Gluten free Self-Saucing Chocolate Puddings

IMG_3932I had a craving the other day for both a chocolate brownie and a chocolate lava cake (what a dilemma I hear you say!) and I just could not decide what to make! Then suddenly I remembered a recipe that I haven’t baked in ages that fits both those bills and is slightly (only slightly) healthier then your average cake! My Gluten free Self-Saucing Chocolate Puddings! Now don’t be fooled, these cakes are not your ordinary gluten free dessert. I have fed this to a Coeliac before, watched them eat the whole thing and then remember their intolerance before asking “wait but this isn’t gluten free, I’m going to get sick”. It was seriously that good that they didn’t even realise that it was ok for them! Additionally, the recipe is so easy you could make it with your eyes closed!!!

So if your after a warm, rich gooey chocolate pudding that literally oozes yumminess then be sure to give this a go! Great for those with a wheat intolerance AND those who enjoy a yummy dessert!!

What you’ll need:
1 cup gluten-free self-raising flour
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 cup almond meal
65g melted dark chocolate
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
30g butter, melted
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 3/4 cups boiling water
Double-thick cream/ice cream to serve

What I did:
1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C and lightly spray 4 large ramekins (or a large baking dish) with some non-stick spray.
2. Combine flour, caster sugar, almond meal and 2 tablespoons cocoa in a bowl. Add milk, vanilla, chocolate and butter and stir to combine. Pour mixture into prepared ramekins/dish.

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3.Combine brown sugar and remaining cocoa in a small bowl and then sprinkle the mixture over the top of each of the ramekins (this will make your sauce). Pour boiling water to cover sugar mixture and then pop into the oven.

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4. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted around the edge of pudding comes out clean. Remember not to cook the pudding too much or you will loose that beautiful rich sauce!

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5. Let them cool slightly (I know that part is hard!) and then serve with cream or ice cream!!

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Happy Baking and Enjoy!!

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 (My bowl after I was done!!)

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Healthy Strawberry, Coconut & Nutella Muffins

I love experimenting with my baking and what better day to do so then Sunday!! Last night I had trouble sleeping so instead I thought about variousways to improve my muffin making skills. I really want to crIMG_3914eate a muffin recipe that produces light, fluffy, delicious cupcakes with as little of the bad stuff as possible! Anyway I started thinking about muffins that I like to eat that fit that category and of course you have your regular muffin mix but then theres also the friand, which is light and fluffy and predominately uses almond meal and egg whites instead of flour! Now I’ve made muffins with an almond meal and flour combination as my dry ingredients and that was pretty tasty but I hate wasting the yellow bit of the egg! So i decided to sort of combine the two recipes so that I didn’t waste anything at all. I’m also trying to avoid using too much refined sugar and friands tend to use quite a bit of icing sugar so that would need to be changed. What I needed, I thought, was a whipped egg white, to give the muffin its sense of light, airy-ness and a more natural sweetener such as honey or maple syrup to give a little sweetness. I also decided to incorporate coconut to replace some of the flour, adding another layer of flavour and texture whilst healthy-ifying the muffins just a little bit more! The other essential component of experimental baking is using whats already available in your fridge or pantry and at the moment we have an abundance of beautiful, plump strawberries that would be the perfect addition to my muffins!

So off I went, adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I must add that when I experiment I tend not to use measures (or I don’t really remember them) but what I ended up with made 6 beautiful, moist strawberry muffins with a cheeky Nutella dollop centre!! Sooo yummy and now my house smells amazing! So heres what I did:

1. Separate two eggs, keeping the egg whites in one bowl and the yolks in another.

2. Add to the bowl with the yolks, 1 cup of self raising flour, sifted (could use gf flour or wholemeal flour), 1/4 cup shredded coconut, 2Tbs maple syrup (or honey), a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla essence. Mix together to form a smooth consistency. You may need to add a dash of milk (or water if you want it dairy free) to loosen the mixture. I used about 1/4 cup soy milk.

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3. In your other bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites to form stiff peaks. Then fold this mix into your flour/coconut mixture, being mindful not to knock the air out of it. Have a little taste and make sure its to your liking. Remember that the strawberries will add quite a bit of sweetness naturally so this mix shouldn’t be overly sweet.

4. Line your muffin tins and divide the mixture between 6 cases. Then slice up your strawberries and press down into each muffin. The strawberries should be covered by the mixture. Add a small dollop of nutella (optional) and try to press this down into the mixture also. Finally, top with a strawberry slice for beautiful presentation.

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5. Bake in a preheated oven (200 degrees C) for about 15-17mins or until a skewer comes out of the centre cleanly.

6. Allow to cool and sift generously with icing sugar and then enjoy!

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Enjoy and Happy Baking!!

El Bulli Spanish Tapas

Earlier this week my family and I celebrated my graduation from Uni at Randwick’s El Bulli Spanish Tapas! I was really excited as I’ve wanted to dine here for ages but, because of its location (which is a bit far from where I live) its often been forgotten! Luckily though, mum suggested it and I am so glad that she did!

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When we arrived we walked into a dimly lit room, furnished with wooden style benches and a quaint little bar. It was warm and cosy (totally the opposite of the weather outside!) and the staff were very friendly and welcoming. The seated us at a window table, sort of like a nook, where one side of the seating was a long bench filled with comfortable cushions and furnishings. Right from the outset, the restaurant smelt fantastic so I couldn’t wait to start eating! My family and I have been to a couple of Spanish Tapas style restaurants, so our rule is always to try to order a couple of different dishes each time that we go and with the menu presented to us we were spoilt for choice. Personally, I love Spanish tapas style food, in fact I would love to cook it one night for my family, although I’m not quite sure about the logistics of it for five people, but still, that would be a great night! So as a result we’ve only ever really eaten Tapas at a restaurant, which is a shame because it can be quite expensive. I will say that while the meals at El Bulli weren’t cheap, the food was fantastic!

We started off with some Sangria (of course!) and then ordered a selection of tapas dishes to share. Our first dish to arrive was the Pinchitos de Pollo ($16.50) which are essentially chicken skewers. These were beautiful though, moist perfectly cooked chicken skewered and marinated in chimichurri (a herby, green marinade common in Spanish cooking) before being grilled and drizzled with lemon and a light mayonnaise. Perfect little portions of tasty-ness!

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Following this, the Patatas Bravas ($12.50) arrived, with soft, pillowy potato quarters fried to give them a crispy outside, before being cooked in a rich and spicy tomato sauce. Yum Yum! We also shared the Empanadillas ($17.50)  (a personal favourite of mine) which are a deep fried puff pastry filled with mince, herbs and egg! Seriously crispy pastry filled with the most beautifully seasoned and flavoured mince, I could have eaten these all day!

One of the evenings specials was the Zucchini Flowers which were stuffed with a ricotta filling before being lightly battered and deep fried! I love zucchini flowers, and my boyfriend (whose never tried them before) devoured these ones! So crispy on the outside and stuffed to the brim with rich, creamy ricotta. The flowers were plump and fresh and had so much beautiful flavour to them!

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Now if that wasn’t enough, we then ordered a seafood Paella ($29.50) for one to share, which was divine! Perfectly cooked rice with a rich tomato and saffron flavour topped with flavoursome choritzo, chicken and fresh seafood including huge King Prawns, Octopus, Mussels and Clams! It never ceases to amaze me with just how much flavour some people can pack into such a little rice dish! Seriously good and highly highly recommended!

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The highlight dish for me though was one that I had almost told mum not to bother with; Zarzuela ($33.50) a dish I don’t think I’ve ever seen at a Spanish restaurant before, but have heard of in cooking shows. Essentially, it is a seafood soup or broth but wow, I really don’t think I have ever tasted something so unbelievably flavoursome before. There were so many layers of flavours, salty, sweet, spicy and of course seafoody. It was all perfectly balanced and a perfect dish for such cold cold weather. I would highly highly recommend this dish, plus it was huge!! Even my dad loved this one, and he hates spicy food! The broth itself also had a light tomato flavour and just the right amount of spice to hit the back of your throat, but not overpower the soft flavours of the seafood. Now thats a dish I would love to learn how to make.

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We had hoped to order dessert (Churros) but at almost $17 per serve we decided to go to the Italian restaurant around the corner instead, which was a shame as churros would have been delish! Overall, we had a wonderful evening and the food was fantastic! It’s a shame they don’t have a set menu so that you could try more options (for a slightly cheaper price) but hey I’m not complaining, the food was phenomenal! If your ever in Randwick (or Surry Hills as theres another one there) then make sure you stop by!! You won’t regret it! Yum!!

Check out their website here….

 

Caramel Slice…its just too Nice!!

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Caramel Slice would definitely have to be a family favourite in my household. Actually, come to think of it, anything caramel is a favourite! So when my sister asked me to bake something for her works Biggest Morning Tea it was the first thing that came to mind. Here in Australia, families and business around the country host a Morning tea to raise funds for Cancer research, collecting donations for a great cause! I was so excited to be able to help contribute through something that I myself love to do.

I actually received this recipe off my best friend, who herself had got it off her grandma (grandma’s always know the secrets to great cooking!) and I’ve made it quite a few times! When I recieved a copy of it, it was handwritten in beautiful cursive writing, a perfect sign of a recipe that was certainly going to produce beautiful old fashioned baked goods! The last two times I’ve made it though, I have made a few slight changes and I think I’m finally happy with a recipe that is super easy and super tasty. What I love about this slice is that the base is soft and chewy while the caramel centre isn’t overly sweet. Using dark chocolate on top also helps to balance the whole thing out so I’d recommend staying away from milk chocolate. This recipe is also really great as its really quick to make and kids can get involved too. A perfect lunch box treat if I do say so myself..that is if any slices make it to your lunch box!!

So here it is, my version of a great classic, Caramel Slice (based on one I received from a beautiful friend and her wonderful family!!)

What you need:

1 Block Dark chocolate (200g)

For the Base:

1 Packet Arnotts Butter Snap Cookies

1/4 cup desiccated coconut

115g butter (melted)

For the Caramel:

1 tin condensed Milk

2 Tbs golden syrup

1 Tbs butter

What I did:

1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Then use a food processor to turn your butternut snap cookies into a fine crumb (if you don’t have one you can always do this by hand by putting your biscuits into a bag and hitting it with a rolling pin. It may just take a little longer). Then add your coconut and melted butter and pulse until the mixture looks like wet sand.

2. Line your baking tin with greaseproof paper and tip your crumb mixture into it. Using the back of a spoon, press the mixture firmly and evenly around the tin to form your base. Then pop it into the fridge (this part is very important as it prevents you getting biscuit crumbs in your caramel later! Trust me, don’t skip it!) 

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2. While your base is setting in the fridge, pour your condensed milk, butter and golden syrup into a saucepan and put onto a medium-low heat. Stir it continuously until it turns into a nice golden caramel colour. Its really really important that you don’t stop stirring this mixture as it will burn so easily and leave you with a caramel that has burnt bits in it. Also make sure you stir right to the edges of the pot so it doesn’t stick. This bit can take a while as you need to work with a low heat but stick with it. 

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3. Pour the caramel over your base and pop the whole thing into the oven for 10minutes.

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4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completly. Once cooled, melt your chocolate in a bowl over a simmering pot of water. Pour over the caramel and set the whole thing in the fridge (1hr) or freezer. Use a sharp knife to cut into squares before serving

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Enjoy and Happy Baking!!

Chur Burger

ImageIn honour of it being National Burger day here today I thought I’d do a little review on an awesome place I visited on the weekend, Sydney’s Chur Burger! I’ve wanted to visit Chur burger for ages and finally on Saturday night I got my chance. After we had driven around for what felt like forever to find parking we arrived at a small little restaurant/cafe space with a whole lot of people waiting outside! In my mind I was thinking “just great, every other Sydney-sider has also had the same idea as me and also come here tonight!” but luckily the friendly staff at the door took my details and ensured me it would only be a half hour wait. Thankfully, the Ridges was located across the road, so we just popped in there for drinks (I think that most of their customers, if not all, were doing exactly the same thing as us). While we waited, we got chatting with the bar staff who assured as that the wait was this long every night, even on weekdays, and then like clockwork, exactly half an hour later my phone rang with our table! Yay!

If you’ve not heard about Chur burger before (then your missing out!), but think of it as a trendy little burger bar located in Sydney’s Surrey Hills. The bar is owned and run by New Zealand chef Warren Turnbull, which gives some reasoning for the bar’s name (the word “Chur” apparently, is a slang New Zealand term meaning awesome, cool or thanks!). As we entered I found myself in a really cool, very laid back room, which, while small was filled with groups of people. The seating and decor was very eclectic, and I suddenly realised that I was actually sitting on a giant paint tin turned upside down with a cushion on top! It was all very Surrey Hills! Once you walk in you order your food from the bar to your right (they serve alcohol too) and then take your place at your table. The whole thing really reminded me of an old school milk bar with lots of shared tables and benches to sit at.

Between the three of us (myself, sister and boyfriend) we ordered two of the Pulled Pork Burgers ($10) and a Grilled Beef Burger($10)  as well as a bowl of chips with chilli salt ($5) and sweet potato fries with lime and garlic ($5). To drink, the three of us all got the salted caramel milkshake ($8) because, well lets be honest who wouldn’t want a salted caramel milkshake!

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The food arrived quickly but no so soon that you felt rushed. Often at “food bar” type establishments (particularly in Surrey Hills) I feel like I’ve got to eat quickly so that they can turn over the table but not here. We were presented with a beautiful big burger each and wow, just wow it was so good! Just as a burger should be, not showy or fancy but just a good old fashioned burger on a soft fresh bread bun. My Pulled Pork was for sure the winner, with tender pork meat, BBQ sauce, red cabbage and fennel mayo all served on a soft brioche style bun! Seriously so damn good, I couldn’t fault it! The Beef burger was also delish, and I was impressed that the patty was cooked perfectly medium rare! Wow! That one was served with tomato jam, pickle, cheese and mustard mayo, you can’t go wrong there! 

The chips were also amazing, with a crispy finish and light coating of chilli salt. i think my favourite though were the sweet potato fries where the combination of lime, garlic and cinnamon really got my taste buds going. And if your wondering, both styles of chip were the proper old fashioned fat cut! YUM!! I’d probably recommend sharing the chips as the serve is really big, even the three of us with our huge appetites couldn’t finish it all!

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The highlight for my taste buds though was the milkshake which, dare I say it, would have to be one of the best milkshakes I have ever tasted! I felt like I was drinking a salted caramel macaron. It was honestly everything a milkshake should be, served in a tall silver milkshake glass, thick and rich and full of flavour it did not disappoint! Almost a meal in itself.

I think that the only downside to this place was the noise/heat level that quickly built inside and I had to remove myself for a bit to get some fresh air. Aside from that though I can’t wait to go again! Get down there Sydney-siders, this place is sure to impress!

Enjoy and Happy Baking!!

Triple Chocolate Cheesecake

ImageSo I am fairly certain that anything with three types of chocolate in it will always taste delicious, regardless of what it is. Add to that the fact that the chocolate will make up a beautiful rich cheesecake and you’ve got yourself a winner! Last weekend I decided to cook a three course lunch for my mum for mothers day and knowing that she loves all things chocolate and cheesecake I knew what the dessert had to be. But the question remained….how to do it?? 

I often steer away from making no bake cheesecakes after a previous experience which didn’t end up to be very successful. During that attempt, the recipe asked me to use gelatine powder to set the cake (again a chocolate cheesecake). Now either I was a bit heavy handed with the gelatine or the recipe itself was a little (or a lot) off but what I ended up with was a very dense, very firm cake that was a huge let down in all areas! After that time I thought that I would just steer clear of the gelatine set type cakes and stick to the baked cheesecake. 

Thankfully though, my approach changed completely after watching an episode of MKR (yep another recipe from this show! I’m sorry but I really love it!) where two contestants (QLD’s Paul and Blair) created what looked like a beautiful triple chocolate cheesecake. Aside from the fact that the recipe seemed very simple, the two dad’s are self confessed “non-dessert” people, so I thought that my chances of success would be slightly higher (it was one of those, “if they can do it so can I moments”). So off I went on a path of determination!

And luckily, I was NOT disappointed! Wow! what a recipe! The base is a lovely crumbly mixture that combines the flavours of chocolate, walnuts, dates and honey to make something really really special. The cheesecake mixture itself is beautiful, light, and creamy, with pockets of sour raspberries to cut through the rich flavours. Honestly, this would have to be the lightest, most delicious cheesecake I have ever ever eaten! If thats not proof enough, my family have continued to eat it every day this week and their still not sick of it! I promise you will love this one. It’s easy, tasty and so more-ish! The only issue that I had was that I think I used a slightly smaller cake tin then the recipe required, which meant I had a little leftover of the milk chocolate layer. I put this into another tin though to make a mini cheesecake, which my sister and boyfriend happily devoured as “chef-specials”!

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So here it is, the recipe for Triple Chocolate Cheesecake (original found here):

Ingredients

  1. Melted butter, to grease
  2. 300g plain chocolate biscuits
  3. 180g (1½ cups) walnuts, finely chopped, toasted
  4. 10 dates, pitted (Soak in boiling water to soften for about 15mins)
  5. 100g coconut oil
  6. 2 tbs honey

Filling:

  1. 750g cream cheese, softened
  2. 100g caster sugar
  3. 300ml thickened cream
  4. 200g white chocolate, chopped
  5. 200g milk chocolate, chopped
  6. 200g dark chocolate, chopped
  7. 3 tsp powdered gelatine
  8. 125g fresh raspberries, plus extra, to serve (I used frozen)

Method:

1. Grease a 23cm cake pan with removable base with melted butter. Process biscuits and nuts in a food processor until the mixture resembles crumbs. Add dates, coconut oil and honey and process to combine. Press mixture over base and sides of prepared pan and refrigerate until needed.
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2. To make the filling, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar (on medium speed) until smooth and combined. Add cream and beat until smooth. Set aside.
3. Fill a small saucepan one-third full with water and bring to a gentle simmer. Place the white, milk and dark chocolate in separate small heatproof bowls. Working with one bowl at a time, place over pan and stir until chocolate has melted (don’t let the bowl touch the water). Allow to cool.
4. Place 60ml boiling water in a small heatproof bowl and sprinkle over gelatine. Stir until dissolved. With the motor running, gradually add to cream cheese mixture and beat to combine. Add a third of the cream cheese mixture to each bowl of melted chocolate and stir to combine.
5. Pour dark chocolate layer over chilled cake base. Dot with raspberries, then freeze for 5 minutes. Top with milk chocolate layer and freeze for 5 minutes. Top with white chocolate layer and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight to set.Image
6. Slice cheesecake and place on serving plates.
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I served mine with a raspberry coulis (cooked frozen raspberries with a bit of sugar and lemon juice to make a syrup) which is a lovely accompaniment!
 
Happy Baking and Enjoy!
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Element 6 Cafe

ImageAs a kid, I never really stuck to the whole “3-meals-a-day” thing but sort of spent my days grazing away as I pleased. As I got a bit older and discovered the concept of “brunch” I felt excited at the prospect of having another reason to keep eating away. Nowadays though (and as my trusty metabolism has started to slow down a bit!) I tend to think of brunch as a great opportunity to catch up with friends and family on the weekends over a lovely cup of coffee and a plate of something delicious involving eggs. For me, the best sorts of places are those hidden gems; little local cafes that serve up beautiful homely food at a recent price. The service is friendly and laid back and the decor is warm and inviting. Sadly though, if asked for a local venue that fits this bill I probably wouldn’t be able to think of one. I mean, its not that my immediate local area in Sydney doesn’t have something to cater to this need, but more that I personally am not aware of any such places. Instead, I often venture to places in Rozelle or Alexandria, areas that have sort of made a name for themselves as Sunday brunch venues. Luckily for me though, a friend of mine recommended a fantastic little place thats super close and absolutely stunning, Element 6 at West Ryde.  

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The cafe itself is located amongst an odd collection of old corner and specialty stores on the slightly less pleasant (visually) side of the train station but don’t let that put you off. When you arrive, your greeted by some of the friendliest group of staff I have ever encountered! Literally nothing seems to be too much to ask of them and they somehow always manage to find you a table. The decor is a little unusual, with a collection of random artefacts around the walls but I think they were very much going for an eclectic artsy feel. My mum comments that its a bit like they’ve furnished the cafe with bits and bobs that they found in the op shop two doors down and I’d have to say that I tend to agree with her. That being said, I didn’t really mind that “look”, its comfortable and an inviting.

Taking a look at the menu, I really struggled to decide what to choose because there were so many delicious sounding options. In the end I went for the Moroccan Spiced baked Eggs with haloumi cheese and chickpeas and wow I wasn’t dissapointed. I was presented with a huge moroccan ceramic dish filled with two perfectly cooked eggs (runny in the centre) baked in a rich tomato sauce throughout which were loads of chickpeas and capsicum. On top were two lovely pieces of crisp haloumi cheese, which added a perfect level of saltiness and a fantastic spice blend similar to a dukkah! Every mouthful was heaven! to soak up all the goodness, a soft Egyptian bread was baked and placed on the side of the board. Now I don’t often eat bread but when I do its only if I know its a good one and wow was this bread good! So soft and fluffy and just perfect in every way! I was stuck in a weird position of not wanting it to end but being super full so in the end…i ate it all! To wash it all down I had the HoneyBee Smoothy which was a rich and thick combination of fresh banana, yogurt, honey and cinnamon! You can’t go wrong with that combination!

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My sister also ordered the N6 Eggs which included two huge pieces of organic sourdough bread topped with a mound of buttery, garlicy mushrooms, haloumi cheese, spinach, roast tomato and two perfectly poached eggs! Another divine dish, which I can safely support, considering I had it a couple of days later when we returned! My mum also commented on the coffee, which was nice and hot and very flavoursome!

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Overall, i would highly recommend a visit to this local favourite! A friend of mine eats there weekly and can not stop raving about it! Next time I think the french toast with mascarpone, seasonal poached fruit and pistachio praline will need a definite look in, I mean how can you resist that!! Yum Yum!!

Macarons with the Master…Adriano Zumbo

ImageIf you’re a resident of Sydney (or maybe even Australia) then you’ve probably heard of Adriano Zumbo. For those of you that haven’t though, Zumbo is like Australia’s answer to Heston Blumenthal. Essentially, he made the humble French Macaron a household name here in Australia, opening several cafes throughout both Sydney and more recently Melbourne. His specialties include desserts and pastries, but not just your humble croissant or mousse cake, no Zumbo is famous for his experimental flavours and whacky combinations! He has always been a great favourite of mine as a chef, I think mostly because his recipes are quite complex but always look spectacular and as a result, I always want to conquer the challenge. Recently, he started a cooking school at his Rozelle premises and I was lucky to receive a class for Christmas!!  

So off I went, feeling slightly nervous at the prospect of meeting a culinary icon but also at the thought of having to successfully cook macarons in front of him! Now to be honest I have made macarons many many times before and each time to a varying level of success. I have come close to perfection quite a few times, but when attempted with the same recipe a second time, I sadly fail. Whether its French meringue or Italian, these things have a mind of their own! As a result I couldn’t successfully tell you which recipe is best or even how to make them properly to guarantee success. Despite that though I (of course) keep on trying (even though every time it ends in disaster I promise myself Never Again!)  

When I arrived I was directed to a room above the Rozelle Cafe (where you can watch the chefs at work while you fill your belly with delicious sweets) where I met the rest of my class. Altogether there were 12 of us, all women except for one brave man and I was quite surprised to hear that some of the group had travelled from inter-state just to take the class! There’s dedication! We received our recipe book and an apron before heading into Zumbo’s test kitchen, where the class would take place.

 

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The room itself was quite large (particularly considering it was sort of like one mans office) and filled with all kinds of equipment. Four moveable benches were set up down the centre of the room and the ingredients were placed on a side bench. We all washed our hands before finding a place at a bench with two others who we would be working with. Co-incidentally I found my way to a bench with two lovely ladies who were also school teachers! Needless to say team teacher worked very well together throughout the day! Then it was time to meet Adriano, who I must say is very very lovely and slightly shy. But a master none-the-less. He explained that each bench would make two flavours of macarons (about 60 macarons of each flavour) and then at the end we would split them all up amongst us. We would start with each group making their fillings, requiring us to measure out the specific ingredients that we needed. It was very much like being in a real kitchen. Everything was available to us but it was up to each group to collect their specific ingredients, in the right quantities as well as with the right equipment. I really liked that actually, as it felt more independant. It wasn’t like someone had measured it all and set it all out in front of me, but more similar to a real cooking environment at home. It seemed more realistic in the end, although I think some people were a little shocked that we got free range. 

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Adriano instructed each group as to what flavours they would be making, with all the recipes included in our cookbooks. My group would be making Lavender Macarons and also Chocolate which excited me greatly as I have never made either of those flavours! And then it was all systems go! The kitchen tentatively started moving into a whirring pace, with everyone moving about collecting what they needed. Our group didn’t have too much to collect incidentally, as our fillings were quite simple (that and we were an excellent group if I do say so myself!) so we finished quite quickly.

Adriano then explained that whilst there were instructions in our cook books, he also wanted to show us different ways/processes to achieve the same filling so he wouldn’t necessarily be going off the written recipe. At this point I got my pen ready, I didn’t want to miss a second. He then worked with each group individually to demonstrate how to create the fillings. This part was really fun as we got to be involved but also learn how to create wonderful flavours with relative ease. Most of the recipes involved a ganache base, with additional things incorporated for variation. My favourite was the rice pudding, which (believe it or not) required the group to make a beautiful creamy rice pudding and mix it with a white chocolate ganache. All the while we also received little tips and tricks, my favourite being to keep the vanilla bean pod once the seeds are scraped, the dry it out in the oven and grind it up to a fine powder. This can then be used in recipes for a more intense flavour with hints of coffee! Adriano also reminded us that its the filling that makes a difference!

Once all the groups fillings were made we moved onto the shells. This was the bit I was most interested to see as this is where I always feel most uncertain. Adriano demonstrated how to make a beautiful vanilla shell which was actually so simple to make. I was really surprised! It was fantastic because I was able to iron out some of the uncertainties that I had about it and also see the consistency of a correct mixture (which is a lot more fluid then I have always thought). Overall I feel that what I am missing is the use of an electric thermometer for precise measure and also the non-stick mat that we used when piping it out.

ImageAgain it was time for us to take the reigns and move onto the making! We broke off into our groups and set about following our recipes. Everyone was working away in their teams, adding egg whites here and heating sugar there, it was so much fun! And then within a matter of moments we were all done and they looked great! I really couldn’t believe that we had done what we did so successfully. Sadly they still had to cook and form the foot so the proof of success was still yet to come. We left them to rest and form a skin while we sat down to lunch!

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Whenever I go to these cooking classes I am always surprised at the fact that we get lunch, not to mention the beautiful food that was on offer. We had two salads (a Greek salad and a chicken pesto pasta salad) and then a choice of two Quiches. Mmm yum!! it was fantastic! I would of had more but I didn’t want to look like a piggy. There was also a beautiful coffee machine inside the kitchen which we were able to use at any stage throughout the day!

ImageAfter lunch we re-entered the room to find our benches covered with beautifully cooked macarons! Everyone was so surprised by the level of success! Not one group had any dodgy ones! Fantastic! We paired the shapes up and then started to fill them all and wow, it was such a feeling of excitement for me! I finally succeeded in making proper macarons! Yes! 

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Each group then plated up 6 of their best for a photo opportunity and they all looked spectacular. I loved the range of colours and flavours! One of the ladies asked for a photo with Adriano, which was possibly a mistake as then we all wanted one. I was clever enough to remember my cookbook which he very nicely signed. Seriously, he was so lovely and nothing was ever a trouble!

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The last part of the day was the best! We each received a box and then were let loose to collect whatever we liked and wow did we all take home a lot of macarons! Check out my box, I couldn’t close the lid!

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Overall, I had the most wonderful day and would gladly do another class! I highly recommend this class to anyone who has a love for baking, trust me, you won’t be disappointed!!

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Baked Ricotta Cheesecake with a Nutella Surprise!

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Baked Ricotta cheesecake is a beautiful thing and up until recently I have only ever enjoyed it at Sydney’s Pasticceria Papa (where I might add, they make the best ricotta cheesecake you will ever taste!). For Easter though, I really wanted to bake something special for my family for dessert and after a little bit of googling I came across The Wholesome Cook, a beautiful food blog with a recipe based on the very cake that I love to eat!! Jackpot!

Now, as it is Easter I had to incorporate some form of chocolate into this recipe (but by all means you can leave it out) and as my family loves Nutella (who doesn’t!) I felt it was only appropriate to make my cheesecake a ricotta and Nutella flavoured one. I also had a few difficulties with the recipe so I have made a few changes/adaptations to the original (which can be found here at The Wholesome Cook’s Blog). Overall, this cake is beautifully moist and creamy and the Nutella hit is subtle and well balanced. Its a very light mixture, which I love and is encased in a crumbly, buttery pastry! I’m getting hungry just remembering it. If thats not enough to convince you to give it a go then let me add that my aunty (who hates dessert and never ever eats anything sweet) ate a huge piece in complete silence, occasionally omitting Oooh’s and mmm’s every so often. At the end of it she told me that she loved it! So it’s pretty safe to say its a winner of a dish! I will certainly be making this again especially after I’ve now ironed out some of my original problems.

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I think that the most difficult part of this recipe is getting the pastry into the tin without having messy join marks. Now mine was far from perfect, but I think if you were just making a plain ricotta cheesecake then the best way to achieve this would be to roll out one big piece of pastry (with overhang) that you would lay into your cake tin, fill with mixture and then fold over the top (to join the side walls on the opposite side of the cheesecake). Because we are piping Nutella into it however, the cake needs to be baked without a lid, otherwise it cracks when you press the piping bag into it. The original recipe also only calls for 45mins of baking time, which I initially did. When I went to transfer it onto a plate on Easter morning however, I noticed that the base had gone all soggy, a sign that the cake was not cooked through properly. When I removed the lid I was faced with a nasty surprise, the creamy filling was entirely raw still! Luckily there was still time to pop it back into the oven. Somehow though, I lost my marbles right at that moment and put the cake back into the oven without a tin to support it. Great choice there by me, the walls collapsed onto it! It was at this moment that I went into panic mode but luckily my dad was around to save the day. He managed to push the whole thing back into the tin!! It then baked through for about an hour and once cooled held its shape! What a relief!! But all the difficulties were totally worth it to see the looks of enjoyment on my families faces! I hope you enjoy this one as much as my family did!

What you need:

For the Pastry:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • ¼ cup caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup fresh cream (35% fat)
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder

For the Filling:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup fresh cream
  • 500g full-fat ricotta
  • Small tub of Nutella

What I did:

1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.

2. The first step is to make your pastry. Put butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy then add your egg and cream and mix on a low speed to combine. Add your flour and baking powder to the mixer and mix on a low speed until combined into a dough. Kneed this lightly until just combined and set aside in the fridge for about 10mins.Image

3. In this time, make your filling by putting eggs and half the sugar into a bowl and mix with an electric mixer on high until pale and fluffy. In a separate bowl beat the cream cheese and remaining sugar on a medium speed until combined.

4. Combine the two mixtures with the vanilla extract and ricotta and mix on a low speed.

Assembling the Cake:

1. Greece your round cake tin with either butter or spray (I lined mine with baking paper which I think was unnecessary).

2. On a well floured surface, roll out your pastry to your desired thickness (don’t roll it too thin or it wont hold up with the filling. It should be about 4mm). Cut out a base first and place into your tin, then the side walls which you need to press into the base. Make sure there are no gaps or your cake will leak! Also cut out a lid which we will place on top later and prick this with a fork.

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3. Pour your filling into the tin carefully and smooth out the top.

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4. Put both pieces (the cake and the separate lid) into the oven and bake for about 1hr 45mins. The lid may be ready before this time so I would check on it at around 50mins and if cooked, remove to cool.

5. Once the cheesecake is cooked, it should have a slight wobble in the centre but be firm around the edges and have formed a nice “seal” on top. Turn the oven off and leave it to cool inside for 20mins with the door slightly open.

6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before chilling in the fridge.

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7. Using the nozzle of your piping bag, poke holes into the filling, piping Nutella into these as you go. You ca

n have as much or as little as you like then, when your happy pop the lid on top and trim off any extra pastry.

8. Dust the whole cake liberally with icing sugar and cinnamon and then serve and enjoy!

Happy Baking!!

 

Magical Messina and the Golden Egg

If your a resident of Sydney then you will be well familiar with Gelato Messina. For those of you that aren’t, Messina is a bit like Willy Wonka’s chocolate Factory, only this time with Gelato. The company produce a wide variety of unique gelato flavours that are made daily in store. Some of my personal favourites include Italian Nougat (a honey based gelato with roasted nuts, egg whites and Italian nougat), Salted Caramel & White Chocolate (salted caramel gelato with white chocolate chip) and Pannacotta with Fig Jam and Amaretti Biscuit! Yum!! You really can’t go wrong whatever you choose. Aside from gelato though, Messina is very well known for their Gelato cakes and this Easter was no exception. 

This year, the team at Messina created “Veruca Salt” ($28) and I was lucky enough to snatch up one of the few that were being sold, and boy-oh-boy was it well worth it!!

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The “cake” (if that’s what you call it) was encased in a crisp white chocolate shell, dusted with gold and shimmering along. Inside, we discovered a creamy salted caramel gelato with, would you believe it a gooey orange yolk centre. Between all of us eating it, we felt that the centre was a cross between a subtle lemon curd/passionfruit/pineapple flavour that surprisingly worked perfectly with the salted caramel flavoured gelato. What I love in general about Messina Gelato is that whilst they create unique and unusual flavoured products, all gelato is of a high standard, tasting just like they make in Italy. Now if the egg wasn’t enough already the whole thing rested on a base of milk chocolate hazelnut mousse, filled with a soft vanilla marshmallow placed on top of an amaretti crunch. My boyfriend described this bit as a wagon wheel on steroids but put more eloquently, the mousse was rich and fluffy, while the amaretti crunch added a beautiful crumbly texture. Finally, the egg was nestled in a web of crisp, glossy spun sugar that reminded me of gourmet fairy floss!

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Wow! the whole this was an amazing experience to eat, with every single component working harmoniously with the next. I kind of wish I bought two! Nonetheless, if your in Sydney, be sure to go and give them a visit!! For more info on their many store locations or the test your taste buds with their phenomenal range of flavours, check out their website here.

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