Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I have belonged to this wonderful online baking group The Daring Bakers' for a little over 3 years. Each month a member hosts a baking challenge presenting us with a recipe and a little background to go with it. Over the years I have learnt so many amazing techniques that I possibly would only have had that opportunity at a patisserie school. Macarons, croissants, puff pastry, sourdough plus a wide variety of specialty cakes from all parts of the world just to name a few of the fabulous recipes shared within this group. For the month on June we visited England and celebrate Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee with a Battenberg Cake.

 Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

This cake is as cute as a button! Traditionally four alternate squares of pink and yellow cake in an oblong shape. Ooooh, as a child I would have loved this cake to serve to my dolls instead of the leaves and mudcakes they usually got!

Edited 28-6-12:- I made the cake earlier but didn't get around to decorating it - so we ate it as it was and found it too dry. So second time around I added the milk. We preferred the second cake which was much more moist and delicate
Traditional Battenberg

Servings: +- 8
¾ cup (1½ sticks) 175gm / 6 oz Unsalted Butter, softened & cut in cubes
¾ cup / 175gm / 6 oz Caster Sugar
1¼ cups / 175gm / 6 oz Self-Raising Flour (***see below how to make your own)
3 Large Eggs, room temp
½ cup / 65gm/ 2 1/3 oz Ground Almonds (Can be substituted with ground rice)
3/4 tsp / 3½ gm Baking Powder
1/4 cup milk (optional - my addition)
½ tsp / 2½ ml Vanilla Extract
1/4 tsp (1¼ ml) Almond Extract
Red Food Colouring, paste, liquid or gel

To Finish
1/3 cup (80 ml) 100gm /3 ½ oz Apricot Jam
1 cup / 225gm / 8 oz Marzipan, natural or yellow ( I tinted my with yellow to add to the whimsy)

***How to make your own self raising flour:
1 cup Self Raising Flour = 1 cup / 115g All Purpose Flour + 1 ½ tsp Baking Powder + ¼ tsp Salt (omit salt if there is salt in the recipe) sifted together

Prepare a pan before you begin baking 
(if you don't have a 8 x 8 Battenberg tin)

Using a 8"x8" (20cmx20cm) Square Baking Tin
Make the pan divider with parchment paper and foil.
I folded over a sheet of foil several times to help reinforce the divide.
Fold the parchment in half and put the foil into the crease.
Butter the bottom of the cake pan, this will help "glue" the parchment to it.
Make sure the divide is in the middle of the pan and stick the excess parchment onto the bottom.

Directions:1. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/160°C Fan Assisted/Gas Mark 4
2. Grease an 8”/20cm square baking tin with butter
3. Line the tin with parchment paper, creating a divide in the middle with the parchment (or foil)
4. OR  Prepare Battenberg tin by brushing the tin with melted butter and flouring
5. Whisk together the dry ingredients then combine with the wet ingredients in a large bowl and beat together just until the ingredients are combined and the batter is smooth
6. Spoon half the mixture into the one side of the prepared baking tin
7. Add a few drops of red food liquid/gel/paste to the remaining batter, stir until the colour is thoroughly distributed, add more colour if needed
8. Spoon the pink batter into the other half of the prepared baking tin
9. Smooth the surface of the batter with a spatula, making sure batter is in each corner
10. Bake for 25-30mins until the cake is well risen, springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick comes out clean (it should shrink away from the sides of the pan)
11. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out to cool thoroughly on a wire rack

12. Once completely cool, trim the edges of the cake with a long serrated knife
13. Cut each coloured sponge in half lengthways so that you are left with four long strips of sponge

14. Neaten the strips and trim as necessary so that your checkered pattern is as neat and even as possible
15. Gently heat the apricot jam and pass through a small sieve

16. Brush warmed jam onto the strips of cake to stick the cake together in a checkered pattern (one yellow next to one pink. On top of that, one pink next to one yellow)
17. Dust a large flat surface with icing sugar then roll the marzipan in an oblong shape that is wide enough to cover the length of the cake and long enough to completely wrap the cake
18. Brush the top of the cake with apricot jam
19. Place the cake on the marzipan, jam side down
- Tip: Either in the middle or to the one side of the marzipan
20. Brush the remaining three sides with jam. I found it was easier to brush the marzipan with jam
21. Press the marzipan around the cake, making sure the join is either neatly in the one corner, or will be underneath the cake once turned over
- Tip: If you put the sponge to the one side of the marzipan, it is easiest to "roll" the sponge over and over onto the marzipan instead of lifting the marzipan up onto the sponge

 22. Carefully flip the cake over so that the seam is under the cake and score the top of the cake with a knife, you can also crimp the top corners with your fingers to decorate
23. Neaten the ends of the cake and remove excess marzipan by trimming off a small bit of cake on both ends to reveal the pattern

Thanks Mandy for hosting. Another great traditional cake.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Roman Chocolate Cookies - "A Baker's Odyssey" Personal Challenge #18

In three months time, I look forward to sampling many different and varied gelati, to sipping an espresso as I watch the Roman people go by and  most of all, I look forward to visiting as many pasticcerie and discovering the sweet tastes of Rome. Yes, in three months time I leave for a  visit to Italy. For me, it will be a time of rediscovering my roots, a time to embrace aunts, uncles and cousins, and a time to introduce  my children to their heritage. And while pasticcerie displays are luscious and elaborate it is the home sweets that are made with love and tradition that tug at the heart strings.
These Roman Chocolate cookies from A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent are just that - simple, delicious and a favourite of everyones. I mean, it's chocolate plus chocolate, what's not to love? On this occasion I used vanilla icing but a chocolate icing would just double the love!
These cookies disappeared very quickly. Chocolate has that effect on my family. I suspect it will on yours, too!

Roman Chocolate Cookies
Makes 36 cookies 

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons allpurpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped medium fine
1 cup choc chips

2 cups icing sugar
2 or 3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
coloured sprinkles.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, spices and salt.

With  a whisk attachtement on the an electric mixer beat the eggs on medium speed until frothy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until the eggs thicken and become pale. While beating, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. On low speed mix in milk and vanilla. Then with a wooden spoon add the flour mixture in two installments, stirring until smooth. Stir through the walnuts and choc chips. The dough will be soft and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

 Heat oven to 350F/160C and line two large baking trays with non stick baking paper. Take rounded teaspoonsful of the dough and roll between your palms into a ball. Set the balls on the prepared trays allowing room for spreading and rising. Bake for 10-12 minutes. They will almost double in size and form a few cracks. Cool on the trays for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool.

Mix the icing ingredients together to form a thick but spreadable icing. Spread a small amount on each cookie and decorate with coloured sprinkles.

Prepare to see the cookie tin empty very quickly. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rainbow Roses Cake

Once upon a time our world of baking was limited to the cookbooks we bought, or the magazines we read, or the swapping of recipes with family, friends and neighbours. Today recipe swapping has reached world wide proportion with the advent of the Internet. On the day we had our Internet connected probably only 13 or 14 years ago my first search was "recipes". Wow, what a world lay out there! This is recipe swapping like never before and how lucky we are. Ideas that would never normally reach far flung areas like rural North Queensland are now at our fingertips. And this is precisely how I first happened upon the "Roses" cake. Since I had seen this cake I had always wanted to make my own version but by doing a little research I realised  I needed a Wilton 1M piping tip. So that was my intended purchase. Once in hand, all I needed was a special occasion and a worthy recipient.

Yep, earlier this year I had just that - my daughter's 17th birthday!  

Rainbow Roses Cake

Make up Heavenly White Cake recipe with a few adjustments. Use 1 1/2 cups milk instead of 1 cup and when it is time add the meringue fold do not beat as specified in the recipe.

I only had 4 cake pans of the same size (about 8 inch), if you have more you can make more layers.
Divide the cake batter into four medium bowls. Leave one plain and colour the other 3 pink each one progressively darker than the last so the result is three pinks ranging from light to dark pink batter. Pour each batter into separate lined cake pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350F/175C.

I love Warren Brown's Italian Meringue Butter cream. By following this fantastic clip by The Man himself you will have no trouble. It does seem frightening watching the meringue collapse as you add the butter but just keep beating and it will all work out. Sandwich each layer with a little of the butter cream. 

Then coat the whole cake with a little of the butter cream.

Using a Wilton 1M tip pipe roses all over the cake. It's not at all as hard as it looks. Do grab yourself this particular piping tip, it will make all the difference.

This birthday cake was happily received by all, best of the the birthday girl herself!

Heavenly is the appropriate description for this cake which melts in your mouth and has a sublime taste and texture. 

I could sit down to the whole bowl of this delicious butter cream! Not a very good idea but it is so addictive.

Happy Birthday to my sweet 17 year old! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Assyrian Spinach Pies - "A Baker's Odyssey" Personal Challenge #17

My 17 year old daughter wandered into the kitchen mid field as I was preparing these Assyrian Spinach Pies and peered into the bowl of sparking pomegranate seeds.

 "Mmmm, what's this?"

I answered, "Pomegranate seeds."

"You've never bought these before."

"Actually, you used to take a container of them to kindergarten. You loved them"

"Really!", comes the stunned reply.

"Yep, just like your brother was the only kid in preschool with blue vein cheese sandwiches."

What happened to me! A new mother starts with such enthusiasm. Introducing new tastes and food sensations to their oh-so-accepting offspring then some how the decline starts. I think I'll blame school. I mean, truly how many kindergarten children enjoy pomegranate seeds for a snack? And how many preschoolers tuck into blue vein cheese sandwiches?

In my home town most lunch boxes consist of the usual sandwich with a not  very imaginative filling, maybe cheese, ham or salami but often Vegemite. There might be a packaged cake or biscuit bar. And of course, the obligatory apple, which never gets eaten but just goes back and forth every day until it gets thrown out  at the end of the week. As much as schools try to implement good food choices, peer group pressure is pretty hard to beat.
I saw Jamie Oliver on Australian Masterchef during the week and the first thing I thought about was his amazing energy and persistence in changing the stereotype of school foods. I'd love to think that everyone who saw his programs filmed in Britain and the U.S. are convinced that packaged and fast food will never be better than home cooked. And it doesn't have to be hard.
My children are growing up and my daughter has very adventurous taste buds and my 14 year old son...well... his taste buds are developing - we're looking up. Has Jamie succeeded and are lunchboxes and school canteen menus changing? I'll let you answer that.

This recipe actually doesn't have much to do with a lunchbox or quick and nutritional food except that they are just as delicious cold and could be included in  that proverbial healthy lunchbox. From A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent, these pies were quite delicious. I have given you my quantities because the original recipe called for a pound of spinach leaves and made 24 large pies -I didn't have a pound of spinach leaves and, in any case, I didn't want 24 large pies!

Oh, yes and by the way I found the mahlab seeds at this fabulous online spice store!

Assyrian Spinach Pies
Printable recipe
Makes 24 large pies

1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon ground mahlab
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus more as needed
1 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons (40 mls) extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
5 1/2 oz (160g) packet baby spinach
1/2 cup (2 oz) chopped walnuts
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup (2 oz) feta cheese, crumbled
2 1/2 tablespoons (40ml) lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
plain yogurt to serve

To make the dough, combine 2 tablespoons of the water, the yeast and the mahlab in a small bowl and allow to stand for 10 minutes until bubbling.
Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the remaining water, the olive oil and yeast mixture. Combine with the dough hook slowly then knead on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Remove from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a ball - only a few strokes. Clean and oil the bowl, return the dough to the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Allow to rise 1 1/2 hours.
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 even pieces, form into balls. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

The filling is such a wonderful combinations of colours. Actually, it would make a delicous salad just as it is!

Heat the oven to 375F/190C. Prepare 2 or 3 trays by lining with non stick baking paper.  To shape the pies, roll a ball of dough into a thin 5 inch /12 cm round, flouring the dough as you go so that it doesn't stick. Place a heaped 1/4 cup of filling in the middle of the round. Brush the edges of the dough with water.

Imagining the dough is a clock, gather up the dough joining the edges from the 12 o'clock up to the middle.

Now pick up the dough from the 6 o'clock and bring it to meet the middle so that it covers up the filling. Join the edges. 

 It should look like an upside down "Y". Place on the lined baking trays. Brush with olive oil.
When they are all prepare bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.

Cool on wire racks and serve warm or at room temperature with yogurt.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Torta di Limone -A Baker's Odyssey Personal Challenge #16

It's funny how things work out, isn't it? I don't know what it's called, really. Probably has lots of names. You know, like the time you don't plan anything but need to talk to someone. You run into a dear friend in the supermarket who suggests you both grab a coffee. Or the time you see the perfect puppies for sale in last week's newspaper and you phone the number thinking you've missed out but there's one left. She turns out to be your best friend.

This cake is like that. I decided to bake the Torta di Limone in the continuation of my personal challenge of baking my way through A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent. It's a gorgeous Italian torta with the fresh flavour of lemon enhanced by a drizzle of my homemade limoncello. Searching for my regular round baking pan I came across the battered pan I inherited from my husband's late grandmother. I love that it is dented and a little out of shape with a few impossible to remove stains but it is scrubbed until shiny inside. This pan completely emulates Nonna Lucia and her style of cooking - rough but thorough producing incredible meals, cakes and cookies with ease and not a written recipe in sight. And today as I share with you this torta, I realise it's the six month anniversary of her passing. At 98, she lived a long and full life which was at times very hard but she left a legacy, a gift, her love, her endurance and her honesty. Today a silent tear will drop. 

Even the first lemons on my new lemon tree were just ripe and full of juice. 

And the rind was fragrant and fluorescent yellow.
Yes, all the stars were aligned. This is how it happens sometimes, isn't it?

Torta di Limone

Makes 8 servings

2 large eggs
7 tablespoons (100g) granulated sugar
7 tablespoons (105mls) whole milk
7 tablespoons (105mls) extra virgin  olive oil
9 tablespoons (130g) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
3 tablespoons (45mls) lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350F/160C. Grease an 8 inch/20cm round cake pan and line the base with a circle of baking paper. Grease or spray the paper then dust the pan with flour and shake out the excess.
Cover the eggs (yes, still in their shells) with hot water and let them sit for 5 minutes.

 Now you need to get a few thing ready
I like to sift dry ingredients onto a sheet of baking paper (saves on washing up). So sift the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl combine the milk and olive oil.

 Dry the eggs and crack into a medium bowl. Add the sugar and whisk for 1 minute. Add the combined olive oil and milk.
Gently whisk in the dry ingredients until the batter is just smooth. Whisk in the lemon rind and juice. 

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the cake is firm and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before turning out on a wire cooling rack. Cool completely.

Before serving dust with icing sugar and if you want to guild the lily as we did drizzle each slice with limoncello.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chicken and Potato Sambouseks - "A Baker's Odyssey" Personal Challenge # 15

I love afternoon tea. You know, the proper one with cakes and tarts and good tea. It seems so far removed from the "smoko" I grew up with.

Ok, ok, I can almost hear you all from my house. What is "smoko"? In my terms smoko is a snack break, a tea break, a coffee break, an after school break. A time to sit down, stop whatever you're doing have a drink and a snack. After a bit of research on wiki I found that smoko is a term mostly used only in Australia and New Zealand and originated among the working class who were taking a break from heavy physical labour presumably to have a cigarette or a "smoke" hence the name. In Australia it is believed to have originated amongst the sheep shearers but I know that has been used for many years in the sugar cane industry and continues to this day.  During this break, depleted energy is replenished with copious quantities of tea or coffee and a light meal. My husband and his motor mechanic colleagues won't stop for "morning tea" but they always stop for "smoko". The tea and coffee is poured, out come the sandwiches, cake, fruit or "a meat pie from the shop". In Australia we have an institution known as the "smoko van", a mobile food shop which travels from work site to work site delivering freshly made sandwiches and other goodies. 
I guess smoko is just much more rustic and substantial than morning or afternoon tea.

So while this next recipe from "A Baker's Odyssey" by Greg Patent is perfect to have with drinks, it would also fit right in the lunch box to have at "smoko".  

Chicken and Potato Sambouseks
Printable recipe
Makes about 30 pastries

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 to 5 tablespoons iced water

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped medium-fine
3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 cups diced peeled potato
1/2 pound chicken mince
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

For the dough, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl.
In a small jug beat the egg, egg yolk, oil and turmeric until well combined. Add to the dry ingredients and stir well with a fork.  

Now using your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until it is crumbly and  looks a bit like the mixture above.  Add a tablespoon of water at a time, mixing well with a fork. It will start to form large clumps. At this stage you need to be careful not to add too much water. After the fourth tablespoon check if the mixture is holding together. It should be wet but don't do as I did and add to little water - it took all my strength to roll it out! Definitely, too dry!  
Now, when it's ready wrap it in plastic wrap  and let it rest in the refrigerator while you make your filling.

 Heat the olive oil and fry the onions for about 10 minutes until lightly browned.

 While this is happening combine the salt, pepper, sage, oregano, cumin, thyme, turmeric and coriander.  Add the spice mixture to your onions when they are ready and fry for a minute or so.
Stir in the potatoes and continue to cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, stirring well, for 8 or 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked.  Stir in the peas and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Let it cool for 10 minutes.

 Add the beaten egg and the parsley to the filling and cool completely.

Now you are ready to make the sambouseks. Heat the oven to 375F/180C and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.
Divide the dough into four ( this makes rolling easier) and roll out one round. Isn't the colour beautiful? The dough should be very thin. I always roll pastry between two sheets of non stick baking paper. This was difficult for me because I'm sure the dough was too dry so I couldn't roll the dough very thin. Stamp out 3 1/2 inch/8 cm rounds. 

Place a level tablespoon of filling on the round. Brush the edge of the round with water then fold the dough over to make half moon shapes.  Press the edges with a fork to seal.

  Place on prepared baking trays. Repeat until all the dough a filling is used up.
Bake the sambouseks in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool on baking tray.