Thursday, March 28, 2013

Paschal Lamb Cake

Paschal Lamb       Photo by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times 27 March 2013.
Cool and dark mornings announce the onset of Autumn and the approach of Easter. My dog and I have a close personal relationship with these crispish mornings, as we determinedly shed our Christmas kilos, jogging the tracks of the Majura nature park.

With this cooler weather, I inevitably begin to plan our Easter family feast. Its an odd, uncoordinated combination of Easter and school holidays this year, but we will still manage to corral friends and family to feast on a beast, slow roasted in the outdoor oven. 

With a nod to body health and fitness, I avoid the obligatory Easter chocolate overdose, and choose a cake that is not only sans cocoa bean, but has traditional French significance. It is in the shape of a lamb, which represents rebirth and beginnings. Most of all I choose it because its so very cute.

During our last visit to France, I bought some Paschal lamb pottery moulds, from the little town of Soufflenheim in Alsace, which, incredibly, has been an  identified pottery region since the Bronze Age. 

Paschal Lamb Pottery Mould - Photo by Steve Shanahan
The mould consists of two lamb shaped sides joined together with a wire clamp. The cake mixture is poured into the greased mould and baked for forty minutes. When cooked it is removed from the mould and coated with a thick layer of icing sugar while still hot, ready to sit centre stage on the Easter table.

This unusual little cake is suitable for people on a dairy free diet as it contains no milk or butter. The texture of the cake is similar to that of Italian sponge finger biscuits and goes particularly well with a sticky dessert wine.

Any moulded or round cake pan can be used. Double the recipe to make a two-layer cake using two round twenty centimetre cake tins. Ensure you grease and line the cake tins well with baking paper to prevent the cake from sticking.  If making the cake this way, serve it layered with jam and whipped cream, similar to a sponge and dust liberally with icing sugar. The undecorated cake layers will keep for a week in an airtight container.

3 eggs
90g sugar
100g sifted plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp Kirsch

Preheat the oven to 180C. If using a shaped cake tin or ceramic mould, grease and flour the tin well. For two rounded cake tins, grease the sides well and line the bases with baking paper.

Whisk the eggs and sugar in an electric mixer for ten minutes, until the mixture is very pale.

Sift the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl.

In the bowl of the electric mixer, add the lemon juice, zest and Kirsch to the egg and sugar mixture. Then fold in the sifted flour and baking powder, very gently.

If using a shaped or moulded cake tin, place half the mixture into the tin, tapping gently on the kitchen bench, to drive the batter into the details of the mould. Then fill with the rest of the batter.

If using two round twenty centimetre cake tins, fill each tin equally and tap on the kitchen bench to ensure an even spread of batter.

Bake for 20 minutes for the cake tins and 30 minutes for a moulded tin. Remove the cake gently from the tin while still hot and cool on a wire rack.

Dust liberally with icing sugar.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Chocolate berry Easter cake


 Photos by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times 6 March 2013
February is a big birthday month in our house, and coincides with the timely arrival of two containers of home grown blackberries from a work colleague. Blackberries are such a luscious fruit, that I refuse to relegate them to just a puree. They scream out to be showcased, and are a tart contrast to a bitter, slightly sweet, chocolate layer cake.

The recipe I choose from my collection is a dated, 1980s handwritten one, that probably originates from a relative somewhere down the line. The method of making this cake is a little unusual, but makes for pillowy-soft layers of bitter chocolate cake, sandwiched between oozing layers of unsweetened cream. I modify this with my fresh blackberries and push the chocolate endorphins into overdrive by decorating the top of the cake with mini Easter eggs.

¼ cup plain flour
¼ cup good quality dark cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
170g good quality 70% or 80% dark bitter chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp water
6 eggs, separated
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
1/8 tsp cream of tartar or lemon juice
2 cups washed, fresh blackberries or any berry you have on hand

Chocolate ganache
extra ½ cup pure cream
125g bitter chocolate, chopped

Filling and decoration
½ cup of berry jam
2 cups of pure cream for whipping
mini chocolate Easter eggs for decoration, optional

Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease a 30cm by 45cm baking tray with butter and sprinkle with flour. Line the base with baking paper.

In a small bowl, combine the sifted flour, cocoa powder and salt.

In a medium microwave proof bowl, combine the chocolate, water and butter. Warm the mixture in the microwave, for fifteen seconds at a time, stirring at intervals, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside to cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg yolks at medium high speed for about fifteen seconds, until just combined. With the mixer still running, add about half of the sugar. Continue beating and scraping the bowl as needed, for about eight minutes. The mixture should be light and creamy. Stir in the vanilla and transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk to reuse.

In the electric mixer bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until foamy, this should take about thirty seconds. Add one tablespoon of sugar and continue to whisk until soft peaks form, then gradually add the rest of the sugar. Whisk the whites for about one minute, until they are glossy and hold stiff peaks.

Stir the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Once combined, add about one quarter of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and gently fold in with a spatula to loosen the mixture. Fold in the remaining egg whites until combined, then sprinkle the dry ingredients over the top. Gently fold them in until combined, so as not to lose the air that has already been incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking tray for about ten minutes. Tap the tray on the benchtop to remove any air bubbles and to ensure the mixture is spread into the corners.

Remove from the oven and overturn the cake onto a cooling rack so the base is facing up. Carefully peel the baking paper off the base immediately and allow to cool for at least half an hour.

When cool cut the cake width ways, into three equal slices of fifteen centimetres each. These will form the layers of the cake. If the end edges of the cake are uneven, trim them up with a sharp knife to keep them even and square.

For the filling, whip the extra two cups of cream to stiff peaks.

For the chocolate ganache, place the chopped chocolate into a medium bowl. Bring the cream to a gentle boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and allow to sit for a few minutes to soften. Whisk the cream and chocolate together into a smooth and glossy paste. If your chocolate ganache is a little stiff, place it in the microwave oven on medium for ten seconds until you reach the pouring consistency you need.

To assemble the cake, place one layer of cake onto a serving platter. Spread the cake layer with jam and then a one centimetre layer of whipped cream. Spread an even handful of blackberries over the cream. Place the next layer of cake on top of the berries, keeping in alignment with the bottom layer. Repeat with the fillings of jam, cream and berries. Place the final and top layer of cake neatly on the top, pressing down gently to steady the fillings and to push the cream gently outside the edges to create a slightly messy look.

Finally, pour the chocolate ganache evenly over the top layer of cake allowing it to run down the sides. Top with a row of mini Easter eggs or berries. For optimum flavour, allow the cake to sit, refrigerated and covered, for a day or so to infuse the flavours. To cover in the fridge, poke some toothpicks into the cake to keep the plastic wrap suspended above the cake.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Scotch Eggs

Photo by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times, 13 February 2013

Always looking for innovative picnic food, I came across an old recipe of mine for scotch eggs. These retro globes seem to have vanished off the face of the earth as a popular food and were all the rage when I was a kid, along with Tupperware and Globite school bags.

The likely fall from favour of the scotch egg was probably that they were deep fried. This recipe is baked in the oven, with the additional kick of a few extra herbs and spices.

The other reason to drag my recipe into the twenty first century was because a friends’ ravenous teenage boy came to stay with us and he tried a scotch egg for the first time. The double protein hit of meat and egg provided perfect finger food fodder for his school lunch box.

For this demographic, if you really want to hit the spot, split a bread roll in half, remove some of the bread from the middle of each half and nestle the scotch egg inside the roll. Add a good squirt of sauce and you have enough protein and carbs to keep the wolf from the door for a teenage boy’s school lunch or his after school fridge raid.

Serves 4

5 large free range organic eggs
½ cup flour
sea salt and ground black pepper
100g Krummies crumbs or dried breadcrumbs
400g best quality sausages
1 rasher of finely chopped bacon
1 tsp chopped thyme
1tbsp finely chopped parsley
good pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a tray with baking paper.

Place 4 eggs into a large saucepan of cold, salted water. Bring to the boil, then immediately reduce it to a simmer and cook the eggs for 8 minutes.

Drain the saucepan and run the eggs under cold water from the tap, then peel them and set aside. You can do this step ahead of time and leave the eggs in the fridge, unpeeled till you are ready.

Meanwhile, place the flour in a shallow bowl or plate and season with salt and pepper. Break the remaining egg into a second bowl and beat lightly. Place the breadcrumbs in a third bowl and line up all the bowls in a row, starting  with the flour bowl, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs bowl.

Squeeze the sausage meat out of their casings into a bowl and discard the sausage casings. To the sausage meat, add the bacon, thyme, parsley, nutmeg and cayenne pepper, mixing with your hands until evenly combined.

To assemble the eggs, flour your hands, then scoop out a large ball of sausage meat and flatten it into an oval shape in your hand. Wrap the sausage meat around the egg, pinching it together at the seam, smoothing the meat around the eggs, making sure there are no gaps where the egg is peeking through.

Dredge the sausage-covered egg in the flour, tapping off any excess. Set the wrapped egg on the lined baking tray, repeating the process with the remaining eggs.

Once all the eggs are wrapped in their sausage blankets and floured, dip each one in the beaten egg, making sure it all gets coated, then roll it in the breadcrumbs, ensuring it’s fully covered in crumbs, pressing gently. Place the finished egg back on the lined baking tray, then repeat with the remaining eggs.

Place the eggs in the oven and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are crispy and the sausage is cooked through. The surface of the scotch eggs should be crazed, cracked and crunchy.

Scotch eggs can be eaten warm, cold or at room temperature and make perfect lunch box or picnic food. Store in the fridge for up to three days.

Fruit and vegetable pancakes

Photos by Steve Shanahan
 First published Canberra  Times 13 February 2013

With the challenging morning ritual of filling school lunch boxes fast approaching, so is the dilemma of finding something appetizing and somewhat healthy to put in them.

There arent too many kids I know who will refuse a pancake, and with fruit and vegetables hidden within, these are a tasty and satisfying way of ensuring vegetables are on the school menu. If your kids are old enough, they might even like to help prepare or cook the pancakes themselves.

The idea of combining fruit and vegetables in pancakes was initially brought to me by our daughter who decided she wanted to put everything in hers. The combination of flavours lends a slight sweetness, which she loved. Just remember to squeeze out the juices from both the apple and vegetables and you will have dry, crispy pancakes that should keep fresh in a lunch box without going soggy.

The combinations are endless, and depending on the palate of your little diners, you can add spices, different cheeses or herbs to these pancakes to vary the flavours.

Regardless of the combinations, if you are serving them hot and want to add an extra touch, a few dollops of greek yoghurt adds further body and balance to these pancakes.

These are the perfect lunch finger food and kids will find them even tastier when they are involved in the making.

1 zucchini, washed with skin left on, finely grated
1 cob of corn
1 carrot, finely grated
1 green apple, washed with skin left on, finely grated
squeeze of lemon juice
1 cup plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ cup milk
2 tbsp natural greek yoghurt
2 eggs
½ cup tasty cheese, grated
1 tbsp olive oil

Remove the husks and silk from the corn cob, and slice the end off it so it has a flat bottom. Standing the cob up on a board with the flat side down, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels from the corn cob. Discard the cob and set the kernels aside.

Using your hands, squeeze the grated zucchini, carrot and apple to remove the excess juice. Place the in a large bowl, add the squeeze of lemon juice, and mix until well combined. The juice squeezed from the carrot, apple and zucchini is delicious to drink. Add the corn cobs to the mixed grated fruit and vegetables.

Sift the flour and baking powder together into a separate bowl. Whisk the milk, yoghurt and eggs together in a jug and add to the flour, mixing until well combined and the batter is smooth. Add the batter and grated cheese to the zucchini, carrot, corn and apple and mix well together.

Heat a little of the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Spoon two tablespoons of the batter mixture into the pan to make one pancake. Cook pancakes in batches, for three to four minutes each side until golden through.

Using a spatula, transfer pancakes to a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat with remaining oil and batter.

Serve with extra yoghurt.

Gazpacho two ways


First published Canberra Times 30 January 2013

With the temperature soaring, a hot kitchen becomes an unappealing place to be.   Over the past month or so I have been very taken with chilled soups, they are light, energising and restorative, perfect really for the post festive excesses. They scream of summer and make entertaining a cool breeze as there is no cooking needed.

One of my favourites for this time of year is my doctored version of Gazpacho which is based on the classic Andalusian peasant dish. It’s refreshing, full of ripe, summery flavours and perfectly described as salad soup. 

The key to unlocking the flavour of this soup is using ripe, summer vegetables that are brimming with sweetness from the summer sun.

I allow the blended soup to drip through a muslin filter for a few hours, transforming its consistency from a thick liquid to a light and elegant broth. This version retains all the strong flavours of it’s punchy, hot blooded cousin, however the refined consommé makes an elegant match to seafood and shellfish. 

This recipe is very flexible, and can be made as either the thin consommé version, perfect as a starter, or as the main game, leaving it in it’s original state for a thicker, more substantial soup. 

The other must to making a good Gazpacho, is good quality sherry vinegar and olive oil and some sunny, ripe tomatoes. Perfect for entertaining or taking on a picnic in a cold pack. Serve icy cold in glasses, with a stick of celery for a refreshing starter.

Serves 4
100g slightly stale crusty white bread, soaked in cold water for 20 mins
1kg very ripe vine ripened tomatoes, diced
1 ripe red capsicum, deseeded and diced
1 Lebanese cucumber, peeled and diced
½ tsp sugar
1 cup of tomato juice
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
150ml extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 sprig of thyme
½ long red chilli, deseeded and chopped
3 green shallots, chopped
Sea salt to taste

Mix the diced tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber, sugar, chill, thyme, shallots crushed garlic and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Squeeze out the bread, tear it roughly into chunks, and add to the mixture.

Blend until smooth, then add the tomato juice, salt and vinegar to taste and stir well.
If you are making the consommé version of this recipe, line a colander with a double layer of large sized Chux and place it over a bowl, so it just sits snugly over the top. Pour the blended soup into the colander and allow it to drip through into the bowl below. The liquid should be lightly coloured. This may take a few hours. Squeeze the remainder through the Chux, however take care not to allow any solids to escape into the consommé. Discard the leftover solids in the Chux. Cover the soup and refrigerate until well chilled.

If you are serving the thick version of the soup, pass the mixture through a fine sieve so there are no lumps, then cover and refrigerate until well chilled.

Serve with garnishes of your choice, such as diced black olives, hard-boiled egg and small cubes of cucumber. If serving as an accompaniment to seafood or oysters, pour into shot glasses, chilling in a bowl of ice.

This soup will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for about one week.