Thursday, 24 July 2014

Vanilla, Raspberry and Rose Marshmallows

It's not Valentine's Day, nor is there a wedding anniversary any time soon. We have been going about life, heads down, hard at it, bake after bake. And that is when hearts and sweetness are most welcome, in my book. I have been holding my little family close this week. A little tighter. A little more aware of how very lucky I am. I have been, for lack of a better way of saying it, more present.

I made these marshmallow hearts for my mum a while ago. They're sweet and a bit sassy, just like her. In just over a month, we'll be flying to beautiful Broome to celebrate her birthday. For most of the year it has seemed like a far-off hazy something-to-look-forward-to. But now it's nearly here. Our calendar is stacked almost every week until we go, and I'm going to be more swamped with work than ever, but it's nearly here! 

A week in paradise with the people I love most in the world - I am beyond excited. It's these times, when we get to laugh together and let our hair down, the sharing of old stories and the making of new ones. This is what it's all about. It's how I can counter the fear of this random world and the fragile balance that holds everything dear to all of us in place.

Vanilla, Raspberry and Rose Marshmallow Hearts
(Makes 16-20 depending on size of heart cutter)

250g caster sugar
2 teaspoons liquid glucose
6 titanium strength gelatine leaves
2 egg whites
Scraped seeds of one vanilla bean
Two tablespoons freeze dried raspberries*
Two tablespoons dried edible rose petals*
Icing sugar and cornflour for dusting

Line the base and sides of a rectangular baking tray with non-stick baking paper, making sure it overhangs the edges.
Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water for five minutes. Squeeze the water from the sheets and melt in a bowl over simmering water. 
Place egg whites in bowl of an electric mixer.
Place 175g of the caster sugar, liquid glucose and 100ml water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer for three minutes.
Start whisking egg whites on high until they reach a soft peak, then turn the mixer to a lower speed and gradually add the rest of the caster sugar. 
Continue simmering the glucose syrup for a further five minutes or until it reaches 127C on a sugar thermometer. Add the melted gelatine and the vanilla to the glucose syrup, then, with the mixer still on a low speed, pour the mixture carefully into the egg whites.
Turn the mixer up to high speed and whisk for 10 minutes or until the mixture is cooled and thick and glossy.
Combine equal parts icing sugar and cornflour in a small bowl. Dust the inside of your prepared tin with  the mixture and reserve the rest.
Spread half the marshmallow into tin and scatter with freeze dried raspberries and rose petals, then cover with remaining marshmallow. Smooth top with a pallet knife and place in fridge to set for at least two hours. 
Lift the marshmallow from the tin by the overhanging baking paper and place on a board or flat surface dusted with the icing sugar mixture. 
Dip heart shaped cookie cutter into the icing sugar mixture before cutting hearts from the marshmallow. Dust marshmallows in the sugar mixture before serving. If you don't have a heart shaped cutter, simply cut the marshmallow into squares using a hot, sharp knife.
If doing a chocolate version, skip the dusting step and dip your hearts into your favourite quality melted chocolate (about 200g should do it) and leave them to set on sheets of non-stick baking paper.
* Freeze dried raspberries and dried edible rose petals are available from The Essential Ingredient and other specialist delis and food stores.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sugar-Free Pear and Pecan Cookies

Biscuits are the best. If I give my kids a bickie, all is right with the world and I have two solid minutes of quiet (them) and productivity (me) guaranteed. So it's tempting to give them out a lot! Well, at least twice a day. I'm talking milk arrowroots or those apple bars from Heinz, but I still worry about the sugar factor.

I guess I'm lucky that my boys love most fruit and can eat nuts, so I gave these sugar-free cookies using grated pears a go and cheered to myself as they disappeared at bickie time. Then the next day, I drizzled a few with chocolate and had them with a cuppa. I can quit sugar no problems, but quitting chocolate is cruel!

My cookies are inspired by these carrot ones I saw on the wonderful cooking site for mums, One Handed Cooks. They are kind of like a fruit and nut Anzac and pleasing in a wholesome, I'm-being-an-excellent-mother-right-now way. But I'll be honest, they were vastly improved by the chocolate.

I used Beurre Bosc pears, because they're my favourite to bake with, but any variety would be fine and they're all in season now.

If you buy your pears from Woolworths this month, you can pick up a copy of this lovely new cookbook from Australian Pears, Rediscover Australian Pears: Volume 2. It's free with a purchase of 1kg of pears while stocks last and features recipes from loads of my foodie heroes like Maggie Beer and Karen Martini. Don't fret if you miss out at Woolies. The cookbook will be available from selected retailers from July 28, 2014.

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy and it is full of delicious winter goodness. The Bosc Pear and Almond Butter Cake by Karen Martini is on my kitchen agenda this week!

Pear and Pecan Cookies
(Makes about 16)

1 cup wholemeal plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecan nuts
2 Beurre Bosc pears, peeled, cored and grated
1/2 cup sultanas
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 180C and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients, then stir in the maple syrup and oil.
With wet hands, shape mixture into small balls and place on the baking tray, leaving room to spread. Flatten each cookie slightly with a fork.
Bake for 18-20 mins or until golden. Leave to cool on trays.
Store in an airtight container.

*Mummy/Daddy option: when cookies are cool, melt 50g dark chocolate and drizzle over with a teaspoon.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Slow-Roasted Quince

Sometimes I get just as excited seeing an empty weekend on our calendar, where the only thing planned is a walk to the local shops for a "cino" and maybe a visit to the park, as when our schedule is jammed with catch-ups.

Time is such a luxury these days, so when I get a large undisturbed chunk of it in winter, one of the most satisfying things to do with it, apart from a colour/cut/blowdry, is to slow-roast something. 

It would usually be meaty - a shoulder of lamb or Mr LP's excellent beef stew. But I'm still wearing my tutti frutti pants and serving up all kinds of weird to the kids, so I bought some quinces instead and waited patiently for the weekend to roll around.

In their raw state, quinces are pale, hard and bitter to taste. But when cooked long and slow, their flesh becomes beautifully tender and sweet, and it transforms into a deep, earthy orange colour. They taste like the country, if you know what I mean. Kind of somewhere between an apple and a strong pear, and they go superbly with classic baking flavours like vanilla, citrus, and almond.

For my basic roasted quince, I turned to the quince queen, Maggie Beer, for inspiration. Maggie roasts her quince for seven hours, which was a little too much oven hogging time in my kitchen, so I had to tweak.

Here's what I did:

Roasted Quince with Cinnamon and Orange 
(Recipe adapted from Maggie's Kitchen)

Three large quince, peeled and cut into large wedges (reserve the peel)
Juice of two lemons
One orange, zest peeled in wide strips, plus juice
One cinnamon stick
Two vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped out
Two star anise
400g caster sugar
600ml water

Preheat oven to 150C.
Place quince pieces in a bowl and squeeze over the lemon juice. Set aside.
Tie quince peel and orange peel strips together with kitchen twine and place in a medium sized saucepan with water, caster sugar, cinnamon, orange juice, star anise, vanilla beans and scraped seeds. 
Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat until syrupy (about 10 mins). Remove the twine and zests.
Place quince pieces in a baking dish along with syrup, including cinnamon stick, vanilla beans and star anise.
Cover closely with a piece of baking paper, cut to fit the inside of the baking dish.
Roast for two hours, then turn the quinces and return to the oven for a further one to two hours, depending on your taste and whether you want the quince to be a blushing pink, deep orange or dark crimson. The longer you bake them, the deeper the colour and intensity of flavour.
Keep the fruit and syrup in a container in the fridge until ready to use. It will last about a week to 10 days.

It would be perfectly fine to stop here, and serve these blushing beauties warm, drizzled with their syrup and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

They are also wonderful on porridge for breakfast or you could include them as part of a brekkie parfait, layered with vanilla yoghurt and hazelnut granola.

Here are three other ways I put them to use: 

Quince and Almond Tarts
(Makes 12 small tarts or one large tart)

Six large pieces of roasted quince, thinly sliced

125g butter, melted
3/4 cup almond meal
1 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup self-raising flour
Zest of 1/2 lemon
3 egg whites

250g plain flour
50g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
125g cold butter, cubed
1 egg, lightly beaten 
Dash of milk

For Pastry:
Place flour and icing sugar in a food processor and blitz until combined.
Add cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Whisk the egg and milk together and add to the processor while the motor is running.
Pulse until the mixture just comes together to form a dough. 
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

For Frangipane:
Sift flour and icing sugar into a large bowl. Stir in almond meal and lemon zest.
Add egg whites and stir until combined, then carefully stir in melted butter.

Preheat oven to 180C.
Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface to form a rectangle, about 3mm thick, enough to cover the base and sides of a long rectangular loose bottomed fluted tart tin. Press to the edges and trim any excess. If making small tarts, cut out circles with a pastry cutter and press into a 12-hole muffin tin. 
Place tin in the freezer for 5 minutes. This will help to prevent shrinkage when the tart bakes. 
If making a large tart, blind bake with pastry weights and baking paper for 8 mins, then remove baking weights and bake for a further 8 mins or until tart shell is light golden.
If making small tarts, blind baking isn't necessary. Just bake the tart shells for 10 mins until light golden.
Reduce oven temperature to 165C.
**Because I sometimes have things like left-over salted caramel in my fridge, and just happened to on the day I baked these, I added a teaspoon of caramel in the bottom of each tart. If you have any around, or care to make the caramel in the pudding recipe following, I highly recommend this step.
Pour frangipane into the tart shell(s) and arrange slices of quince along the top.
If making a large tart, bake for 20-25 mins or until puffed and golden brown.
For small tarts, bake for 18-20 mins.
Cool slightly before serving with a light dusting of icing sugar.

Quince Butterscotch Pudding

1 1/2 cups slow roasted quince, sliced
125g butter, melted
3/4 cups caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup milk

75g caster sugar
65g butter, cubed
1/4 cup cream

For butterscotch, place caster sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat and melt without stirring. Tilt the saucepan to spread the molten sugar around the pan surface to ensure it all melts without burning.
When the toffee begins to bubble, carefully add the butter and cream. Take care as mixture will spit.
Turn off the heat and stir until all combined and a nice caramel colour (about 1 minute).
Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 160C. 
Spray the bottom of a medium sized pudding dish with non-stick baking spray.
For pudding, mix all ingredients except quince in a large mixing bowl until combined.
Pour the butterscotch into the bottom of the pudding dish. Place quince slices on top.
Cover the quinces and caramel with the pudding batter, spreading gently to the edges with a spatula.
Place the pudding dish inside a large roasting tray. Pour warm water into the roasting tray until it reaches half-way up the side of the pudding dish.
Bake for 45-55 mins until puffed and golden. If you think pudding is browning too much on top, cover with foil at around the 40 minute mark.
Dust lightly with icing sugar and serve with cream or custard.

Chocolate tart with Quince Vanilla Bean Syrup

250g plain flour
50g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
125g cold butter, cubed
1 egg, lightly beaten 
Dash of milk

300g quality dark chocolate, chopped
100g quality milk chocolate, chopped
400ml cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Quince Syrup:
3/4 - 1 cup of syrup reserved from roasted quince recipe above

Preheat oven to 180C.
Place flour and icing sugar in a food processor and blitz until combined.
Add cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Whisk the egg and milk together and add to the processor while the motor is running.
Pulse until the mixture just comes together to form a dough. 
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out to 2mm thickness and press into a 23cm round, loose-bottomed tart tin.
Blind bake for 8 mins, then remove baking weights and continue baking for a further 10mins until tart shell is light golden. Set aside to cool in tin.
Reduce oven to 130C.
Pour tart filling carefully into the tart shell and return to the oven with a steady hand for 30-35mins or until just set and filling has a slight wobble in the centre. 
Refrigerate until cold and completely set.
When ready to serve, remove tart from tin, place on serving plate and dust with quality cocoa.
Cut tart with a hot knife and serve drizzled with quince syrup and thick cream. 

Tart Filling:
Place chopped chocolate into a heat-proof bowl and set aside.
Heat cream in a saucepan until boiling point and pour over the chocolate. Leave for 3-4 mins and then stir very gently until the mixture combines into a smooth ganache.
Stir in beaten eggs.