Death by Croquembouche

ImageI have a slightly unhealthy obsession with conquering the Croquembouche. I think it all started about a year ago when I first saw the challenge set on one of my favourite cooking shows, Masterchef. Since that time I’ve had about four attempts at the French Wedding Cake, each with varying levels of success and often resulting in burnt fingers and a few tears (this is probably one of the only recipes that angers/frustrates/delights me to the point of crying!). I’ve always used the same recipe (Adriano Zumbo’s Masterchef challenge recipe, which has now “officially” been removed from their website but a similar one exists here http://tvnz.co.nz/masterchef-australia/croquembouche-3069656) and every single time I always promise myself never ever to attempt it again…and yet here we are!

So about a month ago I received a Croquembouche cone for my birthday, which undoubtably was a sign that I would just have to attempt to make it one final time (as if!) and I of course decided that the most perfect occasion would be Christmas Dinner. On the four previous occasions that I’ve made it, I had progressively gotten better. The very first attempt resulted in very large choux buns of all different sizes served on a plate (I was too exhausted after the process of making the buns that I couldn’t be bothered to make the toffee or put them together). The next two attempts did have more consistency in bun size and shape and even included the toffee. The tower however, was still slightly unattainable without the proper cone, collapsing into a heap on my second attempt and leaning like the tower of Pisa in the third. My fourth attempt (made for my boyfriends birthday) was my best so far where I came up with the genius idea of using a bowl lined in cling wrap as my mould. Unfortunately I forgot that hot toffee melts plastic but after a few disasters I managed to get a tower shape, slightly uneven but with spun toffee. It was all very impressive! For this attempt though I was very determined. Success would finally be mine, I could just feel it!

So on Christmas eve I set about baking my choux buns. In previous attempts I’ve noticed that once filled and refrigerated, the buns go soggy quite quickly so to counteract this I planned to bake the buns a day ahead, and construct the tower the day of. I really took my time making sure that each batch were evenly cooked through, and completely dried out. I’ve previously had issues where the buns didn’t dry out completely, but read somewhere that you should cook for 10mins at a higher temperature, before turning your oven down for the remaining time. This seemed to work very well, and I managed to turn out perfectly cooked, coloured choux buns that had a nice hollow sound when tapped on the base (thats a sign that they are cooked through). I also saw, on another cooking show, that once removed from the oven, the buns should have a small “x” cut into the base. ImageThis has two purposes; the first is to allow the heat/steam to escape from each bun, preventing them from going soggy and secondly to provide a hole to pipe the custard into later. Once this process was complete and the buns were cool I put them into an airtight container, readying myself for the great build the next day!

So I must admit that on this occasion I cheated on the custard (or creme patissiere if you want to be technically correct) and bought an extra thick store bought one, which worked really well for a time pressed and egg-short me! I also enlisted my sister to help me build the great structure, which was probably wise as she kept me sane throughout the process. Now this was the first time that I had ever used the actual cone to help me build it and if I’ve learnt one thing its INVEST IN A CONE!! It was so much faster and easier and less stressful then I’d ever envisaged. I really don’t know why I didn’t do it the first time. After some research though, I’ve read a few websites that make their own cone shape using baking paper and also use chocolate instead of toffee for a bit of a modern twist. While I’ve never personally tried either of these options they both sound worthwhile with much less risk of being burnt. ImageAfter about 15mins though, we had our tower and now for the moment of truth, turning it out! With all my fingers crossed I prayed to the gods of baking and did the magic flip, hearing the beautiful “clunck” sound of the croquembouche detaching itself from the mould! As I lifted it away I was presented with a perfectly shaped Croquembouche and about time too!! It was possibly, one of my proudest baking moments.

Now this dessert wasn’t to be eaten for a few hours so I turned it back into the cone and transported it to my Aunties house where I made one of my most amateur decisions ever….not to refrigerate the Croquembouche. So here’s another lesson I learnt on Christmas day, you must refrigerate the Croquembouche!!! Sadly for me it was all too little, too late. When it finally came time to serve up, I turned out what was once my perfectly formed Croquembouche only to have it all collapse before my eyes! To say I was devastated was an understatement. In the end though I was consoled with two thoughts; one that it would still taste just as good and two that I had already taken a picture of its success. I must say though, that it still did taste really good. So with all that said and done, here are the things that I’ve learnt when it comes to making a Croquembouche. Hopefully someone out there will learn something from my mistakes and create a beautiful, flawless Croquembouche, first time around!Image

The Do’s and Don’ts:

1. If you’re not confident with a piping bag then make a template of circles on a sheet that you place underneath your baking paper so that all of your buns are the same size

2. Do cook your buns at 200 degrees C for the first 10 mins then turn your oven down to 180 degrees C

3. Do cook your buns all the way through, even if this is longer then the recommended cooking time. They should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and will be quite coloured. This is a good sign!

4. Do cut an “x” in the base of each bun with a sharp knife and cool completely

5. It’s ok to use store bought custard, just make sure you use one thats “extra thick”

6. Do invest in a Cone or make your own using baking paper. Spray the cone lightly with cooking spray and DO NOT use cling wrap

7. Make and serve your Croquembouche at or around the same time and in the interval REFRIGERATE!! Even if its a cool day!

And finally,

8. Do try again if it doesn’t work the first time. It’s a challenge after all!!

Happy Baking xx

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Festive Fruit Mince Pies

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Merry Christmas everyone!! I hope your day was filled with family, giving, joy and what else…FOOD!! I should probably add that I’m speaking in the past tense here because it’s currently Boxing Day morning where I live. Yesterday was a great day and at my place, we have leftovers coming out of our ears but I couldn’t resist sharing one more Christmas recipe with you all, especially when I was so surprised at how well this one came out!

One of my most favourite things to eat at Christmas (aside from a baked Turkey lunch) are Fruit Mince Pies and this year I think I’ve finally got the recipe right. Nothing beats the soft, crumbly blonde pastry filled with caramelly fruit mince. I thought they would be a lot more fiddly to make but I managed to wrangle my sister into helping me, so we had a little production line going on. So here is what I did (this makes about 14-16 tarts)

You’ll Need:

Fruit Mince:

1 Cup dried mixed fruit

Rum/Orange Flavoured liquor/Orange Juice

1/2 cup Brown Sugar

75g Butter

1TBS Cinnamon

1Tsp Mixed Spice

1Tsp Nutmeg

Half an Orange, Juiced

1 Apple, cored and diced into small pieces

1/3 Cup Slithered Almonds

Pastry:

2 1/4 cups plain flour

1/3 cup icing sugar

1/4 cup almond meal

1tsp baking powder

160g cold butter

1 egg

1tsp vanilla essence

2TBS cold water

What I did:

1. The day before: Place your mixed dried fruit into a bowl and add a splash of alcohol or orange juice for a kid friendly mince. Ensure you cover it with cling wrap so the alcohol doesn’t evaporate. 

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2. Put your fruit mixture into a saucepan and add all the other ingredients and cook on a low heat (about 10 minutes) until a caramel has formed and the apple has softened. Set aside to cool completely. It looks a bit like this (look right!)

3. Put your flour, icing sugar, almond meal, baking powder and butter into a food processor and blend until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add your egg, vanilla and water and mix until it forms a dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly until it all comes together. Split the mix into two halves and wrap in cling film. Pop into the fridge for 30mins. (now go have some eggnog!)

4. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a muffin tin lightly with cooking spray. Roll out one half of your pastry onto a floured surface (use a rolling pin or tinned cans if you don’t have one) until it is abut 0.5cm thick (or however thick you like. I love pastry so mine might be a bit thick for some people). I like to use a coffee mug but a round cookie cutter does the same thing, so using your chosen utensil cut out the round shape for the base of the tart and place into the muffin tin. Add about a tablespoon of the cooled fruit mince. Roll out the other half of the pastry as you did before and use a slightly smaller cutter to make the lids. Place onto and prick the centre with a fork. Lightly egg wash (1 beaten egg) the tops of the tarts for a golden colour and pop into the oven. Cook for about 20mins. Leave to cool and serve!Image

I hope you all enjoy this Christmas classic as much as I do. And, if you’re like me, this one doesn’t have to be restricted to Christmas time, now that I’m happy with the recipe I might have to make these more often!

Merry Christmas x

Christmas Shortbread…with a twist!

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It’s two days until Christmas where I live which means only one thing…let the Christmas baking begin!!! First on my list today was shortbread. I really love baking shortbread as not only are they a great treat to eat on Christmas day (perfect because they are not too sweet, unlike the rest of my desserts) but can also be given as a gift to friends or family, which is exactly what I plan to do! I also recently saw on a cooking show that shortbread biscuits (cut in an angel shape) can be used as place cards on your table. 

In previous years, I’ve used a recipe that is fairly standard but this year I decided to mix it up a little bit and put a modern twist on an old classic. So here it is, my Orange infused Christmas shortbread! Enjoy!!

Makes about 50 star shaped cookies

Ingredients:

250g unsalted butter (soft/room temperature)

125g sugar

250g plain flour (sifted)

125g cornflour (sifted)

1/2 Orange juiced

Orange flavoured popping candy

Dark chocolate for melting (about 50g)

Star shaped cookie cutter (or whatever shape you would like)

What to do:

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Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper. Using an electric mixer, cream your sugar and butter together until it changes to a pale, fluffy mixture. Add the two types of flour and juice of half an orange (you can include the zest too if you’d like a really strong orange flavour). Using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix together gently until just combined. 

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll out until its just over half a centimetre thick (or however you’d like). Using a cookie cutter, cut the dough into shapes and place on the lined baking tray (I’ve gone with a star to be festive but you could use any shape you’d like. Alternatively you could keep the mixture thicker and put it into a baking tin to slice into finger shapes once baked). Pop them in the oven for about 40mins or until golden to your liking.

Let them cool completely. Meanwhile, over a simmering pot of water, place your dark chocolate into a heatproof bowl and melt. Once melted, add your popping candy (remember this step is optional) and stir. Leaving your shortbread on the baking trays, move them closer so that they are almost touching. Then, using a spoon, in fast sweeping motions, flick the melted chocolate over the tray to create lines of chocolate. Instead of this you could also dip half the star into the chocolate. Leave on the baking paper to dry and store in an airtight container (if you can resist them!) And voila!! Now to sit back with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit!

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Merry Christmas xx

Aria Restaurant, Sydney

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On Friday night my mum and I dined at Matt Moran’s Aria Restaurant, Circular Quay. We were on our way to see the Australian Ballet’s performance of Cinderella so opted for the three course pre-theatre menu ($89.00). We were seated at a table overlooking the Quay, providing us both with a stunning view of Sydney Harbour. I was really pleased as when i had made the reservation (online) I requested a window seat that overlooked the Harbour and thats exactly what I got! The waitstaff were very attentive right from the onset, without hovering or being invasive which was fantastic as mum and I had allocated plenty of time to enjoy the dining experience. 

One of my favourite things (aside from all of the food) about the fine dining experience is the fantastic service and attention to detail. Once seated and served our drinks, we were presented with a complimentary appetiser of ceviche and freshly baked bread rolls. I know it seems shallow, but wow that bread was good!

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For entrée, I had the Scallops which included plump, fresh scallops with calamari and clams floating in a fantastic green vinaigrette of celery, dulse and hazelnut oil. It was such a delicious combination of flavours and textures, both sweet and sour but perfectly balanced. My mum had the Salmon, pink, moist flakes of salmon accompanied by wedges of avocado and orange. It was such a fresh and vibrant dish with beautiful plating and balance.

Following this I had the Chicken for a main dish and wow, what an amazing flavour-packed plate! I would highly recommend this dish as it wont disappoint your taste buds. I was presented with a beautiful piece of perfectly cooked chicken breast, stuffed with sage, onion and brioche on a bead of truffled pearl barley and broccoli and accompanied with tarragon chipolatas. Everything about this dish was perfect to me so it’s lucky that it was such a big serve because I literally could have licked the plate! I’m not a huge fan of truffle as it can often be overused but in this instance it was a perfect balance of creamy rich flavours with the subtle crunch of broccoli. Mum chose the King Trout; a seared fillet with cauliflower, almonds, crab and radish which also looked and tasted divine. To share, we ordered the salad of green beans with quinoa and pear. Image

Because we were in a bit of a hurry to get to the ballet we were encouraged to opt for a slightly quicker dessert to prepare (so no souffle) but trust me, we were not disappointed. We both decided to go with the Chocolate which is honestly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever seen or eaten (and yes I did write seen because it was so yummy to look at I didn’t want to eat it at first..but i quickly changed my mind!). On a large round plate painted with dark chocolate was a slice of chocolate tart topped with caramelised hazelnuts. The vanilla choc-ice was presented in a log accompanied by two chocolate macarons. I could have eaten it all day long! mmmm just the thought of it makes me hungry again! So many smooth, rich, chocolatey textures with crunchy nuts and vanilla bean ice cream. And if that wasn’t enough, the chef sent us (and every other table!) petit fours which included a grape jelly, lime meringue tart, toffee brittle and chocolate truffle, so even if you don’t decide to order dessert, your sweet tooth will be amply addressed. Image

Overall, I would highly recommend a visit to Aria restaurant, Sydney as a treat. Fantastic food, exceptional service and a view that can not be beaten. Head to their website for more details or to make a reservation. I promise you won’t be disappointed!!

http://www.ariarestaurant.com/sydney/menu/dinner

Japanese Vacation

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So I must apologise for my absence these past two weeks, I’ve been away holidaying in Japan and wow what an amazing place!! My boyfriend and I spent the majority of our time in Tokyo but managed to fit in a day trip to Osaka to go to Universal Studios (the bullet train was a great experience in and of itself!) But of course my favourite part about the whole experience was the food! I am a huge fan of Japanese food; sushi, sashimi, udon, soba noodles, I love it all! On top of this is the added bonus that the vast majority of Japanese food is quite different to the dishes they serve here at home. Usually, Japanese restaurants in Australia serve a lot of sushi rolls (which I love) including those with chicken, cooked seafoods, beef etc. and stir-fried vegetable/noodle dishes but what we found in Japan is that the most common dishes are those that include sliced, fresh sashimi on top of a small mound of rice. As well as this I discovered a new-found love of soba noodles served cold and udon served in a flavoursome broth (I was travelling in Winter so these dishes really warmed me up!)Image

Another thing that really took me by surprise was the “obsession” with international foods such as pasta and pizza that many of the locals had (and I must add to this that they really cook their pasta well!)

Whilst exploring this beautiful place we came across so many wonderful, authentic Japanese restaurants serving fresh delicious food for such a small price. To try and name them would be unbelievably difficult as there wasn’t one place that we ate at that I wouldn’t recommend (also most of their names were in Japanese!) but two places that we did “accidentally” stumble across that are worth a mention are Bills and Gonpachi.

Bills, located in Omotesando, is a beautiful open plan location overlooking the bustling shopping district below. The restaurant is surrounded by long glass windows that allow the light to just spill in over their diners. I also loved the giant bookcase situated on the far left side of the space, I was so tempted to go over and find myself something to read but my boyfriend said no 😦 If you’re going to pay the restaurant a visit, beware that there will be a line, it seems its a local favourite but sometimes you can be lucky enough to snap up a table with very little to no wait time. For lunch, I had the prawn and chilli linguini ($13) which was huge and absolutely delicious. The prawns were large and plump and the pasta cooked al dente. The whole thing was tossed through a rich, tomato sauce with a hint of chilli and fresh rocket! My only complaint was that they didn’t have parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top. My boyfriend also ordered the wagyu burger served with beetroot, zucchini pickles, tomato chilli jam and herbed french fries ($20) and the parmesan crumbed chicken schnitzel served with fennel slaw and lemon mash ($15.00). I had a little taste test of his schnitzel and mash which was moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. The mash was the highlight for me though being full flavoured, creamy and rich. Absolutely delicious! A lot of diners around us were also ordering the ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter ($14.00) but unfortunately we couldn’t fit it in our bellies (there is also a 25min wait time for these so make sure you keep that in mind). Overall, it was a wonderful dining experience that I would highly recommend. The prices especially are very reasonable compared to what I would pay for the same thing in Australia. Great service throughout the whole experience as well. I was quite taken that the waitress explained to us that certain dishes were big enough to share or not enough for a big eater etc.

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Fans of the movie Kill Bill will be familiar with Gonpachi (located in Ginza), which is where part of the movie was filmed (I have yet to see it so I’m not sure exactly what part but i believe its the big fight scene with Uma Therman). Anyway, when we entered we were greeted with a refreshing, zingy punch, complementary. As we hadn’t made a booking we were seated at the “bar” which encloses the kitchen. I actually quite liked this seat as I got to watch what was going on. Before I tell you about the food, I should probably preface myself by saying that Gonpachi is a very touristy restaurant and as a result the prices are a bit higher then that found elsewhere with smaller portion sizes. We also noticed that the turnover of tables is a lot faster then usual, so it felt a little like we were being hurried along and our dishes came out very quickly. Myself and my two dinner guests ordered a selection of dishes which we shared, again probably something that I would recommend. Two of my favourite dishes of the night were the Karaage (fried chicken) ($6.50) which was small pieces of moist chicken coated in a crisp flavoursome batter, and the Ebi Shinjyo (fried shrimp dumplings) ($3.80 p/p) which had a prawn filling encased in a lattice like pastry, deep fried until crisp and drizzled with yuzu and sweet chilli sauce. Yum!

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Another interesting dish were the Gonpachi Supreme Skewers ($35) which included three skewers of Toro, Fois Gras & Beef. It was very interesting to try fois gras for the first time and this was very rich and creamy but for $35 probably not the most worthwhile dish i’ve ever eaten. Overall, it was a really nice dining experience but just prepare for a larger bill then normal and a slightly emptier belly.

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I was so sad to leave Japan as it is such a wonderful, diverse place filled with the most well mannered and friendly people. I can’t wait to go back and explore the city some more one day soon and would easily recommend it to any other travellers out there! Does anyone else have some recommended places to visit in Japan?