Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Cherry Tarts

A couple of weeks ago, one of my cafe customers asked if I would have a go at baking Portuguese custard tarts. 

I was up for the challenge at the time, but it’s proving harder than I thought. 

I have the basics – a lovely thick custard infused with orange and cinnamon, and quality store-bought puff pastry that is deliciously buttery and crispy straight from the oven.

The next day, not so crispy. More like spongy. In short, not marketable until I find somewhere to source those little foil pie pans that large bakeries have at their fingertips. Again, it sounds easy but isn’t.

Luckily, it is Christmas and said foil pie pans are in abundance due to it being mince pie season. 

I am gradually amassing a collection by eating as many mince pies as I can. It’s a Christmas tradition, helped along by my pregnant “I-have-an-excuse-for-these-thighs” mindset.

In the meantime, I tried a cherry twist on the traditional Portuguese Tart which I have to share because they were very delicious. With Christmas around the corner, they’re an appropriately festive, lighter alternative for those curious people who are a bit over mince tarts. 

The custard can be made ahead but make sure you bake the tarts on the same day you plan to serve them. I recommend them warm from the oven :)

Larissa x

Cherry Tarts

2 sheets store-bought quality puff pastry, thawed (I use Careme)
3 egg yolks
½ cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour 
½ cup heavy (thickened) cream 
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon quality vanilla extract
¼  teaspoon ground cinnamon
One strip of orange peel 
16 ripe cherries, pits removed

Preheat oven to 200C.

For the custard: 
Gently heat the cream and milk in a medium sized saucepan until almost at boiling point.
Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a medium sized bowl. 
Whisk the cream mixture into the egg mixture and transfer the lot back into the saucepan you heated the cream in.
Add the cinnamon and orange and stir over a medium heat until it thickens and reaches boiling point. Remove immediately from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Pass the mixture through a sieve into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. 
Leave to cool.

For the tarts: 
Cut the thawed pastry sheets in half and place one half on top of the other to make two sheets. 
Roll each sheet up horizontally and slice each into six portions. When finished, you should have a total of 12 portions resembling small pinwheels when turned side on.
Take each little portion, pinwheel side up, and roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly-floured surface until you have 12 small pastry circles about 1-2mm thick and appx 8cm in diameter. 
Press each circle into a 12-hole muffin tin.
Process cherries with a hand-mixer or blender to make a rich, red puree.
Place a dollop of cherry puree into the bottom of each tart and top with cooled custard, filling to the ¾ mark. 
Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes at 200C before turning the oven up to 220C for a further 5 minutes. This blast of extra heat should give the tarts a lovely dark caramelised look on top but be careful not to burn them.
Remove from the oven and leave the tarts to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Serve lightly dusted with icing sugar. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Cloudlands, Blue Mountains...and fairy cakes

A couple of weekends ago we escaped the city for Cloudlands, a charming wooden lodge surrounded by rambling gardens in the heart of the Blue Mountains.

It sounds romantic, and it could be given the right circumstances, but this was a family excursion.

Our raucous party of relos piled inside from the chilly Friday night, ooohing and aaahhing over the cosy lounge room, stocked kitchen and lovely four bedrooms before sitting down to Mr LP’s lasagne and a bottle of red. 

The occasion? Three birthdays, a graduation and a new addition to our little tribe on the way.

Yep, that would be the Little Pudding tribe. I got back from New York and found I was carrying a surprise piece of excess baggage! Apart from being extremely exciting and happy news for Mr LP and I, it is also an excellent and very convenient explanation for why I was eating everything in sight overseas. Like, every ten minutes.

Spring in the Blue Mountains is spectacularly pretty and we were blessed with sunshine and clear blue skies. It was perfect weather for exploring the escarpment garden, following the old steps down through tangled vines and flowers to the Prince Henry cliff walk which leads around to the breathtaking views of Echo Point.

Later in the morning, we ambled into Leura for an obligatory fossick in the shops and stopped for coffee and chocolate ├ęclairs at one of my favourite local cafes, The Leura Garage. Then presents for the house were bought from Inner Space.

For a late lunch, we picked up quiches, arancini and salads from the Leura Gourmet Cafe and Deli and shared them back in the garden. All of a sudden it was bubbles o’clock!

It would have been nice to have enjoyed one of the fairy cakes left in the fridge for our arrival for afternoon tea. But sadly the fridge wasn’t kind to them and they were like pretty little icing crusted rocks.

Being pregnant, I have wanted a damn fairy cake ever since. So I made my own this week. Recipe below.

This was the only (very small) let down in what was a fun weekend in a cosy, charming and welcoming home. 

The breakfast basket was stuffed with yummy local jams, Whisk & Pin muesli, fresh eggs from the chook pen outside and five varieties of bread - spelt, sourdough, ciabatta, fruit loaf, and a delicious rosemary and olive loaf - all baked locally by Bakehouse on Wentworth in Leura.

In the fridge was enough organic butter and milk of all sorts to last a week, and the cupboard held at least 10 varieties of tea.

Once the private retreat of writer Frank Dyson, Cloudlands was originally built in the early 1900’s for the Swiss Consul. In the mid 1930’s a writer’s studio was added to the main house and that now serves as the guest lodge, sleeping up to eight people.

Current host Anne Elliott and her late husband bought the property in 1997 in an almost derelict state and have lovingly restored both houses using the original Jarrah timber, and tamed the wild but beautiful gardens. Anne also makes her own line of natural soaps and toiletries for the lodge.

With Master N along for the weekend, dinner out at one of the nearby restaurants (Darley's at Lilianfel's, Solitary or The Rooster) wasn’t ideal, so we opted to stay in and take the kitchen for a spin.

Mr LP made Jools’ favourite stew (a staple Jamie Oliver recipe in our house) and my little sister Dani made a twice baked upside down sticky date pudding :)

We bought a heavy French casserole dish in Leura to make the stew as there wasn’t a large enough one in the kitchen. Baking the pudding in a Pyrex dish probably wasn’t the best idea (mine) but it was delicious in the end, with "help" from Mum who flipped it upside down to speed up the cooking process. We fought for the leftover sauce.

I didn't have my act together enough to take a photo, but here's one we prepared earlier (served in posher bowls).

We had intentions of playing Scrabble and Pictionary in the gorgeous loungeroom but the pile of magazines, including the latest edition of Frankie, got the better of me. 

And then I hit the wall soon after, as I do these days at any given moment after 9pm.

The next day, with the mountain chill back in the air, we walked into Katoomba for an early coffee at Fresh Cafe, where they roast their own beans, before hitting the road home. 

If you’re planning a mountains mini-break with a small group of friends or family, Cloudlands is a near perfect find, with cosy, spacious rooms in beautiful surrounds close to both Katoomba and Leura.

While there, visit these places. I always do:



Larissa xx

Now, a recipe for anyone craving fairy cakes:

Fairy Cakes with Lemon Curd

(Makes 12)

125g butter, melted
185g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
170g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cups milk

To serve:
Lemon curd (recipe below)
Double or whipped cream
Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 160C.
Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cup cake cases.
Place all ingredients into the bowl of an electric mixer and mix until well combined. Ensure you scrape the bowl with a spatula to include any ingredients settled on the bottom and mix again to combine.
Spoon into prepared cup cake cases, filling to ¾ mark.
Bake for 16-18 mins or until golden.
Cool in tins.
When ready to serve, cut a circle from the top of each cake, creating a little hole. Cut the circle in half to create your fairy wings.
Place a dollop of lemon curd in each hole, topped with a small dollop of cream.
Position the “wings” on top of the cream and dust with icing sugar.
Assemble the cakes as close to serving time as possible. Resist putting them in the fridge or they’ll go hard and dry.

Lemon Curd
(Makes about 3 cups)

8 egg yolks
180g caster sugar
Zest of one lemon
200mls lemon juice, strained
200g cold butter, cubed

Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until pale and thick (1-2 mins). 
Add lemon zest and juice and whisk again until combined.
Place mixture into a large saucepan along with the butter.
Cook over medium/medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is just about to boil. It should be thick and able to coat the back of a spoon.
Don’t let it boil. Remove from the heat and strain into a container/bowl. 
Refrigerate until cold and set.
Serve with cupcakes, scones, banana bread, toast or crumpets. Also fabulous to give to friends in pretty jars for homemade foodie Christmas gifts. It lasts in the fridge for about two weeks.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Queen Victoria Sponge

There is something very queenly about the idea of taking tea, particularly high tea. It’s very British, like this classic Queen Victoria Sponge. All haughty looking and rich.

I realise that high tea morsels should be dainty and able to be served on pretty tiered plates. But if this beautiful sponge cake was on offer on a home sideboard laden with little sandwiches, ├ęclairs and tarts at, say, a baby shower high tea, I don’t think I’d be able to resist a slice! 

Light, fluffy and deliciously messy. Consider it an alternative to traditional scones :)

This post is one of many scrumptious ideas in this month’s Sweet Adventures Blog Hop: High Tea

Check out more drool-worthy recipes below by hopping through the blogs.

Larissa x

Classic Queen Victoria Sponge Cake
(Recipe from this month’s Donna Hay mag. I have doubled the quantities and divided into three tins. I think three layers always beats two, especially if one is aiming to impress the little white gloves off one’s high-tea taking friends)

1 1/3 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
8 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
100g butter, melted
500mls pouring cream
1 tablespoon caster sugar
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup strawberry jam
1 punnet fresh raspberries
2 punnets fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease and line three 20cm cake tins with non-stick baking paper.
Sift flour and baking powder three times and set aside.
Whisk the eggs and sugar in bowl of electric mixer on high speed for 10-12 minutes or until pale and tripled in volume.
Sift half of flour mixture over eggs and gently fold through with a large metal spoon.
Repeat with remaining flour. 
Gently fold through melted butter.
Divide mixture evenly between three prepared cake tins.
Bake for 15-18 mins or until golden, springy to touch and sponges are coming away from the edges of the tins.
Remove sponges from tins and cool completely on wire racks.
Whisk cream, sugar and vanilla seeds in bowl of electric mixer until soft peaks form.
When ready to assemble, place one sponge on serving plate and spread with jam, then top with sliced strawberries and a scattering of raspberries.
Repeat with second sponge on top.
Place the final sponge on top and dust with icing sugar. 
Serve immediately on posh china with a pot of tea. Lovely, dears.  

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Cake and The City

Walking down Madison Avenue on my first morning in New York City with a cute summer dress on and fabulous shoes, I was having a Carrie Bradshaw moment indeed.

Three hours later - still walking - with shopping bags cutting into my fingers, blisters forming on my heels and a severe no-caffeine-in-36hrs headache, reality set in.

Thank God for Aussie blogs like He Needs Food, who saved me that first day with his tips for finding decent coffee in the Big Apple.

I collapsed into a booth at The Shop on Fifth Ave at about 3.30pm and fairly inhaled a latte. It was a bit on the foamy side, but strong enough. It more than did. And the chickpea, spinach and spiced yoghurt on rye was excellent shopping fuel. In a fit of gratitude, I told the barrister how much I enjoyed the coffee and he gave me a freebie to go! I definitely over-tipped him.

The Shop was a good find. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d walk straight past the black door and modest sign but it’s so worth poking your nose in. Inside, it’s a lovely space with a coffee bar (Cafe Grumpy) at the front which also sells wicked things like peanut butter and jelly doughnuts alongside cookbooks and preserves. 

Behind this is a sit-down area with bright murals on one side and huge glass windows on the other, perfect for people watching. I took my partner in crime for the week, Mum, back for breakfast a few days later. 

The menu was just as good as the lunch one. I had an omelette oozy with gruyere, while Mum had the Dutch pancake with berries and yoghurt. This had serious wow factor and came served in its own little pan. So. Happy.  

Apart from mother-daughter girl time/shopping blitz/cocktails/sleeping in, I planned to use my visit to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world to gather research for Little Pudding. 

I dragged Mum (hardly kicking and screaming) to all the top bakeries around the city, soaking up as much as I could. My tips for general shopping and refueling follow, but first up, dessert!

Here are some of the best places we found for great cakes in NYC:

Alice's Tea Cup E64th St, near Lexington Ave.
We discovered this little gem down the street from our hotel and popped in one weekday afternoon for scones and tea. Great decision. The huge buttermilk scones we shared were up there with the best I’ve ever had. They were soft and fluffy on the inside, served slightly warm with jam and whipped cream. 

From the long list of exotic teas, I chose Alice’s signature blend of black tea, rose petals, vanilla and green jasmine. It was like Turkish Delight in a cup. Delicious! 

I have it on good authority, well, from my friend Siobhan (Mrs Beaspoke Quilts), that Alice’s is a favourite among celebrity kids like Suri Cruise. 

My tip is to go on a weekday. We went back on Saturday morning and had to fight our way inside through queues of tweens to be told there would be a 45-min wait for a table.
$12 for two scones, jam and cream, and a pot of tea.   

Lady M Cake Boutique E78th St, near Fifth Ave
I pitch my own business as a boutique bakery, so I personally love the idea of a cake boutique. 

Lady M certainly meets the brief. It is stylish, original, high quality and pricey. The cakes are beautiful to look at and just as fabulous to eat. The cutting of each slice is a ceremony. The white-uniformed staffer takes the chosen cake from the display, places it on a slab of white marble, cuts a generous piece in full view of drooling diners and places it either on a plate or in a monogrammed single-serve box to take away.

We arrived at lunch time so we started with sandwiches ahead of cake (smoked salmon for Mum and a tomato, basil and mozzarella panini for me). Salads are also available. 

This gave me time to decide what cake to try. It wasn’t an easy choice deciding between caramel mirror cake (a decadent pile of chocolate sponge, caramel mousse and toffee glaze) and the Strawberry Mille Crepes (a tall stack of delicate crepes layered with the lightest pastry cream, topped with strawberries). Mum chose the mirror cake, I chose the crepes. Good thing we had 14 blocks to walk home!

Each month, the boutique alters its selection of cakes available to taste in store. Check the website to see what’s on offer before you go. Although it doesn’t necessarily make the decision any easier!

Magnolia Bakery
There are eight of these iconic cupcake stores in NYC, but the one at Bloomingdales was the closest to our subway stop. I love Magnolia's philosophy of baking small batches of cakes on sight throughout the day and telling people they are meant to be enjoyed straight away. It’s how I bake for my cafes and how I would endeavour to run a larger retail store, should Little Pudding keep up its current rate of growth.

I chose red velvet and peanut butter and jelly cupcake flavours to try, while Mum tried the many-layered carrot cake. Red velvet was my favourite – moist and light with vanilla buttercream frosting. I could’ve eaten six if I let myself.

The Little Cupcake Bakeshop
I was a little bit obsessed with the peanut butter and jelly combo everywhere in the States so it was great fun to watch peanut butter being slathered on top of this cake in the window of the flagship store in Prince St, Soho.

Like Magnolia, they have all manner of cupcakes on offer plus a good selection of all-American desserts, think cheesecakes, brownies and various types of “pie.”

Dean & Deluca
This is a posh grocery store with a gorgeous bakery in the middle. Baskets overflowing with breads and bagels sit alongside trays of freshly made doughnuts and piles of cookies. 

Between the bakery and the gorgeous flower display, it smelled amazing. The store also as an espresso bar at the front where you can pick up your bakery goodies to go with your coffee.

The Plaza Food Hall
There is an espresso and tea bar with delicious bakery treats in the food hall underneath the famous Plaza Hotel. 

We had a sticky beak one morning after a walk through Central Park and I discovered these fabulous blue and white Neenish Tarts. 

You could have a whole three course lunch in the food hall if you wanted. It has everything from a wine bar, cheese and charcuterie station, woodfired pizza, seafood grill and asian dumpling bar.

We stayed uptown at the Affinia Gardens, an apartment-style hotel on 64th St between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. We shared a one-bedroom suite which was quite roomy and had a kitchen, although we barely used it. 

The hotel was in a quiet neighbourhood a few blocks from Central Park and those famous avenues: Lexington, Madison, Park, Fifth. 

Food is not the hotel’s thing, so we went out each day for breakfast and dinner. Exploring is the best way to find gems like these:

For Breakfast/Lunch:

The Shop, 485 Fifth Ave. See my gushings above.

Gitane, 242 Mott St, Soho. A cute little French-inspired cafe with delicious baked eggs on the menu. Sit out the front and people watch. So much fun during fashion week!

Le Pain Quotidien. There are quite a few of these cafes throughout the city. Good for boiled eggs, oatmeal and pastries. Beware, the coffee comes in a bowl. And that’s a small one!

Eat Here Now Diner. 839 Lexington Ave. 
I had to have at least one diner breakfast and we found a diner not far away with a hideous name and food to match.

Actually, the pancakes were really good. Just don’t make the mistake of ordering bacon. They deep-fry it. On the plate, it brought to mind long solid strips of Bacon Bits. Weird. And don’t go there with that coffee they serve. It’s truly god-awful. Mum had (snicker) eggs Benedict, which came with a quite delicious potato hash. Don’t ask me what was in it, but it was fabulous! 

Galli, Soho. 45 Mercer St, between Broome and Grand Sts.
We had a fantastic lunch here of grilled chicken, kale, blood orange, avocado and almond salad with a glass of pinot gris. Yum and healthy too! It’s also in a great part of town for people watching.

Friedman’s, Chelsea Market. Dazed from a shopping blitz in Anthropologie, we needed sustenance and found it at Friedman’s. 

It’s a nice diner with a fantastic BLAT which I happily sank my teeth into. Mum had a poached chicken panini. See? Nice diner. There are dozens of fab looking eateries at Chelsea Market, including The Lobster Place where you can sit down to half a fresh lobster cooked however you like. I challenge you to choose where you’ll have lunch.

For dinner: 

Tonys Di Napoli. 3rd Avenue, between 63rd and 64th Sts.
Old-school Italian just down the street from our hotel. Highlights were the hot antipasto plate which they topped with cheese and grilled, and the brick-sized slab of tiramisu. 

I’m not usually big on creamy desserts but this was outstanding. It was a crime that we couldn’t finish it.

Fig and Olive. 808 Lexington Avenue. 
We caught up for dinner at this chic Mediterranean restaurant with Siobhan (Mrs Beaspoke Quilts) who by a stroke of luck was in town the same week as us. There were cocktails to start, lots of gossip and delicious nibbles like tuna carpaccio and crostini with toppings like manchego, fig and almond. We shared the fabulous paella for a main with a bottle of smooth red from somewhere in Burgundy. Somewhere in there, I forgot to take a photo!

Balthazar. 80 Spring St.
About 90 people told me I must eat at Balthazar when visiting New York. I know why. It would be top of my list on any return trip. I had a hunch Siobhan would like it too so I booked us all in for dinner. More cocktails and gossip, followed by one of the best pieces of steak I’ve ever had. I chose pepper sauce. Be warned, it comes with fries. Lots of them. And you will want to eat them all. I couldn’t get anywhere near finishing the steak. Pity. Dessert wasn’t an option either, for sheer stuffedness. Pity. Siobhan went back a couple of days later for brunch and skited that it was just as delicious. Put it on your must-go-here list but make sure to book ahead. And for god’s sake, don’t be a polite goose like me. Take a damn photo!

Shopping tips: 

It felt as if I walked a marathon each day, so my advice to girls is wear flats or take a pair with you in your handbag.

Don’t forget a bottle of water.

I had good fun in these places: 

Chelsea Market

  • Anthropologie – clothes, shoes, homewares
  • The Bowery Kitchen Supply – cooking and kitchenware
  • There’s an entrance to the Highline nearby if you want to swap crowds for wildflowers. 

Too many cool boutiques, cafes and homewares stores to choose favourites but I especially liked the Kate Spade boutique – clothes, bags, shoes and accessories.
And the Coach boutique, where I scored me a new handbag.

Saks – the shoe dept on the eighth floor has its own postcode. 
GAP – great for everyday wear, jeans, kids clothes and underwear
H&M – cheap and edgy clothes
Tiffany – four floors of Tiffany trinkets!

Pottery Barn – beautiful homewares and accessories for babies and toddlers
Ralph Lauren – gorgeous, elegant store spanning two sides of Park Ave
Bloomingdales – just for the gawk factor at the labels on offer

General Sightseeing

Grand Central Station - as romantic and beautiful as I had always imagined. That roof!

Remembering 9/11 - Two of four new towers are already up.

Brooklyn Bridge - we walked over it to Brooklyn one morning and caught the ferry back. With a bit more research, I would spend the day romping around Brooklyn. 

Next time...