Monday, October 10, 2016

Cool summer desserts

Panna Cotta

Visiting the US in September when daytime temperatures hovered around the high 30Cs reminded me how refreshing the most simple of desserts can be when temperatures soar.
What better way to end a meal on a high than with the refreshingly simple combination of panna cotta and summer fruits.
So here is one of my favourite summer recipes.


75ml full cream milk
30g caster sugar
1/2 vanilla bean (including scraped seeds)
2 gold-strength gelatine leaves (4g) (soaked and drained)
175ml thickened cream


Heat milk, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over medium to low heat.
Bring to the boil then remove from the heat.
Stir in soaked gelatine.
Add cream. Stir. Strain mixture into a small container and leave to set in the refrigerator (about 2 hours or overnight).

To serve:

Using a hot spoon, form quenelles of panna cotta.
Place two quenelles in each bowl, add a selection of summer berries and serve. I usually use a combination of sliced strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, small pineapple wedges or small balls of watermelon. But any fruit selection can be used, including poached peaches, apricots, pears and apples.

What is a quenelle?

A quenelle is an oval-shaped scoop. Quenelling is simply a neater way to present soft desserts that will hold their shape, such as panna cotta, mousse and icecream. Plain old-fashioned scoops with a spoon taste as good but quenelles done well look more elegant. A bit like the difference between dishing up icecream with a spoon and an 'icecream scoop'.

To form a quenelle, warm a dessert spoon in hot water, hold it upside down just above the panna cotta that has been refrigerated for at least 2 hours. Then in one movement scoop and twist the spoon through the set dessert to form an oval scoop the size and shape of two spoons joined.
For larger quenelles use a tablespoon.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rum Glaze for Celebration Fruit Cake

Weddings and twenty-first birthdays call for a special iced fruit cake. Today's recipe is for a glaze to spread on a traditional rich fruit cake before it is covered with almond and then plain icing layers.
The first list of ingredients comes from a recipe I was given many years ago during a cake decorating class. It is in imperial measurements ("pounds and ounces") and makes a very large quantity of glaze, too much for the "occasional" cake decorator.
The second list of ingredients is metric and the amounts are those I usually use - it's more than enough for a two-tier wedding cake but the glaze keeps well in the fridge so it's worth making a decent amount if you are likely to decorate Christmas cakes later in the year.

Rum Glaze for Iced Fruit Cakes
Original ingredients list (imperial measurements)
1lb 14oz apricot jam (smooth)
3/4lb sugar
4oz brown rum
4oz brandy
1 cup water

Metric list (half the original quantity)
425g apricot jam (smooth)
170g sugar
57ml brown rum
57ml brandy
1/2 cup water

Boil sugar and water for 10 minutes.
Add jam. Bring back to the boil.
Add rum and brandy.
If not smooth, strain.
Keep in a screw top jar in the fridge until needed.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Butternut or Kent/Jap Pumpkin Soup

The days are still sunny in Melbourne but a distinct chill in the morning air heralds the arrival of "soup weather". And what better way to start a collection of my favourite soup recipes than with that most under-appreciated vegetable the humble pumpkin.
My favourite pumpkin varieties for soup-making are the butternut variety or the stripy Kent pumpkin (also known as a Jap pumpkin, which has a sweeter flavour and mashes more easily than most other varieties).

Pumpkin Soup

1 pumpkin (butternut or Kent/Jap varieties are best for this recipe)
1 brown onion (or 3 or 4 golden shallots for a less intense flavour)
2-3 sticks of celery (not the whole bunch, just 2-3 of the sticks or rib with the leaves on top as well as they add flavour and texture)
1 small carrot
2 tab olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
500 ml chicken stock
water (as needed - see * below)
1/4 cup cream (optional)
2 tab finely chopped parsley

4 rashers of bacon, grilled and crumbled
croutons - 2 slices of bread cut into 1cm cubes, sprayed with olive oil and baked in a hot oven until crisp

Heat oil in a heavy-based pot.
Cut pumpkin roughly into cubes (about 4-5cm chunks), slice celery into small pieces (reserve the leaves for later), finely cut onion (or shallots) and dice carrot (these take longer to cook than the other vegetables so dice-sized pieces are best). Add the vegetables to the pot and cook until the onion softens and the vegetables are slightly golden.
Add salt, freshly ground pepper, chopped celery leaves and stock. If needed, add enough water to bring liquid to level that just covers the vegetables.
Cover and bring to the boil until pumpkin and carrot are soft enough to put a knife through them.
Puree soup in blender (or if you don't have a blender, strain the soup through a sieve, mash the vegetables with a potato masher, then return mashed vegetables to the liquid).

When serving the soup, add a swirl of cream to the top of each bowl, a sprinkle of chopped parsley, and a sprinkle of crumbled bacon and a few croutons if desired (or place the "finishing" ingredients on the table and let guests add their own).

The soup can be frozen (omit cream, parsley, bacon and croutons - these need to be prepared/added just before serving) and reheated for a quick winter treat. I usually freeze single or double serves as they reheat quickly. Add a few slices of crusty bread and you have a quick lunch or entree. And it's the perfect light meal at the end of a big day out.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Light Chocolate Pudding

Light Chocolate Pudding

4 egg yolks
6 egg whites
5 tab caster sugar
3 tab cocoa
2 tab Grand Marnier or brandy
icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180C (place 23cm shallow casserole or cake pan in oven to heat while making mixture)

Beat egg yolks and 2 tab caster sugar until fluffy.
Sift cocoa on top and mix through with brandy or liqueur.
Beat egg whites until stiff then gradually add remaining 3 tab caster sugar, beating after each addition.
Put a quarter of egg white mixture into yoke mixture then fold through half the remaining white mixture, then the rest of the white mixture.
The aim is to retain the air incorporated into the whites - as you would for a souffle.
Grease the hot casserole or cake pan with butter. Pour in the chocolate mixture, leaving the top rough.
Return pan to the oven and cook for about 12-15 minutes until it is puffy and just firm to the touch.
Quickly sift icing sugar on top and spoon into serving bowls.

This pudding needs to be served as soon as it comes out of the oven, to retain its light texture.
Serve with a scoop of ice-cream or whipped cream.

Quick Chocolate Pudding

Quick Chocolate Pudding
Makes 6 puddings

185g dark chocolate (break into small pieces)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup day-old cake crumbs
60g butter
2 tab caster sugar
3 eggs (separated)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 teas vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 170C.
Melt chocolate (in a bowl over hot water or in a microwave, stirring every 10 secs or so), stirring until it melts.
Place cake crumbs in basin and pour over melted chocolate. Set aside for about 30 minutes to allow crumbs to absorb chocolate.
In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, mix well.
Stir in chocolate crumb mix, nuts (if using) and vanilla.
Beat egg whites until stiff and fold through chocolate mixture.
Grease 6 small oven-proof dishes (about 3/4 cup capacity) with butter.
Spoon chocolate mixture into greased dishes.
Place dishes in baking dish and add water to come halfway up sides of pudding dishes.
Cover loosely with foil and bake in oven for 40-45 minutes or until puddings puff up and are set on top.
Cool for about two minutes then run a knife around the edge of each pudding and invert onto plates.
Serve with chocolate sauce and a scoop of ice-cream or whipped cream.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A blueberry twist on Eton Mess

Sometimes the best desserts are a combination of serendipity, history and inspiration. Unexpected visitors brightened the day pre-Christmas but upset the cooking schedule. I had promised to bring a berry dessert to a family get-together and decided to make a blueberry cheesecake.
By the time the visitors left it was too late to bake a cheesecake so I decided to try a blueberry version of something resembling Eton Mess instead.
I recently discovered a vanilla bean grinder at my local supermarket - a bit like a bottle of peppercorns that is also a grinder but this one contained vanilla pods/beans - so this recipe proved a good one for putting the grinder to use.
This recipe was enough for about 8-10 people but it can easily be reduced for a smaller number.

1 punnet of blueberries
1 punnet strawberries
1 punnet raspberries
250g creme fraiche
250g mascapone
2 tablespoons caster sugar
vanilla bean (grated) or vanilla extract (about 1 teaspoon)
1 packet of chocolate ripple biscuits (a crisp shortbready type of commercial biscuit - 1 packet = about 200-250g)

Crush biscuits (can be done in a blender but I prefer the rougher texture obtained by crushing them with a rolling pin or similar after placing them inside a folded piece of baking paper)
Wash berries. Hull and slice strawberries (keeping a few aside for decorating the top of the completed dessert).
Mix creme fraiche, mascapone and caster sugar well. Add a sprinkling of ground vanilla bean (see above) or teaspoon of vanilla essence (or to taste). Combine well - a good brisk stir will help make the creamy mixture light and fluffy.

Now comes the fun bit. I combined the ingredients in a large glass bowl (salad dish) but they could also be layered in individual dishes/glasses instead, in the following order:
Place 1/4 of the crushed biscuits in the bottom of the large bowl (or small bowls/glasses)
Top with 1/3 of the berries, then 1/3 of the creamy mix.
Repeat as above, ending with the last 1/4 of the crushed biscuits.
Swirl the top biscuit and creamy layers together slightly and top with a few whole berries.

The dessert is delicious on the day it is made but even better the next day, when the tastes and textures have had a chance to meld a bit more.

Beautiful following a barbeque on a hot summer's night.

PS Next time I make it I'll try to take a photo before it's all gone!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Choc-orange creme caramel

Anything chocolate goes down a treat in this kitchen, particularly at dessert time.
This recipe combines two favourites - chocolate and baked custard. It's not quick to make - but it is simple if you follow the steps carefully and take you time and the results are worth waiting for.
What could be better on a hot summer's day. Come to think of it, this creamy delight makes a cool treat in winter as well. When is not the right time for chocolate?

1 orange (including finely grated zest)
160g good dark chocolate
600ml milk
250g caster sugar - plus another 3 tablespoons
120ml water
4 large eggs
3 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 160C (fan-forced) or 180C (conventional oven)

Combine orange zest and chocolate (broken) in a small bowl.
Bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan and pour over chocolate. Stir until the mixture is smooth then set aside for 5 minutes. (Note: This step can be done in a microwave - place milk and chocolate in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat on medium until chocolate melts, checking and stirring every 30 secs or so to avoid overcooking the chocolate. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the orange zest and set aside for 5 minutes, then proceed as below).

Combine 250g caster sugar and water in medium saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to boil and cook without stirring until mixture turns a caramel colour.

Pour caramel into 20cm ovenproof dish (I prefer to use a Pyrex glass dish) and swirl to cover the sides of the dish with caramel.

Whisk egg yolks and 3 tablespoons caster sugar in a medium bowl until well combined.
Add milk mixture, stir until smooth and pour into the caramel-lined dish.
Place dish on a baking tray and pour hot water in the tray until it comes halfway up the sides of the dish (forming a bain marie).
Bake for about 75 minutes or until the creme caramel is just set.
Remove from oven. Cool then refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.

To serve, run a warm dry knife around the edge of the dish and invert onto a plate.
For a stronger orange flavour, try replacing some of the water with orange juice.