Milk and White Chocolate Chunk Brownies

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The last month has been a busy month. I am happy to see the back of May. For someone who had been working just a few days a week, starting full-time work has been a bit of a shock. Finding a balance between work, spending time with friends as well as giving time to other things I enjoy like cooking and reading has been hard. My pots of herbs and plants have been really neglected and in need of some serious TLC.

As a strong advocate for work/life/balance, last month has been too much on the go for me. My brain has not had the time to switch off. And when I had some time to do some baking last weekend, it was a much-needed me-time. I recently read this article on Huffington Post about how baking is a form of mindfulness. This had me thinking of baking in a whole new view. I spend a lot of time measuring ingredients, gently folding mixtures through, and planning what I would do next. Never am I more present in the moment, other than when I am baking or cooking. I have always found baking, calming. So after a busy month of back to back work and full-on weekends, thinking about how to make a recipe work, how to bake a cake perfectly and what else I can do to perfect a dessert, I found baking the perfect stress-release outlet.

The article also spoke about how baking feels rewarding when it is for other people. This made me think of the brownies I make. I bake it almost always on someone’s request or to share with a group of friends. For a long road trip or as a go-to dessert, these brownies are always welcome.

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My favourite thing about these brownies is the caramelised white chocolate chunks that give it a hint of nuttiness. I spruced it up by adding some cream cheese and walnut praline crumb. This turned an already tasty brownie into something quite fancy; something you might find on a dessert table at a party. Adding the edible flowers made it look absolutely gorgeous, specially when brownies are not desserts that photograph well.

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Ingredients:
Brownies:
– 300g dark chocolate, chopped
– 150g butter, chopped
– 1 1/2 cups (315g) caster sugar
– 4 eggs, lightly whisked
– 1 1/4 cups (190g) plain flour
– 1/2 cup (125g) sour cream
– 200g white chocolate, chopped
– 100g milk chocolate, chopped

Walnut Praline:
– 50g walnuts
– 250g caster sugar
– 2 teaspoon ground coffee

Cream Cheese Frosting:
– 60g cream cheese, softened
– 30g butter, softened
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
– 3/4 cup icing sugar mixture

Method:
– For the brownies, pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees and grease a 23cm cake pan. Line the base of the pan with baking paper, allowing the paper to hang over the sides of the pan.
– Place the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring until the chocolate and butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Be careful not to burn it. Remove from heat and leave to cool slightly, for about 5 minutes.
– Add the sugar into the chocolate mixture and combine. Add the eggs, and stir to combine. Add the flour and sour cream and stir until just mixed. Gently fold in the chopped chocolate chunks and fold gently through the mixture.
– Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour or until it’s cooked through. When a skewer is inserted, it might have crumbs on it, but that’s okay. We don’t want the brownie to over cook and harden.
– To make the praline, first, roast the walnuts in the oven at 200 degrees for about 5 minutes. Then wrap the walnuts in a tea towel and rub the skins and chop them up. Add the coffee and mix to coat the walnuts. Warm the walnuts and coffee on a baking tray for one minute while you’re making the caramel.
– To make the caramel, add the sugar to a small saucepan. Keep shaking the pan to cook the sugar evenly. Add the coffee coated walnuts into the caramel and stir. Ad the hot caramel onto a baking paper and allow to cool.
– Break the praline into pieces and crush it using a motor and pestle or whizz it in a small food processor.
– For the cream cheese, place the cheese, butter and vanilla in a bowl and beat until pale, using an electric beater. Gradually add the icing sugar, beating until combined well. Pop the cream cheese in a piping bag and pipe it on top of the brownie slices. Sprinkle the praline crumble on top of the brownies. Decorate with edible flowers if desired.

Lavender: to eat and smell!

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Vanilla cupcakes with French Buttercream

Making the perfect cupcakes make me happy. Eating the perfect cupcake makes me even happier. Cupcakes are the beautiful balance of tasty cake and gorgeous, but still delicious, frosting. Aesthetics are a big part of cupcakes but one can never sacrifice taste for looks. This is probably why I prefer buttercream over fondant. It wasn’t until I had started making the French buttercream did I feel like my cupcake game had peaked. I had managed to master a lovely vanilla cupcake thanks to taste.com.au. But I kept struggling with the buttercream.

I’ve had many struggles with buttercream. Buttercream that split or cream cheese frosting that would not thicken. French buttercream is the only one that has never failed me.

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Macadamia and Dark Chocolate Cookies

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Macadamia and dark chocolate cookies

I like my cookies chewy and doughy. I used to work at a bookshop that was right in front of a cookie stall. The lady working at the cookie stall was very nice to me. She would sneak in a few extra cookies for me if I made it to her at the end of the day, before they closed. When I stopped working at the bookshop, my regular cookie supply also stopped.

Baking my first batch of cookies, I remember smelling the cookie dough for the first time. (more…)

4 weeks: 5 pavlovass

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Pavlova with lemon curd, cream and berries

As soon as I told my friends and family I was heading to Maldives for holidays, I was greeted by multiple requests for pavlova. In fact, I made more pavlovas in that month than I had in a year!

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Making pavlovas was certainly an adventure. I have a fond memory for each and every pavlova I have made. When I made a pavlova with my younger siblings at my Dad’s place, I had to beat the egg whites with just one beater in the electric hand mixer. The kids’ enthusiasm to help me out made up for the missing beater though.

When I decided to make one for my cousins (whose requests had been the loudest), they told me it was too hard; they didn’t have all the equipment. I told them I would take everything: bowls, electric mixer, baking paper, etc., they told me to calm down, they didn’t even have an oven! In the end, they bought an oven (not just for my pavlova, but so my aunt could also bake her delicious fish pie). Never have I seen a pavlova being devoured so quickly than when I made it that day.

I also got to connect with a friend I had only really spoken on Instagram. We both had a food-loving mutual friend, and we bonded over delicious looking food photos. So when I headed back, we had a pav-date, so she could learn how to make it. Making the meringue worked like a charm (my friend had all the equipment ready to go), but I was trying to whip the cream and it was taking forever, and not getting any thicker! This was something I hadn’t anticipated. Due to the humid and tropical Maldivian weather, I was told by my friends to put the beaters and the bowl in the freezer to cool them down to be able to thicken the cream. Working in an air-conditioned room could help too.

The end product was always well received and the memories we made were always worth any hurdles we faced. My holiday did turn into a pavlova, as my friend mentioned and it was a lot of fun.

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Meringue stack with blackberries

I went through my Instagram account and managed to find some of the pavlovas I had made over the last few years. I’ve included my go-to meringue recipe below. For the pavlova I made today, I steered away form the traditional passionfruit drizzle and made some lemon curd instead. I was inspired to use lemon curd as a topping when my friend from work, Paula, gave me some delicious lemon curd she had made. I had it with some berries and thought about how good it would be on a pav. Plus it is a great way to utilise those egg yolks.

I tend to stick to seasonal fruits when topping my pavlovas. I love berries hence, I usually make my pavlovas during summer. Mangoes are also perfect topping for a tropical theme and even stone-fruit like peaches and nectarines will be delicious, especially if you caramelise them first! Blackberries, blueberries and raspberries with a sprinkle of basil and drizzled with fig balsamic vinegar is the favourite topping I have made so far.

What are your favourite pavlova toppings? Feel free to share.

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Pavlova with lemon curd, cream and berries 

This recipe will make a nice little pavlova enough for about 4-5 people. If you want a bigger one, just double the recipe.

Ingredients:
– 3 egg whites
– 150 grams caster sugar
– 1 teaspoon white vinegar
– 1 teaspoon cornflour
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1 cup thickened cream
– fruits to top (strawberries, banana, kiwi, blueberries, mango, etc)

Method:
– Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees. Prepare a flat baking tray and line it with baking paper. Draw a 20cm disc (or however big your serving plate is) on the paper and place the pencil side down.
– In a clean metal bowl, whisk the egg whites  using a stand/hand held electric mixer until soft peaks form.
– Slowly add the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, while beating, until the mixture becomes thick and glossy. A test to see if the sugar has been incorporated is to rub a bit of meringue between your fingers. If it feels grainy, keep mixing.
– Beat in the vinegar, cornflour and vanilla extract.
– Spoon the mixture onto the baking tray and smoothen the top. You can leave it rustic, or round the sides using a knife.
– Bake the meringue for 10 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 110, and then bake for further 60 minutes or till the meringue shell is completely dry. Leave in the oven to completely cool.
– Whisk the cream till soft peaks form and spread on top of meringue. Top with fruits and enjoy.

Market Vibes

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Even if the temperature is not quite summer, nothing announces the arrival of Melbourne summer to me more than the Queen Victoria Night Markets. As usual, we got there early to sip on a cold drink as we browsed the food stalls and direct people as to where we got our drinks. 

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My favourite was definitely the paella at El Rincon. There was a long queue, which is always a good sign. Standing in line was quite entertaining; I had lots of time to take photos of the huge paella pans and watch them being cooked. It was clear everyone was having a good time. The chefs were singing and dancing as they stirred, chopped and mixed.

As I went up to order my All-Seafood Paella, I was momentarily transported to Spain (my version of Spain, I’ve never been to Spain). All the Spanish I had learnt by watching a couple of Spanish TV shows popped into my head, and the conversation with the girl taking the order, should have gone a bit like this:

Me: Hola! One All-Seafood Paella Por favor
Girl: Si, anything else?  (In a Spanish-accent)
Me: Nada. Gracias!

It was just too busy for this skit to actually take place, so this didn’t really happen.

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The Paella was absolutely delicious! I shared half with a friend as I wanted to eat other food, but I could’ve easily eaten the whole thing!

As much as I wanted to try new food, I had to go again to WonderBao for their new bao burgers. I had a mushroom burger with a tasty salad and sauce. I absolutely loved the soft, steamed bun. And washed it all down with some cool lemonade.

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We had to check out the Takis Balls for dessert. We got a half-and-half of Nutella and salted caramel. We had fun sharing one whole plate between the 5 of us. I couldn’t bite these in half, so had to pop the balls whole into my mouth. Nothing graceful about this, but oh so delicious!

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I usually only get to the Queen Victoria Night Markets just once a year, but there are so many new food delights to be discovered and a second visit will be well worth it. The markets are not only about the food and shopping, but also happy vibes.

 

Gutsy Granola : perfect homemade goodness

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Eating breakfast was one of the hardest things to do when I was younger. A struggle bigger than waking up early to go to school. Swallowing down food at 7am was near impossible and I would sit at the table for ages, trying to get through one piece of toast. My parents can tell you stories about how I used to keep food in my mouth without chewing or swallowing. One of mum’s friends once said she lost her appetite just by watching me eat. And this was not even at breakfast time.

My eating habits have changed now, thank goodness! From being an extremely slow eater, I can now keep up with the general population. And breakfasts are no longer a meal I dread, but something I frequently plan, sometimes even before I go to bed the night before.

Step one was actually eating something for breakfast. Next was eating a healthy breakfast, which has been a challenge especially when I’m rushing out the door to go to work. It was all too easy to grab a slice of bread with Nutella or finish a bowl of Milo cereal, but I knew I wasn’t making good breakfast choices. I certainly don’t skimp on the butter or sugar when I’m baking treats, but other times I like to try and make healthy food choices.

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When my friend Fathun first got me a bottle of this granola, at first, I could not believe she had made it at home! I mean, she is a chef and all, but it was just so tasty! The best part of this granola was that I knew exactly what was going into it and I could modify it as I pleased. For my own version, I’ve tweaked the recipe she gave me just a bit.

This recipe gives you a lot of granola! I had three trays going and now have a big container full of toasty granola. It smells wonderful and not only is it great for brekky, but makes for a tasty afternoon snack, sprinkled over yoghurt and fruit. And it certainly is a summer-friendly way to eat oats. I’ve been making porridge in the morning a lot, but as the weather has started getting warmer, eating the granola with milk or yoghurt helps to keep cool.

Ingredients:
– 400g oats
– 200g almonds
– 150g pumpkin seeds
– 150g sunflower seeds
– 4tsp cinnamon powder
– 1/2cup maple syrup
– 3/4cup vegetable oil
– 1cup flour
– 1tsp vanilla extract
– 200g sultanas
– dried fruits (apricot, peach, mango, cranberry,etc)
– chia seeds, cacao nibs, coconut flakes, etc to serve

Method:
– Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees (140 degrees in fan-forced).
– Mix oats, almonds and seeds together in a big bowl. Then add cinnamon powder and mix well. Add oil, vanilla and maple syrup and mix till combined. Then add the flour and mix. Basically mix, mix, mix!
– Line flat trays with baking paper and spread the mixture thinly on the trays. I needed two big trays and one small one to fit all of it.
– Leave in for 10-15 minutes, stirring it with a wooden spoon every now and then. Keep it in the oven for a further 15 minutes or until golden. Keep a close eye on the mixture to make sure it doesn’t burn and keep on giving an occasional stir.
– Remove from oven and then cool. When the mixture is completely cool, add the dried fruits and mix well. And voila, you’ve got your homemade granola!

The granola has been well received, both from my friends and my husband. I’ve had so much, I’ve been sharing it around a bit. With the holiday season coming up, a jar of this would be the perfect gift to say thank you to someone. So two thumbs up for the granola! Happy eating!

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Baking a Treat: AWW Baking cookbook

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I used to collect cookbooks. And cooking magazines. Maybe it was because of working in a book store. Being surrounded by thick cookbooks, filled with tasty recipes, wonderful photos of food and a 25% staff discount made it very easy to accumulate them. I didn’t even cook much back then, it was mostly just browsing the recipes and photos and imagining what it would be like to cook them. There was a point when I had decided I wouldn’t buy any more cookbooks until I had at least attempted 10 recipes from each of the cookbooks I had. This didn’t happen, however I think it did curb some of my cookbook buying.

Since moving to Melbourne, I’ve bought a couple of cookbooks.  And one of the most utilised is the new Australian Women’s Weekly: Baking cookbook. It is absolutely fabulous! I’ve made several tasty treats using it. In fact, this book has the most recipes attempted of any cookbook I’ve owned.

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One of the things I love about this book is that it has both sweet and savoury recipes. It is not just a dessert baking book, it has pies and pizza, as well as birthday cakes and tarts. The photos are beautiful and the layout is easy to read. While there are some challenging recipes, most of them are quite easy to follow. Even the most novice cook can attempt a traditional butter cake or a delicious caramel tart. I do trust the AWW cookbooks in general, because their recipes are triple-tested.

I’ve made the Berry and Walnut Crumble Slice for a work afternoon tea and it was a hit. And while making the Caramelised Pear and Gingerbread Slice, you get the most beautiful aromas. I’ve definitely attempted some recipes that I normally would not have, using this book.

I also attempted my first pizza base. There are so many delicious toppings to choose from and there are gluten-free options as well. I made a spicy lamb, spinach and fetta pizza.

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I’ve included the recipe for the Triple-Choc Pecan Pie I made for another afternoon tea for work (yes, I am the provider of baked goods at work). I was quite surprised at how well this was received. I had actually tasted the tart before it had cooled properly, and it was super sweet. I didn’t think people would be able to eat much, and was pleasantly surprised when they wanted seconds.

Making the filling was super easy. Only thing I struggled with was placing the pastry in the tart tin. I had to do a lot of patching on the tin to make sure there weren’t any holes and make sure I hadn’t rolled the pastry too thin. Pastries are fiddly things to work with anyway, so don’t get too disheartened if you’re attempting one.

Triple-choc pecan pie

prep + cook time 1 hour 30 mins (+ refrigeration) *serves 6

Ingredients:
– 1 1/3 cups (210 grams) pecan nuts
– 30 g dark (semi-sweet)chocolate, chopped coarsely
– 30 g milk chocolate, chopped coarsely
– 30 g white chocolate, chopped coarsely
– 50 g butter, melted
– 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
– 2 tablespoon cornflour
– 2 eggs
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pastry:
– 1 1/2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
– 2 tablespoon icing (confectioners’) sugar
– 125g cold butter, chopped
– 1 egg yolk
– 2 table spoon iced water, approximately.

Method:
1. Make pastry.
2. Grease a 12.5cm x 35cm (5-inch x 14-inch) rectangular loose-case fluted flan tin. Roll pastry between sheets of baking paper until large enough to line a tin, Ease pastry into tin, press into sides; trim edges. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
3. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees.
4. Place tin on an oven tray. line pastry case with baking paper; fill with dried beans or rice. bake for 15 minutes. Remove paper and beans, bake for further 5 minutes or until browned lightly. Cool.
5. Reduce oven to 160 degrees.
6. Coarsely chop 1 1/2 cups of notes, place in pastry case with all the chocolate. Whisk butter, sugar, cornflour, eggs and extract in a large bowl. Pour egg mixture into pastry case; top with remaining nuts.
7. Bake pie for 35 minutes or until filling is set. Cool before serving.

Pastry: Process flour, sugar and butter well until crumbly. Add egg yolk and enough water, processing until ingredients come together. Knead dough on a floured surface until smooth. Enclose pastry in a plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

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Enjoy cooking and eating.

I am not affiliated with AWW in any way.