Category Archives: recipes

Hands-on cooking and the occasional comment about recipe-writing

Wrap hazelnut shortbread around a whole hazelnut. Swoon.

For a few years of this decade, there was an outrageously stylish café located in the women’s fashion section of the Bon Marché department store in Paris. It was called Délicabar and the fellow in charge was pâtissier Sébastien Gaudard. I first visited it about six months after it opened, and loved the sweeping hot pink banquettes, the stark white counter, and the innovative and delicious cakes and other creations.

Delicabar seating

In 2006, three years after opening the café, a book by Gaudard hit the shelves: Sébastien Gaudard : Agitateur de goût. It looks very much like a vanity work, with the rather handsome Gaudard visage and his very blue eyes staring out at you from the cover. Inside there are many, many photos of Gaudard-with-little-dog shopping together, laughing with friends, and sometimes Gaudard by himself cooking with his team or staring meaningfully at a computer screen. But alongside all this are a wide range of recipes for some pretty delicious treats.

Alas, Gaudard and Délicabar shut up shop in November 2008, and that was that. The café space now contains some Italianesque lunchery, and Gaudard’s website is devoid of content.

Among the hits at Délicabar was the range of exquisite sablés (shortbreads), such as hazelnut, rosemary, or olive oil. Gaudard’s book reproduces some items familiar from the old menu, plus other interesting dishes. I’ve found the recipes less than reliable, but the inspiration is there.

I loved the sound of the sablés noisette à la fleur de sel (hazelnut shortbreads with fleur de sel). They are an utter bugger to make. The final result, however, is something close to nutly heaven.

The problem is that the crumbly mixture doesn’t readily adhere to the non-stick surface of a hazelnut. Moistening the surface doesn’t help. Below is the recipe, slightly modified in the hope of making them marginally less difficult to put together. If you find a further tweak that makes things easier, do tell.

hazelnutpowder

240 g hazelnuts with skin
90 g butter, softened
240 g caster sugar
110 g plain flour
ca 1-1.5 tsp fleur de sel, crushed lightly

This makes about 90 balls.

Preheat the oven to 150C and then roast the nuts on a tray for about 20mins until well coloured. Take care not to burn them (the skins will blacken; it’s the nuts themselves I’m worried about).

Reserve 100 g of the hazelnuts with their skins. – (A)

Reserve another 40 g of the hazelnuts with their skins – (B)

Remove the skins of the remaining 100 g of hazelnuts by rubbing the nuts between your hands or in a tea-towel. – (C)

Allow the nuts to cool completely before proceeding.

Grind hazelnuts (A) to a powder. Take care not to work them too much (or two fast) or you’ll end up with an oily paste. Not a disaster, but a bit messier.

Crush hazelnuts (B) to small pieces.

Mix butter, sugar, hazelnuts (A) and flour together. Add hazelnuts (B) and salt to taste (the mixture is quite sweet but should have the tingle of hidden salt crystals). The final texture of the mixture should be a bit like a pâte sablée (crumbly shortcrust pastry). It won’t hold together well. Chill for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 160C.

Make small balls of the sablé with a whole hazelnut (C) in the centre. This isn’t easy, as the mixture doesn’t like to hold together. I find cupping my hand and applying a lot of pressure to the mixture helps keep it firm enough while encasing a hazelnut. You might also like to try scooping up some of the mixture in a measuring teaspoon, pressing a hazelnut into it, then packing more mixture on top and then knocking the whole thing into your hand for a final squeeze. I promise frustration and occasional despair, and perhaps a little boredom.

Place the balls on baking paper on a tray. Bake the whole batch for 10-15mins, until they’ve developed a little colour.

hazelnutballs1

They keep very well in a sealed container (assuming you and everyone around you don’t gobble them up in an instant).

This article was prompted by the loud moans of pleasure from Hannah, Kaye and Kelly (assisted by milder expressions of delight from a number of other lovely people).

Luxuriously fragrant baklava

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Do you think of baklava as a sweet that is tricky to make or time-consuming? I know many people have asked me questions along those lines in recent days. It’s easy. Really. And here’s a particularly refined version I made recently.

Nut pastries involving layers of filo pastry and ground nut are eaten all the way from the Balkans through the Middle East, the Maghreb, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and beyond, typically known as a type of baklava/baklawa. Rather than making one of the many recipes I have from different places, I decided to combine the essence of a number of traditions to produce something with a lovely complexity of flavour, using spices and scents typical of many of the cuisines of that very broad region.

For the filling, I’ve used walnuts and pistachios ground with sugar (about half the weight of the nuts) and scented with cardamom and rosewater. The base of the tray was covered with about eight layers of thin filo/fila/phyllo pastry, each buttered lightly. It’s helpful to let these bottom layers rise up the sides of the tray too, as this contains the filling better during cutting and later removal of the baklava from the tray. I then added half the nut mixture and flattened it out. A further four layers of buttered filo create a nice textural difference. Then the remainder of the nut mixture. I topped this with eight layers of buttered filo.

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Note that, as most trays nowadays have a delicate non-stick coating, I lined the tray with four pieces of baking paper to reduce the risk of damage during cutting and then a layer of buttered foil.

You should cut diamond shapes into the baklava before baking. Use a very sharp knife and press downwards rather than pulling the knife through the baklava. My pieces were a little larger than intended, as I spaced the long cuts too far apart.

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You also need to make a sugar syrup. I flavoured it with a little honey, lemon, cinnamon and orange blossom water. Simmer the syrup with flavourings (except orange blossom) for about 15 mins (it should still seem thin and shouldn’t have developed any colour). Add the orange blossom water at the end. Chill the syrup well. It is used after the baklava has been baked.

Bake the baklava for 30-45 mins at about 160C (for conventional oven), then raise the temperature to about 200C for a further 10-15 mins when you see the top pastry layers are beginning to puff up a bit. You don’t want the pastry to get brown (no darker than a roasted almond (yes, a blanched one!)), but you do want it to cook through. If the top layers are going brown, cover with foil.

Once you’ve removed the tray from the oven, pour the cold syrup over the baklava. It will sizzle deliciously. Let it cool for a few minutes, then use your knife to re-cut the diamond shapes (it makes separation of the pieces later much easier).

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You can serve the baklava as soon as it is completely cool, but you’ll find the texture is better about a day later, as the syrup will have been properly absorbed by the nut mixture by then.

I used 300 gm nuts, 150 gm pastry and about 200 ml sugar syrup (250 gm sugar, 150 ml water) to fill a 32 x 18 cm tray. You can scale up or down to other size trays.

There are many factors here that will influence the final flavour — different strengths of rose and orange blossom waters, freshness of spices, etc. It’s up to you to judge the flavour to suit you. I’d recommend being a little cautious at first.

By the way, although I usually make all my own pastry, filo is something I didn’t have time to try this time, sorry!

Now, baklava/baklawa is sweet. If you already know that the typical product in your Greek or Middle Eastern pastry shop isn’t to your liking, this version isn’t likely to be much more palatable for you, though my version is more fragrant and less sweet and syrupy than some.

As you can see, there are no real tricky bits to making baklava, and the preparation is pretty quick. The result is something nutty, perfumed and delicious that goes perfectly with strong coffee.

Danish frisky creamy balls

All over Denmark you see signs for frisky creamy balls. At first it seems very odd and rather tasteless, until you realise you’re mistranslating. You see, friske flødeboller actually means fresh cream balls. A world of difference in the world of smutty word games.

bollershop

I’m in Denmark as I write this, sitting in a lovely IC3 train (the quiet section, stillezone) on my way from Copenhagen to Odense. A few weeks before leaving Australia for rather chilly (but delightfully sunny and springy) Scandinavia, I was inspired to make the aforementioned smut objects by the talented baker and cake decorator Sif of anarka.dk. Earlier this year she published a recipe for flødeboller and I knew that these creations just had to happen in my kitchen too.

As a child I had a perverse affection for the Rowntree’s (now Nestlé) Walnut Whip, largely restricted to the British Isles. Cheap and nasty milk chocolate encased a fluffy interior of a sort of artificial cream. Atop the Walnut Whip sat a walnut, slightly rancid and squeaky. Little has changed other than the price.

In my late teens I was exposed to the German Dickmann’s (Schokoküsse): domes of neutral fluff on a wafer base altogether covered in a thin layer of chocolate. These things can be found in various forms around the world, often having the rather unfortunate name of n-gger kisses, moor heads and the like. (Sorry for the self-censorship, but I can do without white supremacists finding this site!) They continue to exist with, thankfully, rather less old-fashioned names. Wikipedia’s English language article on these is pretty fun.

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Flødeboller are fun or hell to make, depending on your perspective on meringue and chocolate coating. This is not a recipe for a humid or warm day. Here comes my account.

Bases

SIf’s original recipe uses dried marzipan discs (a marcipanbund) as the base, Swiss meringue for the filling and milk chocolate for the coating. I was giving my flødeboller as gifts over about 10 days so decided to use an effective method for pasteurising the egg whites at home: heated Italian meringue. During production I found that I had undercooked the marzipan bases a bit and that they soften too much over time (some manufacturers coat the marzipan completely in chocolate). I’m not sure if a shortcake or biscuit base might be a better option, especially for longer storage. Many recipes use a wafer base, but it’s not my preference. I feel you’d need a base which is fairly firm but not too crisp/crumbly.

bollermarcipan

With 200gm of marzipan, make discs 4-5mm thick and whatever diameter you prefer (I tried 5cm) or prepare biscuits/wafers of similar dimensions. If using marzipan, you’ll need to dry the discs in a 200C oven, being very careful not to burn them (Sif says less than 5mins). The discs are very soft until they have cooled.

Meringue

Sif uses commercial pasteurised eggs for safety (a very common concern in parts of Europe and North America). As pasteurised eggs aren’t always easy to obtain, I’ve used a special Italian meringue.

I used approx 100gm egg white (about three egg whites) and 150gm sugar. In order to ensure home pasteurisation of the egg whites, I warmed the egg whites gently in a bowl over hot (approx 50C) water, then added hot sugar syrup.

First, prepare a sugar syrup by adding about 20ml water to the sugar in a small saucepan and then simmering it until it reaches a target temperature of 110-120C (you don’t need to be particularly precise). Very shortly before the syrup reaches its target temperature, place the egg whites in the bowl over the hot water and start beating slowly. The goal is to raise the temperature of the egg whites so that the combined temperature of syrup and egg whites will stay above the threshold for pasteurisation for long enough to be effective.

When the egg whites form soft peaks, place the bowl on a flat surface and add the syrup while whisking at high speed until the meringue is very stiff. Allow to cool.

When the meringue is cool to the touch you can pipe it onto the discs, using whatever pattern/nozzle you prefer. You could flavour the entire batch of meringue, divide it into different bowls for different flavours, or add certain flavours after piping. The piped meringue should stand at room temperature for at least an hour or two so that the surface is fairly dry to the touch.

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Chocolate

Gently melt about 200-250gm dark chocolate (I wouldn’t go over 60% cocoa). I suggest having a large pointed spoon and a small teaspoon to hand for coating the meringues. The discs with meringue should be placed on a thin wire drying rack. Place freezer plastic or baking paper underneath the rack (you’ll want to catch the chocolate that runs off so that it can be recycled). Let the chocolate cool to slightly warmer than skin temperature before coating the meringues (otherwise the meringue may soften a lot).

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Drizzle the chocolate over the meringues, taking care to patch any holes you might miss at first. The chocolate should form a seal around the entire meringue, but it isn’t necessary to coat the bottom of the discs. Apply any decoration before the chocolate stiffens. Place the finished flødeboller on baking paper or waxed paper before the chocolate stiffens (it’s not fun when the chocolate hardens while the flødeboller are still on the wire rack, because they then break when you try to remove them).

The chocolate will take a long time to harden. It is best to leave the flødeboller in a cool place for a number of hours. Then eat them all.

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If you forget to eat some, make you sure you keep them in a sealed container in the fridge.

Three flavours of macaron

Many of my readers know of my macaronic obsessions (eg, here, or here, or here). As the latest batch, made for the foodblogger get-together in March, was well received I thought I’d publish some pretty photos of them and tell you more about the flavours.

Chocolate-passionfruit: now a classic flavour made famous by Pierre Hermé, this combines a milk chocolate ganache with passionfruit juice. You need flavoursome passionfruit in order to capture the real fruit flavour, otherwise all you get is acidity. I decorated the white shells with a bright yellow dot. You can’t just paint liquid colouring onto piped shells, as it creates a weak point in the shell from which mixture can erupt during baking. Instead, colour a few teaspoons of the macaron batter in a small bowl, then apply to freshly piped shells.

Violet: one of my favourite flavours, it’s difficult to capture it in a clean, strong form. I’ve tried a few methods and have been happiest with a light buttercream. In this case, I used a white chocolate ganache instead, but the flavour of the chocolate dominated. The ganache was pepped up with violet syrup and violet liqueur, but even then the ganache was only faintly violetty. It was also very soft and I used very fine almond meal to stiffen it a little. A number of macaron fillings use almond meal in this way, but they aren’t often written about. Most eaters wouldn’t notice the slight texture of the almond.

Cinnamon-peach: for these, I roasted thin slices of peach in a slow oven until they were quite leathery but not hard. I cut the slices into fine slivers. I then made a white chocolate ganache, simmering cream with a piece of cinnamon stick before adding the cream to the chocolate. The ganache develops a delicious fruity note of cinnamon. Many people don’t immediately identify the flavour but know there’s something fragrant there. The peach slivers are added to the chocolate and cream. This was a delightful, brightly flavoured ganache that I would happily make again. It seemed to be the most popular.

This batch of macarons was one of the most attractive large batches I’ve made. The feet were consistently quite high (something my oven doesn’t always give me) and the shells were just the right texture. If you want to make macarons, it’s worth reading my guide to macarons, La Macaronicité, and if you’d like to see an English-language review of Pierre Hermé’s book Macaron, we published one a few days ago on The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf!

By the way, for those of you who sometimes end up with a too-stiff mixture and are afraid of mixing further, I recommend adding a teaspoon or two of eggwhite (normal, not whipped) and mixing in quickly and gently. It seems to be a very effective repair — much more attractive than thick, lumpy macarons with piping nipples. 🙂

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas… macarons!

It seemed time for a little Christmas spirit, though most of it seems to be passing me by at the moment. On the occasion of a little lunch at my place for friends, I wanted to serve some new flavours of macarons to my faithful tasters.

Christmas flavours? What could I do? Christmas makes me think of fruitcake and Christmas pudding, spices and nuts. I’ve done a macaron filling with inclusions before (the Winter Solstice event) and wasn’t so convinced of its success. Part of the delight of a macaron is the flavour and unobtrusive texture of the filling when married with the light, just slightly crisp shell. Sometimes I’ve seen small nut inclusions which have worked, but nothing else.

I have a jar of Mother’s Fruitmince (one of those strange brands which differs from household to household, if you know what I mean), but I couldn’t see how to successfully build that into a filling without a lot of experimentation. Instead, I went for two options:

1. Christmas spices and citrus
2. A berry summer flavour which would bring back memories of childhood summers (meaning Christmas in Australia!)

Ladies and gentlemen, I present:

Orange and Christmas spice macarons — macarons à l’orange et aux épices de Noël

The gerbets (small ones) feature a white chocolate ganache incorporating some fantastic Seville orange marmelade which has featured previously in my macarons, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. The result: warm woody spice notes and a lingering bitterness from the orange. Very much a Christmas macaron.

Strawberry and musk macarons — macarons fraises musquées

The larger macarons were filled with a mixture of strawberries softened in sugar over low heat and then puréed, combined with white chocolate to make a pseudo-ganache. The final touch, which might make some Australian hearts flutter: a few drops of musk. (Many of us grew up with ‘musk sticks’ as a childhood confectionery item, unfortunately increasingly hard to get now.) This filling was sweet (a little too sweet for some) and really wonderful, even if I do say so myself.

To add to the specialness of these macarons, I used a gel colouring, rather than the often inadequate domestic liquid colours, and on top of them all are beautiful edible sparkles! I need to work on my star shapes though;)

And one tip for those who want to make macarons… do not make macarons when it’s raining or very humid. Macarons absorb moisture very very quickly, so they will start softening as soon as they’re cool or out of their storage container. A simple observation: if condensation forms instantly on a container taken out of the fridge, your macarons are likely to have a short lifespan in best condition (less than a day).

Daring Bakers in stereo: Caramel Cake with Caramelised Butter Icing

This month’s Daring Bakers challenge comes to you in stereo on Syrup&Tang. My Parisian correspondent, Harry, has taken up the Daring Bakers cause and baked his little heart out. Alas, he lacks a blog, so he’s posting here alongside me. What did we make? Caramel Cake with Caramelised Butter Icing.

The name of the cake has been slightly modified to reflect Australian norms (in solidarity with the philosophy of Cathy at Everything Goes With Cream). The cake itself? Well let’s just say that I had contemplated starting this post with “And how f**king sweet do you want it, sir?”. The body of the cake is pleasant, dense but a lovely texture in the mouth. The ‘frosting’ is very, very sweet and if I tell you that I halved the quantity and still had more than enough to create a modest, appropriately iced cake, then you can perhaps take pity on those who made the full amount and now lie in bed in a sugar-induced coma. (And I haven’t even dared mention the caramel sauce and caramels which were suggested accompaniments to the cake!)

Anyway, here you go. As a caramel cake it’s mild, pleasant, inoffensive. There are definitely cakes out there that better express caramel notes, but I might still make this one again. Different icing though.

And now for the account from Harry de Paris: (drumroll!)

Caramel Cake

or
A Different Way to Fry an Egg

Like a good English novel, I’ve given my Daring Bakers Challenge post an alternative title. Unfortunately I don’t have the flair of, say, Jane Austen, but the moral of the story, I hope, will rival a good George Eliot.

When I first read through the recipe for the caramel cake, it all seemed to me like a bit of a sugarfest. Two cups of sugar here, another cup there, add a stick of butter or two and some cream. Just thinking about that amount glucose was making me hyperactive!

Not being a particularly sweet tooth, the challenge for me was how to make something that wouldn’t make my head spin. I determined to add a slightly more savoury element to the recipe, to counter the sweetness of the sugar syrup. After much umming and ahring, I finally decided to incorporate a small quantity of coffee, into the batter in which I soaked a few cardamom seeds. It then occurred to me that I could take the idea further and try making a kind of marble cake, with a syrupy batter on the one hand, and a more savoury coffee one on the other.

Dutifully I turned on my oven to preheat it to the right temperature. Baking in my gas oven is always a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. The three markings which appear on the temperature dial are 150, 250 and 270°C, with the latter two spaced further apart than the first. Precision is not one of its stronger points.

Now to the batter. One lesson I learned the hard way was that, if you’re as bad at cracking eggs as I am, crack them into a cup before adding them to the mixture, because trying to get egg shells out of the batter is a right pain! My second and third eggs went into a cup while I…oh I forgot: the oven!

After faffing about with my batters and eggs and things, my trusty oven temperature gage told me I had well and truly overheated it to levels usually reached in a potter’s kiln. I opened the door for a couple of minutes to cool it down while I went back to my batter. Enter the eggs. I picked up the cup to mix the eggs into batter, and with one swift and somewhat inelegant move, the cup slipped from my grasp, the contents fell squarely upon the open, but still scorchingly hot oven door and fried instantly. It all happened in slow motion, like a dream sequence in a film. The smell of rapidly cooking egg brought me back to reality, however, and I hastened to clean it up – easier said than done on a burning hot surface.

After that minor disaster, and a few eggs later, the cake and icing more or less made itself. I’d left it the oven a touch too long so it came out a little singed. The marbling effect didn’t work visually, as the coffee wasn’t dark enough, but the taste of the coffee touched the spot. My guests that evening were happy as far as I could tell, and they asked for seconds, which is always a good sign. And the story of the eggs certainly made for an entertaining anecdote.

So… the moral of the story clearly is that one must always keep one’s cups of eggs well away from hot ovens when the door is open. But everybody knows that!

Thanks for reading! HARRY.

Recipe: Shuna Fish Lydon from Eggbeater published on Bay Area Bites.
Challenge: hosted by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity. Co-hosts: Alex of Blondie and Brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food and Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.

Favourite dishes you don’t serve to guests

I’m reading a recently published book called Eating Between the Lines by Rebecca Huntley (recently written about by Neil at At My Table). It’s an irritating book (about which more in another post sometime soon), but one section about single people’s views of the food they prepare for themselves as not being ‘proper’ cooking is interesting.

Although most of the food I cook is quite definitely suitable for guests, there are one or two dishes which fall into a sort of ‘private comfort’ zone. People I’ve lived with have eaten them, but that’s the burden of the house-share, where all sorts of dubious food is cooked communally — Reis mit Scheiß (rice with shit) as one German housemate described things.

After I’d stopped living with my sister, she admitted some time later that she missed my ‘veg spag sauce’, despite having moaned and teased about it while living together. For me, my ‘veg spag’ is delicious. It’ll go in a cookbook one day. But it needs a bit of marketing spin to make it sound publicly viable.

‘A deliciously simple vegetable sauce for spaghetti, featuring the honest flavours of tomato, carrot and zucchini. Great for a quick, homely meal.’

Put to one side that it doesn’t look very pretty, and that its ‘honest’ flavours can require a little adjustment. This, ladies and gentlemen, is my favouritest simple no-motivation-to-cook accompaniment to pasta:


Duncan’s veg spag sauce

1 clove garlic, chopped finely
pinch dried marjoram
olive oil
250ml tinned tomatoes (unenhanced with gloop or flavours)
some coarsely grated carrot
some coarsely grated zucchini (optional)
salt, pepper and sugar to taste

Sauté the garlic in olive oil, add the marjoram and then the tomatoes. Break down big pieces of tomato and then add remaining vegetables and a little water. Simmer for about 20 mins until it has reduced to a fairly thick sauce. During that time, cook some spaghetti. Serve with grated cheddar or parmesan.

The consistency is thick and not very wet, because of the grated veg. Not pretty. I think it suits spaghetti best, because of it’s texture and the ratio of pasta to sauce in each mouthful.

The sauce must be tasted during cooking because, let’s face it, tinned tomatoes vary radically in tastiness, and carrot can often taste very ‘green’. Don’t be shy about the salt (the acidity of the tomatoes might mislead you), and a very small pinch of sugar can also lift the dish. If the sauce tastes too ‘honest’, you can add cream to improve it. It also tastes great with good black olives (chopped) through it.


I think the ur-sauce is actually something my dad made when I lived at home, involving chopped veg and slices of kabana or salami, but my memory is uncertain. Certainly, a little bacon can perk up the sauce too:)

Okay, so I’ve spilt the beans on a ‘private’ dish that I don’t feel comfortable serving guests or friends. What about you? If you write about it on your own site, please link back here and leave a comment.