Monday, October 31, 2011

Witches Fingers

It is only just starting to take on here in Australia however it is not something I have fully embraced. Moreover it is an event fuelled by clever marketing.

My family has never "tricked or treated" - certainly a 9 kilometre walk into the countryside to our home would put off most trick or treaters. Our country is spread far and wide and the idea of dressing up and walking door to door would not always work.

However on 2nd November my family does recognise All Souls Day - a time for remembering and praying for our dearly departed.

 And it is with this in mind that I found a recipe in one of my cookbooks for Ossi dei Morti - Bones of the Dead. A traditional biscuit or cookie from Basilicata in the south of Italy. I was curious to try it out. It went something like this -

Mix 600g flour with 5 eggs, anise liqueur, oil, lard and a bit of sugar. Form into shapes and boil in water until they float. Drain then bake for 20 minutes.

I know, I know, the warning bells should have gone off. What would this recipe create?

Well, here is your answer. We have all tried to like them. I even sprinkled them with icing sugar (I mean, isn't everything better with a sprinkle of icing sugar?). Nup. Not these.

Ok,  so after a disappointment you just have to climb back onto the horse ( or go back to the kitchen, as in this case).

So, with the latest Better Homes and Gardens magazine in hand and Halloween on my doorstep, I decided to give in to marketing pressure.

Oh, what fun I had!

These are the "cute" Witches Fingers. They are pretty aren't they?

The recipe is a simple shortbread:-

350g all purpose flour
250g butter
100g icing sugar (powdered sugar)

Whizz in a food processor until it all comes together. Then form into a ball and refrigerate for 1 hour.
I let it soften a bit before I could form my shapes.
Better Homes and Gardens shows us the cute Witches Fingers which are made simple by rolling out the dough and cutting finger shapes. I used a little egg white to ensure the Smartie stuck to the dough.
Bake for 12- 15 minutes.

BUT..... I got bored making pretty shapes and remembered some Witches Fingers I had seen somewhere which involved rolling dough and using half an almond for a fingernail. I loved the result.
I'm not sure where I saw this but I thank whoever thought of such clever decoration. (If I knew where I saw it, I would make the link). I used the shortbread dough but I'm sure any plain cookie dough could be used. A dusting of cocoa completed the wicked look!

I love these fingers! What fun!
No wonder you fabulous bloggers are busy baking up crazy Halloween treats!

Happy Halloween... is that what one says?

Thursday, October 27, 2011


The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!
I was so thrilled with the Daring Baker's October challenge recipe - Povitica! Funnily I had seen a recipe for Potica (another name for Povitica, I think) in my copy of a "Baker's Odyssey" and bookmarked it. The Baker's Odyssey recipe was only slightly different to the challenge recipe in that it uses honey and egg whites in the filling similar to our previous challenge of the Yeasted Meringue Coffee cake.

 I love that this challenge recipe used everyday ingredients to create something special. I had a packet of walnuts in the pantry but only enough for 1 loaf. I remembered the dried apricots I had and the almond meal in the freezer. The apricots were simmered with water, drained and whizz in the food processor with almond meal, an egg, sugar, Amaretto liquor and a few drops of almond essence.

The dough was very sticky. I used all the flour (of the half batch recipe) and made the dough in my mixer. This is not a good photo but I wanted to show the texture of the dough.

I floured a cloth and rolled the dough quite thin then stretch it a bit - it barely took 5 minutes. I did wonder at the time if I had stretch it too thinly as I was treating it like a strudel dough.
The dough is beautiful to roll out. 

I found spreading the filling more difficult as it was thick and sticky - I made a quarter recipe but used a whole egg (didn't want more whites in my freezer) then added a bit more milk. The pic in the challenge show an almost honey like filling mine was more peanut butter-like thickness. I found a offset palate knife help to spread the filling.

I used the cloth to help roll up the dough, brushing off excess flour as I rolled.

I allowed the dough to rise longer than the 15 minutes as I knew my family would prefer a lighter loaf and not the dense loaf this was meant to be.

The Apricot Almond loaf was yummy with a tart bite.

 The resulting Walnut loaf smells amazing and taste delicious. I love the swirls! This recipe is a keeper!

Here I will give you the challenge recipe as set.

Povitica (makes 4 loaves)
To activate the Yeast:
2 Teaspoons (10 ml/9 gm) Sugar
1 Teaspoon (5 ml/3 gm) All-Purpose (Plain) Flour
½ Cup (120ml) Warm Water
2 Tablespoons (30ml/14 gm/½ oz/2 sachets) Dry Yeast

2 Cups (480ml) Whole Milk
¾ Cup (180 ml/170gm/6 oz) Sugar
3 Teaspoons (15 ml/18 gm/2/3 oz) Table Salt
4 Large Eggs
½ Cup (120ml/115 gm/one stick/4 oz) Unsalted Butter, melted
8 cups (1.92 l/1.12 kg/39½ oz/2½ lb) All-Purpose Flour, measure first then sift, divided

Walnut Filling:
7 Cups (1.68 l/1.12 kg/2.5 lbs) Ground English Walnuts
1 Cup (240ml) Whole Milk
1 Cup (240ml/225 gm/2 sticks/8 oz) Unsalted Butter
2 Whole Eggs, Beaten
1 Teaspoon (5ml) Pure Vanilla Extract
2 Cups (480ml/450 gm/16 oz) Sugar
1 Teaspoon (5 ml/4 gm) Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon (5 ml/3 gm) Cinnamon

½ Cup (120 ml) Cold STRONG Coffee
2 Tablespoons (30 ml/28 gm/1 oz) Granulated Sugar
Melted Butter

To Activate Yeast:1. In a small bowl, stir 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon flour, and the yeast into ½ cup warm water and cover with plastic wrap.
2. Allow to stand for 5 minutes
To Make the Dough:3. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk up to just below boiling (about 180°F/82°C), stirring constantly so that a film does not form on the top of the milk. You want it hot enough to scald you, but not boiling. Allow to cool slightly, until it is about 110°F/43°C.
4. In a large bowl, mix the scalded milk, ¾ cup (180 gm/170 gm/6 oz) sugar, and the salt until combined.
5. Add the beaten eggs, yeast mixture, melted butter, and 2 cups (480 ml/280 gm/10 oz) of flour.

6. Blend thoroughly and slowly add remaining flour, mixing well until the dough starts to clean the bowl
7. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead, gradually adding flour a little at a time, until smooth and does not stick.

8. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (they will each weight about 1.25 pounds/565 grams)
9. Place dough in 4 lightly oiled bowls, cover loosely with a layer of plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel and let rise an hour and a half in a warm place, until doubled in size

To Make the Filling10. In a large bowl mix together the ground walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa.
11. Heat the milk and butter to boiling.
12. Pour the liquid over the nut/sugar mixture.
13. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly.
14. Allow to stand at room temperature until ready to be spread on the dough.
15. If the mixture thickens, add a small amount of warm milk.

To Roll and Assemble the Dough:16. Spread a clean sheet or cloth over your entire table so that it is covered.
17. Sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons to a handful of flour (use flour sparingly)

20. Using the tops of your hands, stretch dough out from the center until the dough is thin and uniformly opaque. You can also use your rolling pin, if you prefer.
21. As you work, continually pick up the dough from the table, not only to help in stretching it out, but also to make sure that it isn’t sticking.
22. When you think it the dough is thin enough, try to get it a little thinner. It should be so thin that you can see the color and perhaps the pattern of the sheet underneath

23. Spoon filling (see below for recipe) evenly over dough until covered
24. Lift the edge of the cloth and gently roll the dough like a jelly roll.
25. Once the dough is rolled up into a rope, gently lift it up and place it into a greased loaf pan in the shape of a “U”, with the ends meeting in the middle. You want to coil the dough around itself, as this will give the dough its characteristic look when sliced26. Repeat with remaining three loaves, coiling each rope of dough in its own loaf pan.
27. Brush the top of each loaf with a mixture of ½ cup (120 ml) of cold STRONG coffee and 2 tablespoons (30ml/28 gm/1 oz) of sugar. If you prefer, you can also use egg whites in place of this.

28. Cover pans lightly will plastic wrap and allow to rest for approximately 15 minutes.
29. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4.
30. Remove plastic wrap from dough and place into the preheated oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes.
31. Turn down the oven temperature to slow 300°F/150°C/gas mark 2 and bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until done.
32. Remove bread from oven and brush with melted butter.
33. Check the bread at 30 minutes to ensure that the bread is not getting too brown. You may cover the loaves with a sheet of aluminum foil if you need to.
34. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes, still in the bread pan. Remember, the bread weighs about 2.5 and it needs to be able to hold its own weight, which is difficult when still warm and fresh out of the oven. Allowing it to cool in the pan helps the loaf to hold its shape.
35. It is recommended that the best way to cut Povitica loaves into slices is by turning the loaf upside down and slicing with a serrated knife

Jenni, thank you so much for this brilliant recipe! I was going to try the Baker's Odyssey recipe but I don't think I will. This is a recipe I can't go past! Really very good!!!
In my area of the world this type of bread is not seen. I am thrilled to be introduced to a fantastic Eastern European recipe!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Strawberry cake

A simple strawberry cake with a buttery cake and glistening strawberry topping.
(Cake base adapted from Processor cake - Australian Women's Weekly Cakes and Slices)

1 1/2 cups self raising flour
3/4 cup castor (superfine) sugar
125g butter
2 eggs
vanilla to taste
1/2 cup milk
500g strawberries, washed, hulled and dried
1 cup icing sugar mixture
strawberry jam (preferably homemade)

Preheat oven to 180C (350F) and grease and flour a 23cm flan tin.
Place flour, sugar and butter into food processor and process until the mixture is crumbly. Add eggs, vanilla and milk process until just combined. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes but it could need more.
Remove cake from pan after 5 minutes resting. Cool cake then place inverted ( that is bottom side up) onto serving platter. Mix icing sugar mixture with a little warm water until a spreadable consistency and smooth over cake and allow to set for 10 minutes or so. This layer will prevent the strawberry juices soaking too much into the cake and add extra sweetness. Arrange strawberries over cake. Warm strawberry jam and brush over strawberries and pouring in between strawberries.
Refrigerate until set. Serve with cream or vanilla icecream.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Making Mozzarella Cheese

Some time ago I spotted a cheese making kit at my local deli. Already having prepared ricotta using Mrs G's method, I was ready to move on in my cheese making endeavours but not ready to do it on my own. This kit was perfect. The Begininners' Italian Cheeses Kit by Mad Millie provided everything I needed to make macarpone, ricotta, ricotta salata and mozzarella.

This kit includes a thermometer and pipette (for measuring small quantities of liquid) which are required for subsequent kits.

You just need to obtain un-homogenized whole milk which can sometimes be difficult. I found a local brand from Misty Mountains Farms and I was set to make my own mozzarella cheese.

Calcium chloride is added to the milk which is then heated to 13C (55.5F) before mixing in diluted citric acid. This milk is then brought to a higher temperature of 32C (89.5F) and rennet is stirred in. After 30 minutes the curd forms and is cut and heated further to 42C (107.6F).

Once the correct temperature is reached the curds are scooped into a muslin lined colander and allowed to drip for 5 minutes.

Now the fun part! Put on a pair of rubber gloves and take a handful of curds. Place the curds in a bowl of 70C (158F) hot water for 20 seconds. Now, carefully stretch and fold the curd until it is smooth and flexible.

The balls of mozzarella are place into a bowl of icy salt water for 20 minutes and  then they are ready to eat!

The mozzarella is delicious fresh with red ripe tomatoes and basil but matured for a week in the refrigerator is wonderful on a pizza. Either way I'll be making this regularly.