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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Not all gingers are soulless – The Ginger People products

Getting more ginger into your life

A few months ago, The Ginger People got in touch to see if we wanted to give their products a go. As someone who isn’t keen on ginger and as I’m currently living in Bristol, I asked Mel if she was keen to try them. Her immediate response was something about a bear in the woods.

The lovely team at The Ginger People sent over their organic ginger syrup, organic crystallised ginger, organic ginger juice and organic pickled ginger. Mel was in heaven and proceeded to go on a ginger binge, essentially gingerising (just invented a new word!) all her food. Since that time, Mel has moved on from But first, we eat!, but I interviewed her last week for her feedback.

Mel is a huge ginger fan. I remember a shopping trip to Sunnybank to buy ingredients for our Chinese New Year celebration. We needed a small amount of ginger and she had used all of hers. Instead of buying a small piece (like I would do), she brought a one kilo bag! I told her she was crazy and she just said I was “missing out”. So, her being in heaven was an understatement when she received a package full of ginger goodies.

Ginger has a lot of uses, including the all important flavouring of food, and it’s well known for coming to the rescue when your stomach is upset. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find good fresh ginger unless you know where to look and not all ginger products have a good flavour and texture or they’re full of chemicals. These particular products, in the Mel’s words “actually taste like ginger”. Given creative license, Mel has come up with a few very easy ways to incorporate more ginger into your life:

Organic ginger juice

Mel said she was actually pleasantly surprised when ginger made a difference in the muscle ache she gets from triathlon training. Turns out, when she got home from training in the morning, she had been putting ginger juice in her water to mix things up a bit and her muscle aches weren’t as bad as the mornings she didn’t. She also said it’s brilliant in ice cold sparkling water (and I gather it would work really well in cocktails)! Since receiving the initial bottle of ginger juice, she’s bought two more because she uses it so often.

Organic ginger syrup

When she needs a quick treat, Mel loves the ginger syrup on ice cream and pancakes. When she needs something a little extra on her breakfast, she’ll pour a little over her yogurt and muesli.

Organic crystallised ginger

You may remember your grandmother always having easy access to crystallised ginger because it’s supposed to aid in digestion and it’s great for an upset stomach. Mel also used hers in baking. She whipped up some delicious ginger nuts with ginger chunks and I’ll post the recipe up soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

Organic pickled ginger

Not just for sushi, Mel loves to top her stirfries with a little pickled ginger for a fresh zing (if she isn’t already using the ginger juice). She may or may not eat it straight from the jar on occasion too.

Mel really enjoyed testing these products and wholeheartedly recommends anything from The Ginger People. She has a couple of recipes to share from her testing of these products, so make sure you check back.

If you’d like to buy The Ginger People products, take a look at their website. I think it’s pretty cool that the same people who started the business 30 years ago are still running it. They source their ginger sustainably and don’t use any nasties!

Important note: While Mel received these products for free, she only provided me with honest feedback.

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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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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:

Karis Sign Off-01-01

 

 

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

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Mel makes a cake

Once upon another life, I used to be a keen baker. Now, I find myself trying to find ways to make healthy food delicious, so it’s very rare that you see me bake something comforting and not so healthy, like a cake.

Or like a chocolate and red wine cake with raspberry buttercream.

Decadent? Yes. Rich? Yes! Do I have any regrets? Absolutely not!

So you must think I’m crazy to add red wine to a perfectly good cake, or some would say I’d be crazy for using the wine on such thing! But it really REALLY works. The wine gives it such a silky, luxurious and moist texture you just can’t beat, (well, you can…with beaters!). The inspiration came from the friend I made this for, whose favourite thing in the world is red wine, and when I was thinking about which kind of cake to make I just kept coming back to ways I could incorporate red wine!

The original recipe I based this on suggested raspberry buttercream on the inside, and chocolate buttercream on the outside, which you can absolutely do. I felt as though this made a lot of raspberry buttercream, and was enough to cover the entire cake. If you want to do the chocolate buttercream on the outside I would definitely halve the raspberry buttercream ingredients (then again, it depends on how much you like in between each layer of cake!).

Ingredients:Untitled design (8)

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups castor sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk
  • 1 cup (240ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup (240ml) sweet red wine
  • 200g salted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup (120ml) raspberry puree (from about 1/2 cup of raspberries pureed in a food processor)

Directions:

1. Prepare three 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper circles in the bottom, and grease the sides. Preheat oven to 160 degrees.

2. Add all dry ingredients to a large bowl and combine.

3. Add eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla to the dry ingredients and mix well.

4. Slowly add wine. Mix well.

5. Divide batter evenly between cake pans and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs.

6. Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove to racks to cool completely.

While cakes cool, make icing/s.

7. To make the raspberry buttercream, beat the butter until smooth.

8. Add 2 cups of icing sugar and beat until smooth.

9. Add raspberry puree and beat until smooth.

10. Add remaining powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

15. When the cakes are cool, put the cake together. Remove the tops of the cakes with a large serrated knife so they are flat.

16. Place the first layer of cake on cake stand. Top with half of the raspberry buttercream and spread into an even layer.

17. Add second layer of cake and remaining raspberry buttercream and smooth into a smooth layer.

18. Top cake with remaining cake layer.

What’s the most indulgent cake you have made?

Mel Sign Off-01-01

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Hot Cross Bun -off

Ok, things have been a bit quiet for us. Mel has been gallivanting around Europe and I’ve just been busy.

We’ve still be eating and cooking through, don’t worry.

In fact, we had a Hot Cross Bun-off this week. We each chose a different recipe and cooked up two flavours, then took them in to work for our colleagues to vote on.

Mel is into more traditional flavours, while I’m keen to mix things up! She did a batch of original and a batch of ginger/cardamom. I did chai/raisin and cherry/chocolate.

If I’m honest, I’d call it a tie. Our work mates devoured the lot and sent us both emails proclaiming our hot cross bun making talents. I’m happy with that.

Where could we improve for future bun making?

I went with a River Cottage recipe (no surprises there!) and was very happy with the texture. I was disappointed that the cross mixture was far too runny no matter what I did, so I didn’t have a lot of control with the piping bag (I won’t be following the River Cottage instructions for that bit next time – do they have different flour in the UK?). I’d also add more chai spice mix and raisins to my chai/raisin combination. I’d also planned on using dried cherries in my cherry/chocolate batch, but I couldn’t find them anywhere – I ended up improvising with frozen cherries and my oven. However, I was generally pretty happy with the results.

Mel chose a recipe from SBS food for her base and, despite saying that any time she has tried to make bread it hasn’t worked out, she was pretty happy with her end result – even if they were a bit on the over-cooked side. She said she’d add more ginger to her ginger an cardamom combination and keep a closer eye on the buns during the cooking process.

We then started coming up with some ideas for next time.

I’m going to do a kids’ version with mini M&Ms and coloured crosses. I also suggested Mel could do a dark chocolate and chilli batch to make them spicy.

Mel is going to attempt a strong ginger flavour, with fresh minced ginger.  she might also try a salted chocolate batch, yum!

I’ll leave you with this thought though – ginger and wasabi hot cross buns. I’m going to try making them! Anyone keen to try?

Karis Sign Off-01-01

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My favourite time of the year – making gingerbread

Yes, the festive season has been and gone! Since my years of working in retail are behind me, I’ve really felt like I can really get into the festive spirit!

One of my favourite ways to get ready and excited about Christmas is to get baking. That’s right, crank up the Christmas carols, put the corny apron on, and dance and sing while the smell of freshly baked gingerbread wafts through the house!

I find some gingerbread recipes can be too dry, and others very sticky, but luckily this one is just right. I have been using this recipe for years, it never fails me. Since my family have few traditions when it comes to Christmas, this is one I have started myself and one I want to carry with me for years to come.

This year, I had two amazing helpers, my room mate Beth, and her three year old niece Imogen! It was messy at times but we certainly had plenty of fun.

Ingredients

  • Melted butter, to grease
  • 125g butter, at room temperature
  • 100g (1/2 cup, firmly packed) brown sugar
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) golden syrup
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 375g (2 1/2 cups) plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • Plain flour, to dust
  • 150g (1 cup) pure icing sugar, sifted
  • Food colouring of your choice

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C and brush 2 baking trays with melted butter to lightly grease.
  2. Use an electric beater to beat the butter and sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy.
  3. Add the golden syrup and egg yolk and beat until combined.
  4. Stir in the flour, ginger, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda.
  5. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
  6. Press dough into a disc. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.
  7. Meanwhile, to make the icing: place egg white in a clean, dry bowl. Use an electric beater to beat until soft peaks form.
  8. Gradually add icing sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Divide icing among bowls (as many bowls as you need colours) and add food colouring. Keep covered in fridge until needed.
  9. Place the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper and roll out until about 4mm thick.
  10. Use a 9cm gingerbread man cutter to cut out shapes. Place on trays about 3cm apart. Repeat with any excess dough.
  11. Bake in oven for 10 minutes or until brown. Remove from oven. Transfer to a rack to cool.
  12. Place prepared icings in small plastic zip lock bags. Cut a small hole in a corner of each bag. Pipe icing over gingerbread men to decorate.

Note: I got inspiration from Pinterest and google for decorating!

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do. We ended up making over 120 biscuits, which took forever to ice, but the overwhelming awesome feedback we received from them was worth every second!

Merry Christmas to you all!

Mel Sign Off-01-01

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