Thursday, January 28, 2010

Caramelised Banana Bread Pudding

As I stare down the six loaves of cinnamon swirl bread, all varying in shape, colour and texture, I wonder will I ever be able to find the perfect recipe?

One poor loaf had too much yeast, and rose way too much creating empty spaces between the spirals. The cinnamon sugar mixture decided to ooze it's way out into the bottom of the loaf pan in another, the next was too heavy on the bottom, one was too sweet, and the list continues. Is it really meant to be this difficult?

And then, I stop to think "what the ____ am I meant to do with all this bread?", and "if anyone could see me right now contemplating the virtues of cinnamon bread, would I be confined?"

Suddenly, it dawns on me.....bread pudding! Yum! I had some bananas lying around ready to be eaten, and I caramelised them slightly with some brown sugar - mmmm, what a delightful match, cinnamon, bananas and caramel with eggy creamy custard, warm from the oven and then smothered in caramel sauce.

PS. The search continues for the perfect loaf of cinnamon swirl bread!

Caramelised Banana Bread Pudding
Makes enough to cut 8 healthy slices

2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 & 1/2 cups 35% cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 loaf cinnamon swirl bread (or whatever bread you feel you want to use), cubed
1 tablespoon butter
1 banana, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar, extra
2 tablespoons butter, melted, extra

Preheat oven to 350F.
Lightly butter a loaf pan, or any kind of oven proof baking dish. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, 1/2 cup brown sugar, cream, milk and vanilla. Whisk gently to break up eggs and dissolve the sugar. Add bread cubes and toss through. Set asde while you caramelise the banana.
In a small non-stick pan melt 1 tablespoon butter and add the banana and the extra 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the bananas have softened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and mix gently into the bread mixture.
Add the melted butter and stir well to combine. Pour into prepared pan, pressing gently to flatten out the top slightly. Bake for 45-60 minutes - the thicker your pudding is, the longer it will take to cook. Bake until the pudding is firm in the centre.
Remove from oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes, turn out onto serving plate. Serve warm with ice cream, whipped cream, caramel sauce or all of the above :)


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Apple Blossom

It's the middle of Winter and it's time for something warm and comforting - what could be more comforting than apples, cinnamon and oats? I was really craving an apple crumble, but I didn't feel like making enough to last us the whole week. It seems I am great at cooking for 20, not so much for just 2. It's probably one of my biggest challenges, I'll make a new recipe, once to see how it turns out and tastes, and then again to perfect it. And afterwards, we have our freezer full of pre-portioned mistakes!

Anyway, in an effort to clean out the freezer, I came across some pre-rolled puff pastry and the idea was born - I was going to stuff some apples! Who doesn't love the idea of an apple pie crumble sensation?

I cooked with both Honey Crisp Apples and Granny Smith to see which one would be nicer. I liked Granny's, there is something about the tartness mixed with sugar that is just perfect. Honey Crisp was delicious too, but it stayed quite firm after baking, and was too sweet for what I was after. The Granny seemed to just have the perfect apple pie texture, it was still an apple shape, but soft enough to fall apart micely in your mouth.

And then there was the skin, I am not a big fan of cooked apple skin, (is anyone?) so I peeled them, and with my fingers and toes crossed I hoped that the end result wouldn't turn out to be a sloppy mess.

The beauty of wrapping it in pastry, is that the brown sugar an butter combine to make a delicious caramel syrup that is captured in the bottom of the pastry "pouch".

My apples survived, the filling was just like a crumble, all that's missing is the huge scoop of vanilla ice cream dripping down the side!

Apple Blossom
makes 4 baked apples

4 apples, your choice, peeled and cored (I dug out my cores with a teaspoon, because with all the kitchen gadgets and tools I seem to possess, an apple corer is not one of them! But it worked like a charm, I sectioned off the top about 1/2" down and then I dug out a nice big hole for lots of filling.)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup cranberries (you could use any dried fruit - raisins, dried blueberries, dried cherries would be delicious)
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed and rolled out slightly

egg wash, made with 1 lightly beaten egg and a pinch of white sugar

Preheat oven to 375F.

Combine the butter, cranberries, coconut, oats and sugar in a small bowl. Mix to combine.
Divide the mixture between the four apples and pack it all in, mounding a little on the top to almost re-make the shape of the original apple.
Cut pastry sheets in half, and now this is the trickiest part - brush the egg around the edges of the pastry and pull the sides up and squeezing together to stick, like a pouch/bag. I left mine open a little bit at the top, thinking as if I were making an apple pie, to let the steam escape.

Place apples onto a parchment lined baking sheet, brush all over with the egg wash and bake approximately 30 minutes, until the pastry is nice and golden and then apple is soft if you poke a paring knife into it. Don't poke it too close to the bottom, otherwise all your caramel syrup will leak out.

Serve with mounds of the best quality vanilla ice cream you can find.

Store any uneaten apples covered, at room temperature for up to three days.

These are really good the next day for breakfast (without ice cream), probably not the healthiest choice, but definitely good for the soul!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010


So, it turns out my husband hates all members of the Brassicaceae family, except broccoli and the occasional piece of cauliflower if it's well smothered in cheese sauce, with Cheese Whiz being the sauce of choice. Oh, and the coleslaw that you can find in the square 1lb tubs. Such a gourmand!

I love the cabbage family and can't understand why he doesn't like them. Perhaps he didn't get a chance to eat them much growing up (which probably explains my mental aversion to seafood), perhaps he just doesn't like green vegetables, who knows, but it is my New Year Resolution to make him like them!

Brussels sprouts seemed like an obvious first choice - I mean, really, where do you start? It has to be something, and they were in the market this week, so here they are.

I started out thinking I was going to make a bubble and squeak kind of dish, but as I made the base for it, I thought this could be a great side-dish all on its own. It is gorgeous and bright green, crispy smoked bacon and a hint of garlic with a squeeze of lemon - delightful!

Brussels Sprouts Hash
makes enough for 6-8 as a side dish

4 slices bacon, chopped fine
1 medium onion, 1/4" dice
1 clove garlic, minced
400g Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
salt & pepper
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Heat skillet and add bacon. Cook, stirring, until the fat has started to render. Add the onion and cook until translucent, and just turning golden. Mix in the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add sliced Brussels sprouts and cook until softened and bright green in colour. Be careful cooking here, you don't want to overcook them or they will begin to turn brown-ish and dull.

Remove from heat, season well with salt and pepper, and mix through lemon juice. If you make this in advance, I would wait until serving before adding the lemon juice, as acid has a habit of turning green vegetables brown.

So delicious and so so easy!

And then, I made my bubble & squeak.

I made mashed potatoes from 1kg russet potatoes and just mixed in the Brussels sprouts mixture from above. I formed the bubble and squeak into 8 patties, dredged them in flour and then shallow fried them until golden on both sides.

And, my husband said he loved it, which I'm never really sure if it's true or not, because he would say he loved anything I cooked - and there have been some disasters!

Who loves Pav?

Pavlova is one of those things that we always eat around the holidays and the odd special occasion. My step mother is famous for them in our family, making two or three for every family get together.

I was home this past May when my dad told me that everyone was sick of them, and I thought "how could that be?". The crisp meringue exterior with the sweet marshmallowy interior - heaven in every bite. I am definitely not sick of them, I love them.

I haven't lived anywhere near home for the past ten years, so I do, in all honesty, miss 99% of the family gatherings, so every now and then the craving for something so deliciously sweet and simple comes rushing back....especially around the holidays.

We normally top ours with whipped cream and passionfruit, but I would be hard pressed to find fresh passionfruit at this time of year. Back home, if I was in a pinch for passionfruit, you can actually find the pulp in a can, and it's almost as delicious, sweet and tart, with luscious orange pulp and crunchy black seeds.

Bananas and kiwi are another staple topping (green and gold are our sporting colours), but for me, I love fresh berries - strawberries, if they are pink all the way through, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Mix them up with a teaspoon or two of sugar, add some of your favourite liqueur and watch the mouths drool.

Pavlova is also a wonderfully easy way to use up spare egg whites. If I don't plan on using them straight away, I freeze them and make sure there is a special occasion within 3 months.

This is definitely a family favourite, and until now a secret recipe handed down through many generations. Enjoy!

Australian Pavlova
recipe is exactly as it has been in our family for the past 100 years, or so
makes one pavlova about 10" / serves 8-10

6 egg whites
3/4 cup fine sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 & 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Add the sugar gradually, about 1 tablespoon at at time, until all in incorporated.
Before you add any of the remaining ingredients, rub a small amount of the meringue mixture between your fingers. All the sugar should be dissolved, you should feel nothing grainy when you rub your fingers together. If you do still feel grains of sugar, keep beating for another couple of minutes and check again. If your pavlova mixture is not completely smooth at this point, the pavlova will still cook but it will ooze an amber coloured liquid, which will harden and is perfectly safe to eat, it just looks wierd.

Add remaining ingredients and beat until well combined.

On a parchment lined baking sheet, scrape mixture out and form into a "cake" shape using an offset spatula. This does take a little practice, so if you prefer to leave yours more "rustic" looking, that's OK too, just get it into a general cake shape. When I make mine, it is about 8" in diameter and about 3" high. You can draw a circle on the underside of your parchment to use as a guide, if freehand is not your thing.

As you place the pavlova into the oven, reduce the temperature immediately to 270F, and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes. The outside of the pavlova will still be soft at this point, and it will most likely be cracked (that's OK).

Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova to cool in the oven (with the door closed). This could take up to 6 hours, so be patient. If you don't leave it to cool down in the oven, it probably won't crisp up properly.

When the pavlova is cool, turn it upside down onto your serving plate (you are topping the bottom, so cracks on the top don't matter), top with whipped cream and the fruit of your choice.


3/4 cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks with 1 teaspoon white sugar
3 cups fruit, mixed with 1 teaspoon white sugar and optional 1 tablespoon of your favourite liqueur

Yum, yum, yum...can you really resist?

PS - just in case there is a debate about where the pavlova originated, it definitely is Australia!

Friday, January 1, 2010

The road less rocky

So after my marshmallow making expedition, and there was no way I could eat two whole batches by myself, I remembered my Dad, who's favourite treat is Rocky Road. And, I must admit, I haven't had Rocky Road for about 15 years, but I remember it being delicious filled with nuts and cherries and chocolate, and of course, marshmallows!

I couldn't remember the exact ingredients, so after a late night call to my Dad (in Australia), he said he liked it with peanuts and milk chocolate. So, that's what I bought. When I was in the store though, I couldn't help notice the cashew nuts as well, and I thought they would be really dellicious with semi-sweet chocolate. Mmmm...and then I thought back to yesterday's post about the rose water flavoured marshmallows and wanted shelled pistachios. Unfortunately, there is some type of recall for Californian pistachios so I wasn't able to find any.

I got out milk chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate, along with my nuts, my marshmallows and red glacé cherries (honestly, that's how I remember Rocky Road - with cherries in it). Yum, what a day I had.

I tempered both chocolates, which took me quite a while. The reason is, I normally like to use a glass bowl for tempering because when the chocolate is in temper, the glass holds the heat nciely while you work. It takes a little longer, well, a lot longer to bring the temperature down from the first heat, as it has to come down almost 30 degrees. The next time I temper chocolate for an "instant" use, I will use a stainless bowl.

You don't need to temper the chocolate if you don't want to, it just may bloom and it won't have the shine or the crack to it. It will still taste awesome though!

If you make the marshmallows from my last post, you will use about half a batch of marshmallows for each batch of Roocky Road

Rocky Road
taken from childhood memories
Makes 16 huge pieces

500g chocolate (I used Callebaut, and I made a batch with milk and then a batch with semi-sweet)
4 cups chopped marshamallows (chop into mini-marshmallow size pieces, or you could just buy mini marshmallows in a bag)
2 cups unsalted nuts (I used peanuts with the milk and cashews with the semi-sweet)
1 cup glacé cherries

Temper chocolate in a large bowl (large enough to hold all the ingredients).
When chocolate is in temper, add the chopped marshmallows, nuts and cherries and stir until well coated.
Pour mixture into a parchment lined pan, and leave to set. When chocolate is firm, cut into any shape you like and enjoy!