Foraged mirabelle clafoutis

I’m bit (ok, a lot) of an anglophile. Like the characters I read about in books as a kid, I wanted to go foraging for berries and other things not available in Australia.

I adored my first spring in the UK because it’s just not the same in Australia where native plants are harsh and hardy. Here the flowers that pop up (everywhere!) are soft and pretty, and it’s just such a different atmosphere. Plus, when you’re out and about, there are cultivated beauties everywhere. That softness, those vibrant colours. What’s not to love? Unless you get hayfever obviously.

I hope that gives you some context as to why I was so obsessed with foraging. Sure, you can forage in Australia, it’s just not the same types of things. Certainly not berries and cherry plums. Sadly, I was a bit behind the eight ball and missed out on elderflowers (I won’t make that mistake next year), but I didn’t miss out on elderberries – they’re sitting in my freezer until I decide what to do with them though!

There’s a tree near my flat that was full of small yellow fruits. As someone obsessed with foraging, I was sure they were edible. I picked a few and then sent the photo to a few people online for someone to tell me I could pick and eat them. The response was ‘yes’. What I had were mirabelles or cherry plums.

mirabelles

I asked Bello Wildfood on Twitter what I should do with them and he suggested a clafoutis because that’s what he often makes. So a clafoutis I did!

The recipe

Mirabelle clafoutis

Clafoutis is one of my favourite desserts and I use a recipe that comes from the Larousse Gastronomique. It was the book Dad always had it in his cupboard and I used to pore over the pages as a kid wondering what I could make.

It’s a super simple recipe and results in a yummy dessert you can have warm or cold (I prefer the latter).

So here’s the recipe in English…

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams black cherries (which can be subsituted with mirabelles or sugar plums or apricot etc.)
  • 4 eggs
  • 125 grams caster sugar
  • 80 grams flour
  • 80 grams butter
  • 250 mlsmilk
  • Some vanillan sugar for the top
  • Salt

 

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 210 degrees C.
  2. Butter/grease a porcelain dish and arrange the fruit evening in it.
  3. Carefully wash your fruit (don’t remove the pits).
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, add a pinch of salt and the caster sugar. Mix well.
  5. Sift the flour and add it to egg mixture.
  6. Melt 60 grams of the butter and let it cool before adding it to your egg, sugar and flour.
  7. Add the milk and mix.
  8. Pour the mixture over the fruit in the dish and with the leftover 20 grams of butter, break it up and sprinkle it on the top.
  9. Bake in the oven until the top begins to brown. It will still be a little wobbly when done, but if you prefer to eat it cold like me, leave it cook a bit longer.
  10. Once it’s out of the oven, sprinkle the vanillan sugar over the top.
  11. Either eat it straight away with cream or ice cream OR let it cool and eat it on it’s own.

 

Result:

Much like a science experiment in high school, I wanted to share the results. While the small plums looked like cherries, they don’t have they broke down a lot more than cherries or sugar plums I’ve used previously. The result of this little experiment was good though in terms of taste – a custard with pockets of tart fruit, but it was a little soggy. I’ll pick some next year and see if I can come up with a different dessert.

By the way, if you enjoy clafoutis, try Far Breton.

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Best-ever blondies

Blondies are one of my go-to baked goods. They are always received well and I’m often asked for the recipe.

They’re moist and not too rich, and you can add whatever you like to them – nuts, fruit, more chocolate – much like these cookies or brownies, you can make them whichever ‘flavour’ you like.

My favourite combination is cherry and almond.

blondies

Ingredients:

  • 400g white chocolate
  • 150g butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g brown sugar
  • 200g almond meal
  • 90g plain flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 200-300gm of nuts, chocolate or fruit

 

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180.
  2. Line a baking pan (rectangular).
  3. Melt chocolate and butter.
  4. Set aside to cool.
  5. Stir vanilla into the butter/chocolate mixture.
  6. In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar together until thick.
  7. Add butter/chocolate mixture to the eggs and sugar.
  8. Fold in sifted almond meal and flour.
  9. Fold in your extra bits.
  10. Pour into the lined baking pan.
  11. Bake for 40 minutes.
  12. They are best left in the fridge overnight before cutting them up.

 

The combination I made for this post was cherry and Bounty, so a little bit like Cherry Ripe. The Bounty didn’t quite work as expected, but you could definitely get the coconut and cherry.

PS. They make a pretty good gift!

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Far and away the best way to eat prunes: Far Breton

Over Easter this year, I popped over to France to see dad who was also there for his bi-annual visit. Even though the primary purpose of the visit was to visit my Grandmother, I requested that we make a trip to Carnac in Brittany and Mont St Michel in Normandy. So, over two very full days, we drove the five hours to Brittany, looked at some very large rocks and then drove another couple of hours to see a very famous rock – Mont St Michel.

Mont St Michel + Carnac

I really enjoyed the trip to Brittany, which included a stop in a little town called Elven where we had baguettes with ham and cheese; then in Carnac we had a delicious multi-course birthday meal for my husband at a tiny auberge; more than one kougin amann (because I needed to compare!); a trip around a farmers market with some of the most amazing produce I’ve seen in a while; and Far Breton.

Far Breton

Far Breton is similar in texture to a clafoutis – one of my favourite desserts. It’s essentially a baked custard-style dish full of prunes, which I think have always had a bad wrap. You’ll also note in my photos above that some people like it blonde and others much darker and it can be served on its own or served with creme patisserie.

I’ve been wanting to give the Far Breton a go since I got back, so I finally found some time and did a search for a trustworthy recipe. I went with this recipe from Richard Bertinet and got baking.

Far Breton

Far Breton

The recipe worked a treat! It wasn’t quite the same (because things always taste better when you don’t make them yourself), but it was a winner of pudding and the feedback from my colleagues and in-laws was great.

I can recommend, as Richard Bertinet does, having this with a nice up of tea and a book. Or a cider.

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Bread workshop: It’s all about the buns

I love bread.

The infinite textures and flavours you can create with a base of yeast, flour and water means you will never ever get bored. Add some seeds, maybe some dried fruit, perhaps some pesto. Can’t have wheat? Try the steadily growing range of alternatives and mix with whatever your heart desires. I’m a lover of sourdough and have tried my hand at getting it right (it’s harder than it looks and sounds) and I love experimenting with flavours and shapes – my instagram account reflects this.

Pre-bake brief
Danielle and the team during the pre-baking brief!

Last weekend I was very lucky to attend a bread making workshop with Danielle of Severn Bites. She loves bread too. So much so, she went to France in 2014 for five months to learn the art of the perfect loaf and came back a professional. Originally from a marketing background (so she’s good at communicating to her audience), Danielle has developed classes to appeal to a wide range of people, including people with some bread baking experience like me!

Everything you need for delicious viennoise goodies + Natacha adding the butter to the mix

Late Saturday morning, I picked up the lovely ladies from Yes Starling!, Natacha the Franglaise and My Nothing Book and we took a mini roadtrip to Danielle’s home near Slimbridge. We were greeted with warm smiles and hot soup, along with some homemade foccacia, of course!

Danielle’s fruit mix for the hot cross buns (the peel is homemade and delicious!) + Danielle adding the fruit to the dough

Once we donned aprons, it was down to business. Danielle told us about her experiences in France and gave us a tutorial on baker’s percentages (which I have never used myself) and this was then implemented with our first batch of viennoise dough. I won’t spoil anything here, because you should definitely book in with Danielle to learn a thing or two.

Chocolate viennoise bread
Preparing chocolate viennoise

Despite there being sugar, butter and egg in the dough, it was perfect for a range of breads and we ended up making a total of five different savoury and sweet goodies: burger buns, spiced buns (i.e hot cross buns in this instance), savoury scrolls, small batards and a chocolate loaf. Needless to say, our four hour session was packed to the brim with tips and techniques for replicating the recipes at home.

Preparing the savoury bread scrolls
Preparing the savoury scrolls

And here are the results…

Bread: Viennoise batard + viennoise chocolate loaf + viennoise burger buns
Bread: Viennoise batard + viennoise chocolate loaf + viennoise burger buns
Bread: Hot cross buns + savoury scrolls
Hot cross buns + savoury scrolls

Danielle’s course was a lot of fun and perfect for beginners (and those with a few loaves under their belts will learn plenty too). Danielle is so passionate about bread and it’s contagious. She offers one-on-one sessions and group sessions for up to four people. For information on Danielle’s classes and when the next on is right here.

Thanks for having me Danielle, I had a blast!

 

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Chewy chocolate cookies

Now, I’m not saying I make the best cookies in the world, but I am saying that these are pretty damn close.

These chewy chocolate cookies are super simple to make and are sure to be a crowd pleaser (based on my experience every time I make them), which is why I always do a double batch.

The beauty of these cookies is that you can make them whatever you want them to be – a simple chocolate chip or something more fancy like my last batch which included chunks of Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Crispy M&Ms and white chocolate chips. Three of my most favourite things. They are also great with nuts and various lollies/candies.

Ingredients

  • 125 grams butter, chopped and left to come up to room temp
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (I’ve forgotten it and it’s been fine, but you can also exchange for other flavourings)
  • 275 grams firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 150 grams plain flour
  • 35 grams self-raising flour
  • .5 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 35 grams cocoa
  • 150 grams ‘mixins’ of your choice – three types is a good number

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees
  2. Line two trays with baking paper
  3. Beat the butter
  4. Add the sugar, beat until mixed
  5. Add extract and egg and beat until smooth
  6. Add sifted flours, cocoa and bicarb soda
  7. Add ‘mixins’
  8. Mix until combined by hand
  9. You can use a level tablespoon to measure the dough, but I tend to do this by hand and roll them all into balls
  10. Put the balls of dough on the trays, but make sure you leave plenty of space as they will spread during the cooking process
  11. Bake for approximately 10 minutes – they will come out soft, but will set. If you like a crispy cookie, you can leave for longer.
  12. Leave on the tray until they have set and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

By the way, you can make this dough in advance, roll into balls and then freeze them. You can either cook them all up when you need them or just a couple at a time when you’re in desperate need of chocolate and there isn’t anything in the cupboard.

You can easily use whatever mixins you like, here are some ideas:

  • M&Ms – crispy, peanut, plain
  • Chocolate chips – dark, white, milk
  • Caramel/toffee/fudge chunks – you can pick these up in the baking section at the supermarket
  • Nuts – peanuts, roasted almonds, macadamias
  • Reese’s pieces – chopped up
  • Terry’s Chocolate Orange – chopped up
  • Pretzels – broken up
  • After dinner mints – chopped up
  • Crysalised ginger – not for me, but whatever floats your boat

I can definitely recommend scouring the lolly aisle to come up with some fun combinations. I’ve done it many a time and not too many people question why a strange lady is talking to herself while picking up and putting back various packets of chocolate or lollies.

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White Christmas: an Aussie tradition

It’s been a while since I’ve made White Christmas. To be honest, I really don’t like raisins and sultanas or fruit peel, so I’ve never made it traditionally anyway. However, this year, I’m doing Christmas in a new country with new people and I wanted to take something to work that was uniquely Australian. The only thing I could think of was White Christmas.

I had to search for a Copha equivalent and then scoured Tesco for milk powder. Eventually, I got everything I needed and made a batch.

Recipe:

  • 250gms vegetable shortening such as Copha or Trex
  • 2 cups rice puffs
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1 cup milk powder
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup dried fruit
  • Glace cherries for the top (though I like to chop some up and put them in the mixture too)

Method:

  1. Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl
  2. Melt the vegetable shortening
  3. Add the shortening to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix it well (carefully)
  4. Transfer the mixture to a lined tin/tray
  5. Top with glace cherries
  6. Let it sit in the fridge until set
  7. Cut up and enjoy

When I’ve made this in the past I’ve used dried apricots and cherries instead of raisins/sultanas and glace cherries. I figure this is far more Australian anyway given they are summer fruits. I think you could put dried mango in there too, just to make it even more ‘summery’.

I think my colleagues enjoyed this uniquely Australian sweet and I might make my version for them next year!

What do you put in your White Christmas?

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What on Earth is ‘Australian Crunch’?

….I asked myself while grabbing a quick lunch in a bakery.

The description said: cornflakes, golden syrup, coconut and chocolate.

Nope. Still doesn’t ring a bell. So, of course, I had to buy one.

After I’d asked for the pork and apple pasty, I said, “and we’d like to try to the Australian Crunch please”.

The lady behind the counter gave me a funny look and asked, “is it like anything you have in Australia?”

I looked at the slice again and responded, “well no, that’s why we’d like to try it”.

She laughed and half muttered under her breath, “that’s what most Australians say”.

I just smiled awkwardly.

Once seated, I was adult enough to get through the savoury part of my lunch first. It was the nicest pasty I’d ever had actually. Although, I think there is supposed to be a traditional pasty and the rest are just fakes. Then again, I don’t know a lot about pasties. I’ve had pasties before, but I don’t like the potato in them – always seem to be undercooked.

Anywho, that’s not what this post is about. I’m here to talk about Australian Crunch.

The Australian Crunch was….well, it was bland and not all that crunchy to be honest. I struggled to taste coconut or golden syrup. It didn’t remind me of anything I’d ever eaten as a kid, but it reminded me of a really bad version of chocolate crackles.

Given this odd slice has ‘Australian’ in its name and neither Husband or I had ever heard of it, I wanted to find out a bit more.

I put the slice on Facebook, and then I googled.

Turns out, it might very well be a slice unique to the UK. Plenty of British bloggers and forum participants ate Australian Crunch growing up; often saying they had it a lot at school.

Australian forum participants and friends on Facebook said they had never heard of such a slice. Mel thought her aunt may have made something similar when she was a kid, but wasn’t too sure. I’m wondering if the ‘Australian’ part of the name comes from the cornflakes?

During my search I also found number of recipes – all different of course!

I’m currently staying in a studio apartment with a very small kitchen and not much in the way of baking utensils (yes, it was hard not to pack some and it’s even harder not to buy things whenever I go to the shop), but I’m really keen to give this slice a go. So from my search, here are a few recipes of this strange slice if you’d like to make it and tell me how it goes:

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PS. I regret not taking a photo before I bit into it…sorry about that.

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Yassou! A Greek feast!

Have you ever been so full that you’re really uncomfortable, no matter how you’re sitting/standing/laying, but you just want to keep eating?

That was us a couple of weeks back. (Side note: Honestly, I started writing this post the day after we cooked up a huge Greek feast to celebrate Greek Orthodox Easter. Life has gotten in the way since and I’m just getting to this now.)

We’d been planning our Greek feast for a few weeks (in fact, I was using it as a procrastination source when I should have been doing other things – at home, not at work, don’t worry Caroline!). Mel is a Greek food fiend and after we’d done the Chinese New Year feast a while back, she decided we had to do a Greek Easter feast.

2

We wanted to do the usual things – pita and dips, slow-cooked lamb, Greek salad (actually called a ‘village salad’ in Greece for obvious reasons), lemon potatoes and Mel’s all time favourite, Kourabiethes (you know those crescent shaped, icing sugar covered shortbread biscuits). We also wanted to do a few things we’d never made/eaten before, so aside from what I’ve already mentioned, we made Flaounes (Easter cheese pies), Kolokythokeftedes (zucchini and feta patties), rice-stuffed tomatoes, Galaktoboureko (a semolina custard ‘slice’) and Tsoureki (Easter bread).

Our colleague Maria lent us a cook book that was written by an Orthodox church group, in the eighties I would say. We had a couple of issues with correct amounts – on more than one occaison the amount of flour they suggested was either too much or WAY too little. Our top notch troubleshooting skills definitely came into play.

We made most things from scratch and some didn’t turn out quite the way I hoped they would. Actually thinking back on it, my projects were the ones that didn’t work out the most. I tried to make a Greek Easter bread (the Tsoureki). It was an odd way to make a bread for me, and I think I managed to kill the yeast in the process, which resulted in the dough not rising at all. Was pretty disappointing, but there was so much food no one noticed.

We did a team effort on the Galaktoboureko, but we left it until last. That was a terrible idea, because there just wasn’t enough time for it to set. It tasted great, but it looked like it hit a lot of branches on the ugly tree when he dished it up.

The zucchini and feta patties were delicious, but there wasn’t really much of a binding agent and unless the pan was hot enough the patties didn’t really stick together. There was a lot of really tasty zucchini and feta mush left over. Thankfully, I managed to make enough good looking ones for people to eat and assume I’d actually done a great job ;).

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We did three dips, tzatziki (of course), tirokaferi (a feta dip with a bit of chilli) and a skordalia (think garlic mashed potato). All three turned out very well and were eaten with homemade pita (made by Mel, not me!).

Of all the things we made, the Flaounes were the most surprising! I’ve never made anything like them and if I was choosing something to make from a Greek cook book, I’d probably have overlooked them.  They were essentially a bread square with a savoury filling – a kilo of haloumi mixed with sultanas, parmesan, semolina, sugar, fresh yeast, eggs and a few more things. Given neither of had had these before, it was really just the blind leading the blind. The recipe produced a absolutely ginormous batch and we made people go home with the many that didn’t get eaten (because there was so much other food). Maria said we did a pretty good job, but I did wonder if she was just being nice (haha)…

4

Overall, we had a great night and we hope our guests did too! Thanks to Maria for her cook books and emotional support!

We’re thinking about a Spanish Feast next, any dish recommendations?

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Chocolate earl grey cake

Chatting to one of my colleagues the Friday before Valentine’s Day, he asked what was up to over the weekend. Remembering that it was Valentine’s Day, I quipped that I was “probably going to make something heart-shaped for the blog”. He laughed at me.

I was only off by a bit though. I ended up experimenting by making a triple batch of chocolate earl grey cake with sour cream white ganache (my favourite kind), so I also made some cupcakes. To make it ‘Valentinesie’, I drew some red chocolate hearts for decoration.

I may have applied for The Great Australian Bake Off, so in my head it was practice just in case!

Cake ingredients:

  • 125 grams butter (softened)
  • 140g sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • Vanilla
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used sour cream instead of milk*)
  • 190g flour

Cake method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150* degrees.
  2. Prepare two 15cm cake tins (greaseproof paper with some oil to make sure it sticks).
  3. Cream butter and sugar.
  4. Add vanilla (I used 2 teaspoons, but I really like vanilla).
  5. As you’re mixing, add eggs one at a time.
  6. Add small amounts of milk and flour alternately as you’re mixing.
  7. This should result in a thick batter.
  8. Put the batter evenly in each tin and bake until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Ganache ingredients:

  • 90g sour cream
  • 300g white chocolate

Ganache method:

  1. Melt white chocolate. I used the microwave in this case, 10 second intervals.
  2. Add sour cream and mix.
  3. This should result in a thick mixture, I let mine cool in the fridge for a bit before using on the cake.

 

chocolate earl grey heart cake

 

Some notes:
*My cake was 2 of the above recipe and the ganache I used was 1.5 of the above recipe.
*Sour cream tends to keep the cake lovely and moist for longer.
*150 degrees seems low, but a professional I know told me that on 150 degrees, the cake cooks slower and there isn’t a giant hump in the middle of the cake when it’s done!

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April cook book club – Moorish

As I write, I’m still full from lunch!

This month, we all cooked recipes (in some cases, each of us cooked more than one) from Moorish by Greg and Lucy Malouf. And what a feast we had:

  • Green split-pea dip with black olives and goat’s cheese with fresh homemade pita
  • Chicken tagine with green herb couscous
  • Chicken roasted with forty cloves of garlic and merguez sausages
  • Tabbouleh with roasted walnuts
  • Rabbit paella with chorizo and Hungarian peppers
  • French onion pizza with Turkish sausage
  • Shredded carrot salad
  • Medjool date ice cream
  • Alaju (honey slice)
  • Orange cardamom sour cream cake
  • Middle Eastern tiramisu
  • Chocolate macaroons

cook book - chicken tagine and haloumi

Because the cook book covers everything from North Africa, Spain, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East, there are a huge range of flavours and plenty of meaty and non-meaty dishes to choose from. Actually, there were so many choices it was hard to choose a dish to cook in the first place!

cook book club - french onion and chorizo pizza + rabbit and chorizo paella

We also had a range of sauces, including hilbeh (spiced fenugreek dip), harissa and tahini-yoghurt, and a homemade haloumi all thanks to my friend David de Groot (a top notch cook, photographer and so much more!).

cook book club - tabouli + chicken cooked with 40 cloves of galic and merguez

I cooked the green split-pea dip with black olives and goat’s cheese and decided late last night to make some pita bread too. I also cooked the chicken roasted with forty cloves of garlic and merguez – it brought back a lot of memories because I’ve been eating merguez since I was a small child and the potatoes from the dish reminded me of potatoes my grandmother makes.

cook book club - chocolate macarons + orange and cardamom sour cream cake

It was an amazing spread of food and it was so hard to pick stand out dishes, because they were all so damn good! The recipes are a mix of beginner and upwards, so there is something in there for all levels of skill. However, some of the ingredients were a bit difficult to come by (Turkish sausage and proper orange blossom water for example), but that’s ok, it’s always the case with food not part of our everyday diets.

cook book club - middle easter tiramisu + medjool date ice cream

We’re now thinking of the next book to cook from, so if you have any ideas and want to come along next time please let us know!

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