Friday, May 27, 2011


The May 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Emma of CookCraftGrow and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle.

Wow! How many of us know what a Marquise is? What is it supposed to be like?
 I don't.
Well, that is until now!

The May 2011 Daring Bakers' challenge initiated we Daring Bakers' into a world of restaurant quality desserts. A chocolate marquise consists of chocolate, eggs, heavy cream and sugar. Basic ingredients that form a rich decadent dessert. Combine this with other components such as toasted, marshmallow meringue, crunchy, spicy nuts and a tequila flavoured caramel sauce and you have a dessert any restaurant would be proud of.

When I first read through this recipe I again (as usual) considered not completing this challenge - too hard, too complicated, too many components and too many serves! Too many of everything. However regarding the serves, which reflects commercial restaurant quantities, fellow Daring Baker, Audax came to the rescue scaling down the recipe into half and quarter quantities. So, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to tackle the challenge. I really did want to taste this chocolaty spicy combination and besides, I had a bottle of Tequila not doing too much in the pantry! 

I decided to mold the marquise in a cupcake paper and top with a swirl of meringue - so that the cute and sweet appearance belies the spiciness of the dessert ( I think the dried chilli would a dead giveaway, though!).  And while this recipe is detailed and has many components, I did find that each component  was not that difficult and can be prepared ahead. A blow torch is required for toasting the meringue however I don't own one though I plan to soon. Instead I piped the meringue onto silicone baking paper then popped them into a very hot oven for two or three minutes. I could then pick the shapes up and position them onto the chocolate marquise bases. 

I know you too will be curious and if you accept the challenge you can find the recipe here.  Even if you don't prepare the entire dessert do make the tequila caramel...mmm... I could it by the spoonful!

Thank you to our wonderful hosts Emma and Jenny for an amazing challenge. This is certainly a dessert I would never normally attempt!

Friday, May 20, 2011

La Pastiera - for Easter and Beyond

La Pastiera is known to many as the traditional Italian Easter grain cake so you are probably wondering why would I bother to post after Easter....because I think you should try it! And don't just reserve it for Easter. This cake or pie is not overly sweet or rich and can be enjoyed as dessert or as a snack and really, is quite healthy as far as sweets go.

For many years my Italian cousin spoke of "La Pastiera", the traditional Italian Easter grain cake. She makes many cakes in the preceding days of Easter Sunday to be gifted to family and friends. Originally a Neapolitan speciality, la Pastiera is full of meaning and now popular throughout Italy. However, this was not something I grew up with. Ingredients required in La Pastiera would not have be easy to come by in the Australia fifty years ago. Several years ago I made a version with cooked rice but I was not pleased with it. However this past Easter I was able to acquire grano cotto (cooked grain), aqua di millie fiori (water of 1000 flowers) and good quality candied Italian fruit so I set to work. 

The recipe supplied by my cousin required 200g grano cotto but the tin I had was 400g so I adjusted the recipe accordingly. I later realised the recipe was very similar to the one found in Luciana Sampogna's cookbook "Light of Lucia".  The result was a delicious, fragrant pie/cake which I will serve not only for each forthcoming Easter but at many times throughout the year. A filling of cooked grains, ricotta and candied fruits is encased in delicate pasta frolla. This cake is best made several days prior to serving to allow the flavours to meld.  

La Pastiera

Serves 10

375g (13 3/4oz) plain (all purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
150g (5 1/4oz) caster (superfine) sugar
200g (7oz) chilled butter, chopped
2 yolks (from large eggs)
1 or 2 tablespoons iced water


420g (14 1/2ozs) can grano cotto
300ml (10fl oz) whole milk
35g (1 1/4 ozs) butter
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
400g (14oz) ricotta
300g (10 1/2) oz caster (superfine) sugar
1 vial acqua di millie fiori (or 1 tablespoon orange blossom water)
1 grated lemon rind
4 eggs, separated
150g (5 1/2 ozs) mixed Italian candied fruit
1 teaspoon cinnamon   

Prepare the first part of the Filling so you can let it cool.
Place the grano cotto, milk, butter, 1 tablespoon sugar and vanilla in a saucepan and cook gently over a low heat for about 30 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy. Cool

Now prepare the Pastry so you can let it rest.
I did mine in the food processor. Place the flour, sugar and butter in the food processor bowl. Blitz in bursts until crumbly. Then add the egg yolks while the motor is running. Drizzle in a little iced water if the dough doesn't come to together and seems a bit dry. Remove from the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the filling.

Heat the oven to 150C/300F.

Beat the ricotta with an electric mixer or by hand until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and mix well. Add acqua di millie fiori, lemon rind, egg yolks, candied fruit, cinnamon and cooled grano cotto mixture. Mix well. In a separate bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold egg whites into ricotta/grano cotto mixture.

Remove the pastry from refrigerator and roll out and line a 24-26cm (9 1/2 - 10inch) flan pan, which has been greased and floured. Pour in the filling. I had a bit leftover and made a small individual pie. With the leftover pastry cut strips and form the traditional lattice top.

Bake in the preheated over for about 2 hours. Once cooled dust with icing (powdered) sugar.

Be sure to prepare this several days before you want to serve it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Macaron Tower for Our Own Royal Wedding

On Friday 29th April, 2011 many people around the world stopped to watch Kate Middleton marry her prince. Whether a royal follower or not most of us could not avoid the hype over this wedding and sure, Kate Middleton made a beautiful bride and her prince William struck a handsome figure. The following day, my family celebrated the marriage of our own princess, my niece. And yes, the bride looked gorgeous, the groom was emotional and the day was perfect. Our princess has her prince!

After a wonderful wedding ceremony, we moved onto a local family run hotel for the reception. Food and drink flowed, speeches brought tears to eyes and the music played. 

My challenge for the day was to produce two macaron towers to accompany coffee.

Of course, I thought the day was perfect so I decided to give you a little peak.

A twist on the Italian tradition of bombonieri, the selection at the elegant Candy Buffet was abundant.

Full blown white roses decorated the reception area.

Guests wrote their personal messages to happy couple then hung them on the message tree.

A candlelit hallway welcomed the guests.

The bridesmaids posy added colour.

The wedding dress was cleverly crafted.
(Doesn't my niece display it perfectly?)

The two macaron towers on the coffee table along with other sweets. 

I use Tartlette recipe for macarons as I find they always (well, almost) work. Visit her blog for the recipe. The macarons were plain with flavoured ganache -

 White macarons with Amaretto milk chocolate ganache,
 Purple with Parfait d'Amour, white chocolate ganache and
Purple with Creme de Cassis, dark chocolate ganache.

Just by reducing the cream and adding liqueur to taste produced delicious ganache.
For two towers I needed almost 180 macarons which was about six batches of the macaron recipe. I covered the styrofoam cones in foil then used white chocolate as the glue to stick the macarons on. I was concerned with our very humid climate that the usual toothpicks would not hold the macarons. The white chocolate worked well and the small amount did not interfere with the taste.

The next morning as we arrived at the back door of the family run hotel to collect the last few remaining items we were greeted with this sight. Nonna had been up earlier and washed all the wedding tablecloths and hung them to perfection.

 Don't you just love it?