playing with flour

Month: January, 2013

Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies

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The weather is absolutely insane here. It was only weeks ago that it was so hot it was hard to do anything strenuous, now its raining so hard areas are flooding, we lost power temporarily and I have to continually mop up our floors as the water seeps in under the windows! It’s the perfect day to read a book, watch a movie or bake cookies. If you’re in need of some inspiration these cookies are a pretty good option.

I started work last week after a thorough orientation meeting some of my super friendly and interesting colleagues. I knew that Monday morning would be highly stressful as I had no idea of how things worked or what the local protocols were (well, that and I feel like all the knowledge I once had has left my brain after a three month holiday!), so I made these cookies as a comfort measure to eat when I was feeling overwhelmed. Turns out they work wonders.

Crumbly and light, they literally melt in your mouth. Add in the chunks of white chocolate they’re a fantastic pick me up with a cup of tea and aren’t overwhelmingly sweet so it’s easy to eat a couple without even thinking about it (which may not be the best thing for the waistline!). Feel free to swap the white chocolate with dark or milk chocolate or even something crunchy like peanuts or smarties, personally though I think the white chocolate pairs really well with the cocoa in the cookies.

Yes I do realize there is a lot of butter in this recipe but I’ve found that decreasing the amount stops the cookies from being as decadent and they don’t have the melting quality that makes them so endearing. Just do what I do and give them away before you eat them all.

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Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies

1 3/4 cups plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp cocoa
250 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125 g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
200g white chocolate, chopped

Preheat your oven to 160º and prepare baking trays. Sift together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl beat the butter until soft, then add the sugar and beat until pale and fully mixed (the longer you beat the light the cookies become – give it at least  2 minutes). Add the cocoa mixture and beat until combined into a soft dough.

Add the white chocolate and stir through. Take tablespoon sized amounts of dough and roll into balls. Place on the baking tray and flatten with a fork. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until firm on top. Allow to cool on the tray until they firm up then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Almond and Rhubarb Pannacotta

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Wow it’s hot. The heatwave is starting to have an effect on me, I’m tired and cranky and have no desire to do anything but lie on the couch and read novels. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s pretty much a perfect afternoon for me, but it is hard to be productive when you’re melting.  For anyone not in Australia we’re currently experiencing some super hot and dry days, with temperatures exceeding 45° in some areas. It’s been up to 38° here at home and I’ve spent some of those days moving furniture around, which in hindsight was not the smartest idea. Unfortunately my problems are only minor compared to others, as the heat is leading to bushfires throughout the country and many people have lost everything. If you’ve been affected or you’re in a risky area I hope you’re safe and doing all right, my thoughts are with you.

When it’s this warm it is hard to get up the motivation to bake anything and turning on the oven seems ridiculous. This is where these desserts come in. Creamy smooth pannacotta, fragrant with the smell of almonds layered with tangy bright rhubarb – it’s the perfect treat to cool you down.

The almonds infuse really well into the milk and leave a sweet and strong liquid that sets to give a complex and delicious custard. While they’d be fantastic just like that the rhubarb simmered with vanilla gives a great contrast and freshness to keep the dessert from being too heavy. If you don’t have a vanilla pod use a teaspoon of vanilla essence instead. If you buy pre-toasted almonds there is only a small amount of stove work needed, so this is a simple and delicious treat for a hot day.

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Almond Pannacotta

3 tsp gelatine
½ cup sliced almonds
300g cream
80g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180° and spread the almonds on a tray. Place in the oven and toast for 5-10 minutes until golden and fragrant. While cooking place the cream and sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Once toasted immediately add the almonds to the mixture and turn off the heat. Cover with a lid and let sit for half an hour to infuse.

Sprinkle the gelatine over the almond mixture and turn the heat back on until small bubbles appear around the edges of the liquid. Stir the mixture thoroughly to ensure the gelatine is dissolved. Strain through a sieve then ladle into glasses or pannacotta moulds. Place in the fridge for half an hour to cool before adding the rhubarb.

Vanilla rhubarb

2 cups chopped rhubarb
½ cup sugar
Vanilla pod

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until the rhubarb is soft, stirring occasionally. Remove the vanilla pod before spooning on top of the pannacotta. Return to the fridge for another hour to set completely.

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White Chocolate and Caramel Gingerbread Blondies

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So it’s starting to dawn on me that I have to start being a grown up as of next week. It’s been so long since I’ve had a full time job, I’ve been living the student life for nine years now. While I’m sure the hours are going to be a shock to the system, I think the fact that I have responsibility and will be making decisions regarding people’s health is what is really stressing me out. Yes I’ve been preparing for this for years and I know I’ll be well supported but it really is a lot of pressure – it really is the perfect time to do some stress-relief baking!

These blondies are delicious. Moist, dense and full of flavour they’re super easy to make and can be adapted to use whatever you have on hand. Replace the Jersey caramels with caramel or butterscotch chips or even dried cherries or cranberries and the white chocolate with milk or dark to give a completely new taste. The ginger pairs really well with the white chocolate and keeps it all from being too sweet.

I found the best time to eat them was still warm, straight out of pan but they’re also great once cooled or even out of the fridge if you want them a bit more dense. If you have new years resolutions to eat better this year I would recommend giving these away as soon as possible (do keep one or two for yourself of course) to avoid the temptation to eat the whole pan. Trust me.

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White Chocolate and Caramel Gingerbread Blondies

1 ¾ cups plain flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
4 oz unsalted butter
60g golden syrup
½ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
½ cup white chocolate, chopped
½ cup Jersey caramels, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180° and prepare a 9 inch baking pan with baking paper. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar until thick and pale. Add the golden syrup and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions.

Sift over the flour, baking soda, salt and ginger and fold through the mixture. Add the chocolate and caramel and mix through until just combined. Pour into pan and smooth over the top with a spatula. Bake for 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan before cutting.

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Panforte

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Wow, what a month it has been. I know that I promised to post here more often but sometimes things just don’t go to plan. We moved house which is always a challenge, and have finally unpacked and settled in and got our internet connected after three weeks. Whilst doing that I also had my graduation from medical school, my parents visiting from interstate and preparation for my new job which starts next week. Of course, just to make things slightly more hectic, there was Christmas and New Years! Thankfully things have calmed down now and should get back to normal. Fingers crossed.

Christmas this year was lovely and simple, with breakfast and lunch at our new place with family. Instead of the traditional Christmas puddings or cakes I made panforte which is an Italian variation on Christmas cake and gave it as gifts to friends and neighbours. It’s rich and flavourful and packed full of nuts and fruit, held together by chocolate and honey. The orange gives it a citrus scent and the figs make it chewy and moist. While I realise I’m a little behind with the Christmas recipe posts I don’t see any reason to wait until next year to make this. It is fantastic with coffee and makes for a great afternoon treat.

The recipe is simple and easy to make and you can feel free to make any alterations you wish. Add more or different nuts, use spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, add glace fruit… there are endless possibilities but I found this combination worked really well. The panforte can be kept wrapped in cling wrap and stored in a dark place for up to six weeks.

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Panforte

100g plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa
150g whole almonds
125g hazelnuts
Rind from one orange
100g raisins
150g dried figs, chopped
1 ½ tsp mixed spice
100g caster sugar
185g honey
60g dark chocolate, chopped finely

Preheat your oven to 170° and prepare a 22cm round cake tin with baking paper. Combine the nuts, rind and fruit in a large bowl and sift over the cocoa, flour and mixed spice.

In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the sugar and honey and stir until the sugar dissolves. Simmer the mixture until it reaches 118° on a sugar thermometer (soft ball stage). Remove from heat, add the chocolate and stir through. Immediately pour over fruit and nut mixture and mix (it will firm up considerably).

Press the mixture into the prepared pan until even. Bake for 40 minutes then allow to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire tray. If cutting into pieces allow to cool completely first.

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