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!!

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!!

Chocolate Ganache Tart with salted Peanut Brittle

ImageTonight I’ve got a family dinner to celebrate my cousins return from Canada, so what better opportunity to make a tasty, rich dessert! After my deliberation I finally decided to go with a chocolate ganache tart, because, lets face it, who doesn’t love chocolate. But in the back of my mind I just kept replaying something that I heard on my favourite cooking show (my kitchen rules), a ganache tart is far too rich on its own, dark chocolate or otherwise it needs something else to break the chocolate-ness! Now for some of you I am sure this seems like a travesty, when can chocolate be too chocolate but the more I thought about it, the more I tended to agree. So what breaks through chocolate like nothing else, why salted Peanut Brittle of course! It also adds a level of crunch to the dish, which I am started to learn is important when considering and planning a menu, all the senses need to be engaged. If all this thinking was enough for you, I also need to make a dessert that is gluten free! Yikes! Gluten free shortcrust pastry, now there is an added level of stress! But to my surprise it worked out really well for both the regular recipe and the gluten free.

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To make the whole process easier, I made my tart one long rectangular shape (using a spring form tin which I feel is a must for thissort of thing) as opposed to making small individual tart shells. If you were pressed for time you could of course buy a store bought pastry shell, but I feel try to steer away from store bought shortcrust pastry if you can, I don’t feel it will work as well with this recipe. If you’re really pressed try and use crushed up biscuits with melted butter and coconut through instead! The other issue I had (and shhh don’t tell anyone) is that when I lay my pastry into the tart case, the side walls broke off due to the sharp edge of the tin. I simply pressed them back on and hoped for the best, and for the most part this worked. In some places though I did have cracks so I simply re-rolled a small piece and baked it individually, using this to cover the hole! Not my finest work but hey a bakers got to do what a bakers got to do! Another tip is to let your ganache firm up slightly in the fridge before pouring it into your tart shells. This ensures that if there are any leaks, the ganache is thick enough not to seep out, leaving you with a half full shell. Finally, make sure you make this the morning of or day before you want to eat it as it needs some time to set. And now for the hardest part…. resisting the temptation to eat it all before tonight! Wish me luck! 

You’ll Need:

Shortcrust Pastry:

100g Plain flour (GF Plain flour to substitute)

50g Diced cold Butter

1 pinch baking powder

1 pinch salt

1 Egg

30g Caster Sugar

1/2 tsp Vanilla Essence

*NB If making Gluten free 2 TBS of Almond meal also required

Ganache:

50g Milk Chocolate

100g Dark Chocolate

160g Cream

25g Butter

Peanut Brittle:

80g Sugar

20g Water

60g Glucose

90g Peanuts (Raw and unsalted)

Pinch Salt

1tsp Butter

1/2tsp Bicarb Soda

What I did:

Pastry:

1. Put plain flour, butter, sugar, salt, baking powder and vanilla in bowl (GF add almond meal) and mix through with your fingers to create a sand-like texture. Add your egg and continue to mix lightly together until just combined in a dough (DONT OVERMIX/OVERWORK IT). Wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge for 15mins to rest.

2. Kneed lightly once or twice on a well floured surface then roll out to desired thickness. Lay into a well-oiled tray and prick the base of the tart with a fork. Fill with baking beads and put into a preheated oven of 200 degrees Celsius (you may have to turn this down later for the last 10 mins). Bake for 15mins and if required, lower the temp to 180 degrees and bake for a further 10.

3. Leave to cool before removing from pastry case.

Ganache:

1. Put your cream and chocolate into a double boiler (bowl on top of a saucepan with water in) on a medium heat. Stir untill chocolate is melted.

2. Remove from heat and add your butter. Pop it in the fridge for an hour or so until cool and thickened slightly

3. Pour into the tart shell to fill and then pop the whole thing into the fridge to set completely.Image

Peanut Brittle:

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1. Put water, sugar and glucose into a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Continue to boil for 30seconds before adding peanuts. Cook to a medium caramel colour, stirring continuously. Don’t let it get too dark as it will continue to cook once you take it off the heat. This is very important!

2. Remove from heat and stir in your butter and salt. Add the bicarb soda and continue to mix well before pouring into a lined baking dish. Put into the fridge to set and cool.

3. Once hard, break up using a rolling pin or hard cooking utensil and sprinkle generously over the top of your tart (nows a good time to have a “taste test”.

4. Serve and enjoy!

A beautiful rich chocolate tart, with a salted peanut brittle to break through the sweetness! Enjoy and Happy Baking!!

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The Grounds

 

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The Grounds at Alexandria has got to be one of Sydney’s best kept not-so-secret places to eat. If your young, hip, trendy, health conscious, love coffee or just plain hungry it is most definitely the place to be, and trust me there are many many reasons why. But be warned, on a weekend you best be ready for at least a 2 hour wait!

Aside from brewing and making their own coffee, The Grounds presents a complete picture of everything diners are after, especially the locals of Alexandria. The cafe, bakery and restaurant are located in an old Pie Factory and the owners, Ramzey Choker and Jack Hanna have literally thought of everything! The decor is rustic and homely with wide wooden tables and vintage flair. Externally, the cafe is surrounded by beautiful gardens from which some of the kitchen produce is grown and it is here that you’ll find the little animal pen. Once again, a genius foresight by the owners, ensuring that yet another market is catered for; families with young children. 

On weekends, the Grounds markets add an extra special something, with fresh fruits and pastries available for sale as well as flowers and candles, roasted nuts and gelato. The staff are wonderful and are always willing to allow you to taste till your hearts content. Again, a brilliant idea marketing idea as while patrons are whiling away the hours waiting for a table in the cafe they can peruse and make extra purchases from the market stalls. And who can blame them! 

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The pastries alone look sublime! And they taste that good too, as does the freshly baked bread! So damn delicious!!

Luckily I used my brain and planned a trip to the gym across the road whilst waiting the hour and a half for a table (this was a very very good plan). Once seated though it was completely worth the wait! Sadly we missed the breakfast menu (which finishes at 11:30am) but the brunch and lunch menus were of course still available and equally as beautiful. For lunch I had the duck and pear salad which was filled with moist flakes of duck flesh, crispy radish and firm pistachio nuts. And such a nice big serve too I couldn’t finish it. To wash it all down I had the Banana Smoothie which is by far the best smoothie I have ever had! Sweet, creamy and thick, I completely understand the necessity for the giant, fat straw that it was served with. And I love that their drinks are served in mason jars! Very trendy and unique. 

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My boyfriend had a coffee first and he dubbed it the best coffee he has had in a while, very strong and full flavoured. Following that he had the lamb shank which was flavoured with middle eastern spices and served with wild rice. So much lovely flavour packed into a dish with beautiful, moist meat. Looking around though, the steak sandwich look beautiful with a huge serve of the house-made bread, caramelised onions, steak and pickles, Yum! On a previous occasion I have also ordered the New Zealand Salmon which is so perfect! Crispy skin salmon with moist flakey flesh served on a bed of quinoa and broad beans, mmm you literally can not go wrong!

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For those with kids, there is a great kids menu and overall the whole experience is reasonably priced especially considering the quality of produce and use of fresh, clean ingredients. Be ready to have savoury and sweet because the pastry display looks as good as it tastes! While I didn’t sample any of these delights on the weekend (hardest thing to do ever!) I have been told that the cinnamon and Nutella donuts are to die for! 

Regardless, I highly recommend a trip to The Grounds at Alexandria. Whether its for Sunday brunch with the family, coffee with your friends or just for a nice outing you won’t be disappointed. I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I have, and I can’t wait to get back there again!