends and distract them from the crossword puzzle they insist on enlisting your help in solving even though you are (despite being a writer) totally hopeless at them. A picture tells a thousand words. Say no more.