Chic & Cheesy

How to make old-fashioned cheesecake

As I have implied before, cheesecake has a special place near my heart and is something that I like to make for those who are close to me. In this week’s post, I make a classic cheesecake for my best friend on her birthday.

Birthday cheesecake

While the cheesecake I am more adept at making is a sweeter and an altogether more gluttonous version (see my post on “Mother’s Day Cheesecake”), as my friend has a much cleaner palate I chose to make this more classic and traditional cheesecake. The recipe in question is another of Nigella’s that I’d had my eye on for a while, which resides in her book Kitchen.

As I was to find out, the filling for this cake was other-worldly light yet creamy, while the base consisted of flour and butter, creating a crumbly biscuit foundation for the cream cheese filling. The overall simplicity and homeliness of the cake’s cracked appearance belied its baked deliciousness. And the most convenient part was using the throwaway BBQ foil trays to bake the cake in, which allowed an easy journey on the train from my home to my friend’s.

I acknowledge that the recipe for this cheesecake does require curd cheese rather than cream cheese, however as I couldn’t find any curd cheese I substituted it for the 725g cream cheese and found that this turned out perfectly fine. Certainly I would love to be able to use curd cheese in the recipe if I were to find in the future, as I admit to taking a  secret pleasure in finding ingredients that are difficult to come by, such as cocoa pasta (if anyone does find this somewhere in NSW, feel free to comment and let me in on the secret!). Continue reading “Chic & Cheesy”

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The Scent of Caramel

How to Make: Caramel Slice

There’s something to be said for caramel slice; not just eating it, but making it too. Standing by the stove and giving in to the scents of my work as the shortbread is baking in the oven cheers me up on a miserable winter’s day. And while making caramel may seem like a difficult task, it really isn’t…

Caramel slice pile…

Believe me, I am the last person in the world who would take pleasure in following a recipe that is complex and mentally sweating (and swearing) over my labours. Therefore, when I say that making caramel is easy it must be true. And the real pleasure here is tasting your slice as you go – not excepting the sweetened condensed milk in the caramel. Yum!

Making caramel is not as complicated as it may appear, however it is important to watch it and keep the temperature consistent as it can burn. I give all the credit for this recipe to Jackie Brooks, the author of the book which I was lucky enough to find on one dreary day…

TIP: To make life easier, bake it in a throwaway BBQ foil tray. This saves on washing up and you can manipulate the bottom and sides to remove the caramel slice with ease!

Caramel Squares

Ingredients:

Shortbread Base

  • 100 g butter
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 60 g cornflour, sifted
  • 3/4 cup plain flour, sifted

Caramel Filling

  • 125 g butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 400 g sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Topping

  • 200 g dark chocolate, melted

Makes 24

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. To make base, place butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Mix in cornflour and flour, turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly, then press into a buttered and lined 20 x 30cm (8 x 12in) shallow cake tin and bake for 25 minutes or until firm.
  2. To make filling, place butter, brown sugar and honey in a saucepan and cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar melts and ingredients are combined. Bring to the boil and simmer for 7 minutes. Beat in condensed milk and vanilla extract, pour filling over base and bake for 20 minutes longer. Set aside to cool completely. Spread melted chocolate over filling, set aside until firm, then cut into squares.
    Continue reading “The Scent of Caramel”

Match Made In Heaven

Flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

Cookie dough mixture
I was never very great at mathematics, however there is one very important equation which I have yet to find fault with. That is, salty + sweetness = a match made in heaven!

The best example I can provide of this significant part of my mathematical (and OK, culinary) education is the perfect balance of peanuts and chocolate when put together.

There have been a fair few recipes I have made which unite these ingredients together (see my post on Mother’s Day Cheesecake) – these peanut butter chocolate chip cookies are a new venture.

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Ready to be baked…
As on any given rainy weekend with nothing much to do, baking is one of my favourite pastimes. However I have come to realise that the benefits of these cookies from Nigella Lawson’s Simply Nigella do not just lie in the taste…

Not only are they super easy and quick to make (I knocked them up in under half an hour, not including the cooling time!), they are also both gluten- and dairy-free. Without using any flour at all, only a handful of ingredients are specified in the recipe.

Child’s play!

“I can’t seem to stop making these, and as I make them, so they get eaten. Luckily, they are extraordinarily easy to throw together.” – Nigella Lawson, Simply Nigella.

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Fresh from the oven!
Ultimately, I baked these with the intention of getting my fix of peanut butter and chocolate, as my favourite Whittaker’s Peanut Butter Chocolate bar seems to have been discontinued. And while these cookies provided my fix, I personally feel that the ratio of peanut butter to chocolate is not balanced enough for my taste.

But that is part of the beauty of home cooking: being able to adjust and accommodate to your own tastes.

Stay tuned for more of my baking adventures!

Continue reading “Match Made In Heaven”

Red Velvet Stress Release

Spreading the love with my spatula

There are many joys of working in childcare – each day brings something wonderful and warms my heart. However it can also be stressful and knowing this, sometimes I bring something special for my colleagues to brighten their day. This week, it was red velvet cupcakes.

Red velvet cupcake

Indeed, making something delicious for people I care about and then sharing it with them is enough to brighten my own day in itself. If I can bring even momentary happiness to someone who’s having a crappy day, it makes me happy to know I could do that.

One of the great things about working in childcare is working with lovely people who appreciate the small things in life, as most do. Hence when I was flicking through my cookbooks looking for my next baking venture and saw these cupcakes, I thought “Why not?”

Although I’m always using Nigella’s books as reference, as it is Nigella week on MasterChef – cue extreme childlike excitement here! – I wanted to honour her as one of the reining influences in my culinary education in this post. Nigella Lawson has inspired me for years, not least because her cookbook Kitchen was the very first cookbook I ever owned. Her voice spoke to me from the pages of her books and taught me how to cook and her TV shows provided comfort for me at times when I just wanted to block out the world.

Stacked red velvet cupcakes for work!

When I decided to try making these red velvet cupcakes, I was taken aback at the specified use of a teaspoon of cider vinegar in both the sponge and the frosting. I was uncertain about this and the fact that there was buttermilk in the recipe made me wonder what on earth I was getting into.

And then, I was charmed. Do not be afraid of putting these components in your cupcakes, as they are both essential to red velvet. As is the copious amounts of red food colouring which create such a deep, red sponge.

Needless to say, my work buddies were delighted with my efforts.

Continue reading “Red Velvet Stress Release”

Not So Mile-High Chocolate Meringue Pie

The silver lining in every stuff-up

Let me say at the outset that no matter what you set out to do in the kitchen, it is important to remember that the key to learning to cook well is to make mistakes.

I wish I could say that everything I make in the kitchen is a success, however that is not always the case. When I decided to make the mile-high chocolate meringue pie, I had no notion that it would turn out as it did.

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The process of my not so mile-high chocolate meringue pie…

But let me tell you what went wrong: while the Carême pastry crust* was faultless, the chocolate centre was too runny and the so-called meringue wasn’t anywhere near stiff enough to pile on top (being a “mile-high meringue” and all). Once I had tipped the mixture out into the tin, I thought it was going to turn out alright…

And then it wasn’t. Mercilessly flat and dripping out down the sides. After my pie had chilled a while, I thought at least it would have firmed up a little in the fridge. I cut into it and it was like an open wound in my pie as filling and meringue slid slightly out, rather than making a satisfying cut-out slice (surely I’m not the only one who takes pleasure in the slicing of pie?)

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” – Julia Child

However, despite all of this, the taste was still enough to satisfy my chocolate cravings, almost feeling the happy chemicals hit my system as I ate, beginning on my tastebuds and warming through my heart. And while my pie wasn’t how it was meant to be, I know what I did wrong and my advice to my future self would be to whisk it thicker, baby!

Never lose heart!

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” – Julia Child

*NOTE: Carême dark chocolate shortcrust pastry – I was excited to find – you can get from Panetta Mercato, where some of my favourite things can be found like truffle oil, the fresh fruit and vegetables of my dreams and a selection of delicious cheeses.

Continue reading “Not So Mile-High Chocolate Meringue Pie”