Hazelnut Christmas Cookies – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #56

These unusual hazelnut cookies (or biscuits) are a German specialty called Nussplätzchen which have a thin base topped with mound of hazelnut marzipan. The topping is soft and chewy when first baked but hardens and becomes crunchy in a matter of days. As with much Christmas baking make these ahead because they will keep for a month or more.

I had made these a couple of days ago but today it is quite significant that I post these cookies as we see images and hear of the tragedy at the Christmas markets in Berlin. It seems surreal that we can be celebrating a joyful Christmas while in many parts of the world people are struggling to survive be it because of war, famine or poverty. Our freedom and relative peace in Australia is to be treasured.

Nussplätzchen adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent
makes 60

Cookie base
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
115g/ 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Hazelnut topping
250g/8 ozs ground hazelnuts
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

To make the cookies base, place flour, sugar, cardamom, lemon rind and butter into bowl of food processor. Process until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and process until it just comes together. Turn onto your work surface and shape into a log. With the heel of your hand smear the dough away from you in small intervals. Gather the dough up again and repeat. Press the dough together into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

To make the filling, place egg and egg white into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until slightly thicken. Gradually add the sugar and beat for 5 minutes. Mix in the cinnamon, lemon rind and hazelnut meal. Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

The next day preheat the oven to 180C/350F and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper. Allow the dough to come to room temperature.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 3mm/1/8inch. Cut into small rounds of about 4.5cm/1 3/4 inch. Reroll the dough to make more rounds. You will need 60 rounds. Place rounds onto prepared baking trays

Divide the cold topping into 60 balls and press onto the bases. Bake for about 10-15 minutes until only pale golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Christmas Cake – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #55

Do you like Christmas fruit cake? Fruit cake is very alienating – you either love it or you hate it. Here in Australia, we have had an English baking heritage and that includes fruit cakes. In years gone by it was the only cake to have for a wedding, baptism or at Christmas. Even my Italian mother made a great fruit cake. Mum’s cake began with boiling of dried fruits, butter, sugar and spices which was left to cool before adding the flour, eggs and rum. I loved that smell of cooking fruits and spices and still do. Fruit cakes have lost favour in recent years but I still enjoy really good fruit cake moist with fruit that has been plumped in dark rum.

This Welsh Christmas cake from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent, is a very traditional fruit cake. My version includes stem ginger in syrup and dark Jamaican rum to soak the fruits. Baking it in a ring pan ensures even baking and it doesn’t dry out on the edges in an effort to cook the centre. Fruit cake is not meant to be served in fat wedges rather a thin sliver with a little liqueur on the side is perfect, almost like a spoon sweet. Do try it any time of the year!

Welsh Christmas Cake adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent

280g/10oz currants
340g/12oz sultanas or golden raisins
280g/10oz dark raisins
1 cup dark Jamaican rum

Soak the dried fruit in the rum for about a week until all the rum is absorbed.
1 cup glace cherries
1/2 cup diced candied lemon peel
1/2 cup diced stem ginger in syrup
3/4 cup blanched almonds, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup plain flour

After a week, mix the cherries, lemon peel, ginger almonds and flour together with the dried soaked fruit.

Now prepare the cake:
fine dry breadcrumbs for the pan
2 cups plain flour
pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup almond meal
250g/ 2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
5 large eggs
1/4 cup dark Jamaican rum, a little extra to spoon over the cake
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Prepare a large angel food pan by coating with cooking spray and dusting with dried breadcrumbs. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F. Sift the flour, salt and spices and set aside.
In a stand mixer beat the butter until smooth, add the sugar and then the syrup. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well beating additions and scraping the bowl when necessary. Add in the rum and extracts. On low speed mix in the flour mixture and almonds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the fruits and almond mixture. Stir until well combined. Spoon into the prepared pan, taping the pan down on the kitchen bench to ensure there are no air pockets. Bake the cake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until a skewer inserted comes out clean. My cake was cooked at 2 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven. I like to give the cake a little drink at this stage by spooning over a couple of tablespoons of rum while the cake is still warm. To keep the cake moist I like to wrap it in a clean cloth to cool slowly. When the cake is cool wrap in plastic wrap and keep in an airtight container. This cake will keep well but can be portioned and stored in the freezer.

In my Kitchen this month

Summer has arrived with vengeance here in North Queensland! It’s hot
and dry and we longingly wait for the monsoons and the tropical rains. The last of the  sugar cane waiting in the fields to be harvested is crisp and brown from the heat. This morning the first of the heavy rains have started and soon all the sugar cane fields will be bare and thirstily drinking the liquid gold. This month in my kitchen were the last of the local watermelons. I turned a little of the watermelon into gelo – a Sicilian sweet pudding.

I picked up a kilo of fresh local honey – this time it’s from the puddingwood blossoms which produces an intensely flavoured, dark honey.

In the fridge there are three dozen fresh farm eggs gratefully accepted from my daughter’s colleague. Already I have started to turn these into quiches, custards and omelets.

A raspberry chocolate tart for a special dessert.

From “A Baker’s Odyssey” by my friend Greg Patent – baklava

…and also Shoofly pie

Nibbles for Christmas – Spicy nuts and bolts

This post is in conjunction with In My Kitchen hosted by the lovely Liz of Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things even though I’m a little late!

Torta Della Nonna – The Daring Kitchen November, 2016 Challenge

For the month of November we at the Daring Kitchen were challenged by Ginger-Z to make the delicious Torta della Nonna.  This humble Italian cake is seen in many variations, single crusted and double crusted. Many years ago I had clipped a recipe from an Australian magazine Home Beautiful. Actually the clipping is dated 1993! Oops, never got around to making it. For my version, I added a layer of Nutella at the bottom of the pastry and I mean, what is not made better with Nutella! Very similar to Gâteau Basque which featured in “Cucina” over a year ago.

I am sad to report that this will be the second last Daring Kitchen challenge. Daring Kitchen has been an important part of my baking life since 2009 and was the catalyst for starting this blog. Daring Kitchen will close it’s doors following the December challenge. It is with this amazing group of people that I have learnt many baking skills – puff pastry, macarons, croissants, many tortes and delicious treats from around the world. Daring Kitchen will be missed.

Torta della Nonna

Custard

2 1/2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, split
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup castor sugar
4 tablespoons plain flour
Nutella, as desired
slivered almonds for topping

Pastry

2 cups flour
pinch salt
2 egg yolks
125g butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the custard, heat the milk and vanilla bean until just starts to boil. Set aside to cool slightly. Beat the egg yolks and sugar well until light and creamy. Stir in the flour. With a whisk gradually add in the warm milk. Strain the milk mixture back into the saucepan. Return to the heat and stir until it thickens. Boil for about a minute to cook the flour. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl covering with plastic wrap touching the custard to prevent a skin forming.

To make the pastry, in a food processor place the flour, salt, egg yolks, butter, sugar and vanilla. Process until the mixture just starts to come together. Remove and wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour.

When ready, grease a 20cm pie plate and preheat the oven to 180C. Divide the dough in two pieces, with on slightly larger. Roll out the larger piece between to pieces of non stick baking paper until large enough to fit the pie plate. Carefully lift the pastry and press into the pie plate, trimming the edges. Spread the base with Nutella, as much as you wish, then top with the prepared custard. Brush the edges with water. Roll out the second piece of pastry as you did with the first and fit over the custard, pressing the edges to seal and then trim off excess. Brush the top with water and sprinkle with slivered almonds. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes.

Allow to cool and dust with abundant icing sugar. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

 

 

Pumpkin Empanadas for Thanksgiving – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #54

Baking is like a journey, isn’t it?
You are at the wheel and you can steer it in any direction you choose. That’s the best part.
It can be a trip to your favourite place, taken in luxury and comfort or it can be an adventure, taking the back roads and visiting the unknown and the unfamiliar.
For me, this recipe was the latter. And I didn’t think I would like this adventure very much at all!
In sunny North Queenland we are enjoying a glut of gorgeous yellow pumpkins. There are pumpkin soups, pumpkin scones and pumpkin cakes. But this is not the land of pumpkin pies and empanadas. So this journey was approached with just a tad of trepidation.
Guess what? These empanadas are delicious!
Here’s the recipe adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent.
Happy Thanksgiving to my US friends! 
Pumpkin Empanadas (adapted  from“A Baker’s Odyssey” by Greg Patent)
Makes 20 pastries (or more depending on the size)
Filling: can be made the day before
1kg Jap pumpkin or pumpkin of your choice
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
Dough:
3 cups plain flour, plus more as needed
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
170g  butter
1/4 cup castor sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 large egg
1/2 cup warm milk
milk for brushing and raw sugar for sprinkling
Make the filling:
Cut the (unpeeled) pumpkin into large chunks, remove the seeds and fibres. Place in a microwave safe bow,l add a little water, cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave for 10 minutes or until tender. Remove from the microwave and allow to cool a little. Or steam if that’s what you prefer.
Remove the skin.. Place the pumpkin to a pot and add the cinnamon stick and sprinkle on the brown sugar and add the salt. Set the pot over a medium heat. Stir to combine, the pumpkin will break up. Allow to come to a simmer. Stir occasionally and cook for 20-30 minutes until the the mixture is thick and the liquid has almost completely absorbed.
Remove from heat and discard the cinnamon stick. Add the vanilla, cinnamon and cloves.  Puree in a food processor or with a stick blender. Let it cool completely.
Make the dough
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
With a electric mixer (or by hand if you like) beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, less than a minute. Add the sugar, cinnamon and cloves and beat well.
Add the egg and beat for a minute.On low speed mix in the flour in 3 additions alternating with the milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour. Mix only until just combined.
If the dough is too dry add a little more milk or if too sticky add a little more flour. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest 30 minutes to an hour.
Heat the oven to 190C/375F
Prepare a couple of large baking trays by lining with baking paper.
The recipe suggests dividing the dough into 20 pieces and making 5 inch circles. I thought this would be too large so I made smaller circles of about 3 1/2 inch circles. 
Roll out the dough and cut circles of your choice. There is no need to flour the surface unless the dough is particularly sticky.
Place a little of the filling on each circle of dough slightly off center, then fold dough over and press edges with tines of a fork.

 Transfer to baking sheet, spacing a little apart. Once all the empanadas are on the sheets, brush each one with milk and make a slit with a knife in the tops.

Bake until deep golden brown. My smaller ones took only 30 minutes but larger ones could take 40-45 minutes.
Cool a little on baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

Mocha Cake with Coffee Liqueur Syrup and Chocolate Glaze

Mocha Cake with Coffee Liqueur Syrup and Chocolate Glaze.

Well that’s a mouthful, isn’t it? 

But when I came up with this cake that’s exactly what I wanted. This cake was for my sister’s birthday and the request was for a “simple chocolate cake”. The cooking and baking tradition in our family is never “simple”. We always like to stretch ourselves a bit. So it was never going to be a “simple chocolate cake”. However, it is a fairly basic cake. The tenderness comes from the sour cream, the hit of coffee and liqueur comes from the syrup and the glaze just adds to the chocolate element. 

Mocha Cake with Coffee Liqueur Syrup and Chocolate Glaze (adapted from The Perfect Pantry)

The Cake
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons espresso powder
125g butter
1 cup castor sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream

The Syrup
100ml strong brewed coffee, hot
1/4 cup castor sugar
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (I used Tia Maria you could also use Kahlua)

The Glaze
100g dark chocolate,chopped
50g unsalted butter, chopped

Coffee beans to decorate

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 6 cup kugelhopf  pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. I like to sift the dry ingredients onto a sheet of baking paper…it keeps the washing up to a minimum!

 In a small bowl, mix the cocoa and instant espresso powder with 1 1/2 tablespoons of warm water. Stir until well combined and dissolved.

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in the vanilla. Alternately fold in the dry ingredients with the sour cream. When combined add in the cocoa/coffee mixture. Be gentle, don’t overmix. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and smooth out with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes before turning out to cool completely.

In the meantime prepare the syrup by combining all the ingredients until the sugar dissolves. Replace the cake into the pan and pour over the by-now cooled syrup. Allow to soak into the cake. This won’t take long, maybe 10-15 minutes.

Now is the time to prepare the glaze by heating the chocolate and butter over a double boiler or in the microwave on low stirring frequently until smooth.

Ready to assemble and eat! Place a serving plate over the cake pan and tip the cake onto the plate. This will catch any syrup that hasn’t absorbed. With a teaspoon drizzle the glaze over the cake and decorate with coffee beans.

Spiced Bread Rolls – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #53

What could smell better than baking bread?
Baking spiced bread.
This bread has the most amazing combination of exotic spices. Mahlab a spice made from the kernels within the seeds of  the St Lucie cherry.  I bought mine online at Gewurzhaus Herb and Spice Merchants. This is a wonderful store in Melbourne can not be passed by. The scent of spices drifts up and down the street luring customers in. I dare you to try to walk past and not be enticed into the store. Go in, it’s worth it!
 And so are these rolls. Not just any dinner rolls. These bread rolls are a traditional Syrian bread roll. Gorgeous and alluring just like Gewurzhaus Herb and Spice store!
Kleecha (adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent)
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons freshly ground mahlab seeds
1 1/4 cups warm water
115g salted butter
1/3 cup olive oil
5 cups bread flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons nigella seeds
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons anise seeds
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
In a small bowl mix the yeast, mahlab and 1/4 cup of the water. Allow to stand for 10 minutes in which time it will start to froth. While your waiting melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add in the oil. The mixture should be warm not hot. Check it with a thermometre, it should be 50C/120F. Remove the pan from the heat.
To prepare the dough I prefer a stand mixer but the dough can also be mix by hand. In a stand mixer bowl place flour, sugar, nigella, sesame and anise seeds and the cloves, nutmeg and salt. Add the yeast mixture, the butter mixture and the remaining cup of water. Using the dough hook, knead on a medium-low speed for 5 -8 minutes. Scrape down the sides if ingredients get stuck. The dough should be smooth but not sticky. Add more flour or water to get the correct consistency. 
Form the dough into a ball and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to rise until tripled in size – about 2 hours.

Once risen, turn out the dough on a work surface. Pat the dough down and divide into 18 equal portions. Allow to rest for 10 minutes cover with a clean cloth.

Prepare a large baking sheet or two smaller pans by lining with baking paper. Roll each portion  20cm/8inch long rope then form into a knot.Brush with the egg wash and leave the rolls to rise for another 45 minutes.
In the meantime preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Bake risen rolls for about 20 minutes.

Delicious warm or a room temperature with a good dose of butter!
Any leftovers freeze beautifully.

Buttermilk Cardamom Waffles – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #52

Want a great breakfast on Sunday morning without too much bother? Dust off your waffle irons, everyone! This is one not to miss!
These waffles are light with buttermilk, perfumed with cardamom and taste heavenly!
All it takes is a bowl and a whisk. Not madly beating egg whites to stiff peaks or waiting around for the batter to take a “rest”. Just get straight into it and share them with someone who will thank you for it!
Happy weekend!

Buttermilk Cardamom Waffles – A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent

2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
4 large eggs
2 cup buttermilk
60g unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the waffle iron

On a sheet of baking paper sift flour, baking soda, salt, castor sugar and cardamom. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and  buttermilk. Pick up the paper on top opposite sides, pour into the egg mixture and whisk gently until just combined. Fold in the melted butter. Like muffins, don’t over mix!
Follow the instructions for your waffle iron to make the waffles.

It might take a couple of times to get the correct amount of mixture for each waffle –  it did for me.

Stack up your waffles and bring them to the table with your choice of toppings. 

These Norwegian waffles are traditionally topped with sour cream and fruit or jam. Nothing wrong with icecream and syrup, though!

In My Kitchen – November 2016

  This is my second edition of In My Kitchen which is hosted by Liz of Bizzy Lizzy Good Things. If you want to participate just post before the 10th of each month and send your link to Liz.

This month I made a mammoth Apple Strudel! It was huge – I call it “The Party Animal”

 

 

Brown Rice Salad with cucumber, capsicum, currants, pistachios and mint…a sprinkle of dukkah and a drizzle of honey to finish.

 

 

A Nutella Pastry Flower

 

 

Moist and delicious Yoghurt Cupcakes

 

A Jamie Oliver inspired Chicken and Quinoa salad for lunch.

 

 

A syrup drench mocha cake for my sister’s birthday.

 

A Norwegian Almond cake call Fyrstekake. Very sweet. Might try it again with less sugar.

 

A wonderful find at the second hand shop – silver dessert spoons.
And just for fun –  a broccoli face!

Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate!

Have you ever seen a cocoa tree? Or even a cocoa pod? Or followed the pod all the way to when it becomes a chocolate bar? Neither had I.
Chocolate is said to be the food of the gods and I can understand why.
So a few weeks ago we took a drive a couple of hours north to beautiful Mission Beach and particularly to Charley’s Chocolate Factory. A tour of the cocoa farm and and chance to taste awarding winning chocolate was just to good to pass up.

This is a beautiful part of north Queensland and the farm is set in a shallow valley not far from the ocean which make it a perfect micro climate to successfully grow cocoa trees.

Cocoa trees only grow in a very limited area within 20° either side of the Equator. 
In our part of the world we are subject to severe tropical cyclones which in recent years have decimated local crops. The clever people at Charley’s Chocolate farm have implemented a trellis system, training the trees to grow espaliered to the strong wires. It is hoped that this will save the trees during a violent cyclone. It appears this is having the added benefit of a very long, if not year round, harvest.

When we visited in October the trees had tiny flowers…

…as well as large pods of a variety of colours.
Great clumps of green pods.
And huge yellow….
… and purple pods ready to pick
The pods have a thick skin which encases the beans.

At Charley’s Chocolate Factory the washed beans are laid out in the hot sun to dry. 
Wonderful but imagine the panic as the afternoon storms roll in!

The tour is very informative and interesting but unlike other chocolate factories it doesn’t include a factory tour to see the chocolate being made.
But there is heaps of delicious tastings!
The ginger chocolate was my particular favorite!

And of course, at the end there is lots of chocolate to buy.

Charley’s Chocolate Factory is still in it’s infancy but to their credit they have won the 2016 Champion Chocolate Bar and Block at the Royal Melbourne Fine Food Awards.

If you find yourself in this part of the world, do book a tour and see for yourself.  Alternatively this wonderful chocolate is available online so do yourself a favour and order some today.