Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lemon Tart with Curious Pastry

First published Canberra Times Newspaper, 16 February 2011.
A couple of months ago, a friend visited with a bag of lemons picked from her tree. I don’t like seeing fresh produce wasted, so I juiced them and stuck them in the freezer. Until recently, the lemon juice sat undisturbed in the back of the freezer next to the frozen stock, a block of my home-made pastry, cassoulet, egg whites and some other food like substances that were covered in frozen crystals. I am prone to filling the freezer and forgetting what frozen gems are lurking in the back.

In a moment of inspiration when deciding what to take for dessert to a family dinner, I grabbed for the frozen lemon juice and pastry and settled on making a lemon tart. This, unfortunately did not go to plan. For starters, given the slippery nature of frozen food, everything, including the cassoulet came tumbling out of the freezer and crash-landed at my feet. I spent the next twenty minutes in a cleaning frenzy, removing the smashed bits of food and plastic container shards from the floor that had made their way into corners and crevices.

With my tart preparations seriously interrupted and the pastry now in pieces in the bin, I hunted down an alternative tart base recipe to make from scratch. I am generally a fan of Maggie Beer’s pastry recipe, but when I found this one it appealed because it didn’t involve using a rolling pin. It was adapted from a recipe by Paule Caillat, who runs a cooking school in Paris, called Promenades Gourmandes. Ms Caillat’s school came up when researching patisserie classes for an upcoming trip to France, but that’s another story.

The quantities were adapted to fit a 25cm tart tin with a removable base. The lemon curd tart filling is made on the stove top in the usual way, but the pastry method is curiously simple. When cooked, it does have a few hairline cracks that can be sealed up with some of the reserved pastry.

Preparing pastry in this way comes with a warning; the heatproof mixing bowl of butter is very hot when it comes out of the oven and it can be very tempting to grab hold of the bowl without gloves, when mixing the flour into the butter. Don’t! You may also need to sit it on a heatproof mat.

To make matters worse, after a particularly clumsy manouvere when extracting the first tart from the pan, I destroyed the pastry base so then had to work quickly to whip up another one. Maybe the moral of the story here is, there are some days when it’s best to just put down the spoon and walk away from the kitchen.


125g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp water
1½ tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
1½ rounded cups plain flour

Preheat the oven to 210 C

In a medium sized ovenproof bowl, such as Pyrex, combine the butter, oil, water, sugar and salt. Place the bowl in the hot oven for 15 minutes, until the butter starts to bubble and is just brown around the edges.

When done, remove the bowl from the oven, using oven gloves, dump in the flour, stirring it in quickly, until it comes together and forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased 25 cm tart tin with a removable base and spread the dough with a spatula, pressing into the sides and base evenly. Reserve a small piece of dough, the size of a marble to repair cracks later.

Prick the dough base with a fork, then bake the tart shell in the oven for 15 minutes or until the shell is lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before patching any cracks with the reserved dough. Allow to cool before filling.

Lemon filling

1 cup fresh lemon juice
grated zest of one lemon, unsprayed
¾ cup sugar
95g unsalted butter, cubed
3 large eggs
3 large additional egg yolks

Preheat oven to 180 C

In a medium non reactive saucepan, heat the lemon juice, zest, sugar and butter. Have a mesh strainer nearby. In a small bowl, beat together the eggs and the yolks.

When the butter is melted, whisk some of the warm lemon mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly to warm them. Scrape the warmed eggs back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and almost begins to bubble around the edges. Be careful not to overheat at this stage.

Have the pre-baked tart shell, still in the tin ready to add the lemon curd. Pour the lemon curd through a strainer into the pre-baked tart shell, scraping the curd through with a rubber spatula. Smooth the top of the tart and cook in the oven for about five minutes, just to set the curd.

Remove from the oven, when cool remove by sitting the tart over a glass and carefully push down on the sides of the tin until it releases the tart from the sides of the tin. The tart can be sprinkled with icing sugar if preferred and served with sweetened whipped cream.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The magic of love cake

First pubished Canberra Times 9 February 2011.
Cassanova and Romeo were said to be in the know and, apparently, so was Montezuma. Whether it is the properties of the food or the power of the mind to conjure up the desired affects, since ancient times we have bestowed certain foods with aphrodisiac and medicinal qualities Most of us are familiar with the run of the mill passion-evoking, sexy foods, such as chocolate, oysters and champagne, but are we as familiar with the ancient mysteries of spices?

Photo by Steve Shanahan
In Arabic cultures, nutmeg was used to treat digestive problems and was valued as an aphrodisiac. In India it was used to combat asthma and heart complaints and the spice is still used today as a sedative. The Hindus also embraced Nutmeg for its more sensual properties as a stimulant in raising body heat, sweetening breath and increasing both libido and potency. My money is on the Chinese, who believed Nutmeg was the sorceress of seduction, with her aromatic fragrance and mild hallucinogenic powers, and often used as the primary ingredient in love potions.

Nutmeg is also a primary ingredient in Love Cake, which was a favourite dessert on the Tuross menu. The cake was an exceptionally popular choice with male customers, who often asked in whispering tones whether Love Cake really worked, when buying a slice for their wife or partner. Steve’s stock response to these sotto voce inquiries was “You’ll have to wait ‘till you get home to see, won’t you?” A disturbing number of partners snorted derisively at this point!

I baked this cake again recently for a family wedding feast on the south coast, where the groom, an unashamed cake-a-holic, requested a selection of cakes to accompany the wedding cake. He wanted the cake table to resemble a CWA meeting, where guests could choose what they wanted for dessert. He is also known to say, his obsession for cake is such, that he would eat cake on toast for breakfast every morning if he could! That’s dedication for you.

The Love Cake is gluten free and is best served with a big dollop of creamy yoghurt mixed with vanilla seeds and honey. It freezes perfectly well in a sealed container wrapped in cling wrap, otherwise it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, as the flavours will improve with age. Oh, and I forgot to say, this cake can be completely prepared in a food processor!

Serves 12

3 cups of almond meal
1 cup or raw sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ tsp salt
120g unsalted butter, softened and cubed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g Greek yoghurt, and extra to serve
1 heaped tbsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
45g pistachios, chopped
1 vanilla bean, de-seeded
2 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter and line a 23cm diameter springform cake pan with baking paper. Combine almond meal, sugars, butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor until coarse breadcrumbs form. If you don’t own a food processor use your fingertips to rub the butter into the other ingredients. Spoon half the mixture into the base of the springform cake pan, pressing gently with the back of a spoon to evenly cover the base. Add eggs, yoghurt, nutmeg and cinnamon to remaining crumble mix and pulse in food processor until combined and smooth and creamy. Beat by hand with a wooden spoon if you don’t own a food processor. Pour the mixture over the prepared base, scatter the pistachios on the top and bake until golden, for approximately 35 to 40 minutes. This cake should resemble a cheesecake in texture with a crunchy base. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack to room temperature. Serve with the extra yoghurt mixed with the vanilla seeds and honey.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

With cream............

Gotta love whipped cream, couldn't resist this bowl of freshly whipped cream ready to eat with just baked warm lemon tart.................

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Healthy Bran Muffins

First published Canberra Times 2nd February 2011.
For some reason, whenever I buy a muffin, no matter how good it is, I feel unsatisfied with both the quality and the flavour. I can’t help picking up on the faults and I feel compelled to say what I’m thinking. Mostly, it leaves me feeling that I could have made it better myself, which is pretty silly really, because the reason you buy a muffin is for the convenience of not having to make it yourself.  Whatever the case, this muffin obsession of mine has become a bit of a family joke, and I now feel slightly obligated to provide a regular supply of muffins in the pantry.
Photo by Steve Shanahan
These muffins are made with toasted bran and yoghurt, are lighter in texture and not as sweet as most muffins. They are a healthy alternative to the heavier Texas Muffins or cakes and make a virtuous snack for the kids. If your kids aren’t quite so virtuous and won’t eat anything that looks marginally healthy, you could smarten the muffins up by drizzling a tart lemon icing over them or sprinkling with a little cinnamon and vanilla sugar while still hot.
I used a 12-hole muffin tin, and this mixture made enough to fill 13 holes. When baking,, the muffin mixture doesn’t rise very high, so fill them almost to the top of each patty pan.
I have tried a number of variations with this recipe, including topping with a honey glaze, or a cream cheese icing, adding nuts to the mixture or spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, all of which work well with the bran flavours.
When cooled, wrap each muffin individually in plastic wrap and freeze. They will then be ready to stick in a school lunch box and thawed nicely in time for morning tea.
These muffins were adapted from the book, Pastries from La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton.

2 cups wheat bran
1 cup, plus ½ cup sultanas
1 cup, plus ½ cup water
½ cup plain low fat yoghurt
zest of 1 orange
½ cup lightly packed brown sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 large egg white
½ cup plain flour
¼ cup wholemeal flour
1 tspn baking powder
1 tspn bicarb soda
½ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 12-hole muffin tin with patty cups.
Spread the wheat bran on an oven tray and toast in the oven for about six to eight minutes, stirring a few times to get an even colour. Let cool. While the bran is toasting, heat 1 cup of the sultanas with ½ cup of the water. Simmer for about ten minutes or until the water is absorbed. Puree the raisins in a food processor or blender until smooth.
In a large bowl, mix together the toasted bran, yoghurt, 1 cup of the water, then mix in the sultana puree, orange zest and brown sugar. Stir in the oil, egg and egg white and mix through.
Mix together the flours, baking powder, bicarb soda and salt and sift directly into the wet ingredients. Stir until the ingredients are just combined, then mix in the remaining ½ cup of sultanas.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, making sure the batter is filled almost to the top of each one.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the muffins feel set in the middle.