August 24, 2009

This cup of wine all salt and brine makes me sleepy...

Sleepless - The Decemberists

Surefoot stout run through coffee beans

Team Pretty Bake's weekend got off to a decidedly smashing start with a visit to Mountain Goat brewery for a glass or two of their surefoot stout run through coffee beans (which was both excellent and devilishly delicious). And quite delightfully, things only improved from there. With a few 'firsts' lined up, I was approaching our latest Sunday session with a fair degree of trepidation which was in retrospect completely unnecessary, as our talents (and wankery) know no bounds, resulting in some absolutely cracking creations.

First up was a re-run of the butter cake in training. As should be apparent from the earlier posting, we're working towards a little something that requires my mastering the world's (or at least Melbourne's) greatest butter cake. Having consulted the all-knowing Mother Yow and been gifted with her recipe-to-end-all-recipes, I produced what I thought to be a damned fine example of cakey buttery goodness. But a review of the photographic evidence by the master merely resulted in a slight shake of the head. Good my dear, but not good enough, I'm afraid.

So it was back to the kitchen with strict instructions to do as we'd been told in the first place. Although we may have browned the butter first, and substituted lemon with orange, we did not falter, and used the food processor to cream the butter, sugar and eggs despite all feelings to the contrary that this was the best approach. Naturally, we should have kept faith, as the ensuing luscious and silky batter produced a more voluminous cake which was beautifully moist and had a perfect crumb. Marriage proposal pending dear friends, as we think this could be the one.

Browned butter butter cake

Of course, when presented with such a stunning canvas, it is hard resist the temptation to elaborate, so we may possibly have layered one with Ottolenghi's maple icing, and perhaps smothered the other in a little maple icing and a touch of pecan caramel. Just maybe…

Browned butter butter cake with maple icing, pecan and caramel

What we have been meaning to do for quite some time now is a yeast cake. Nigella's blackberry apple kuchen seemed a good place to start, and so we whipped up a buttery cinnamon dough, covered it with blackberries and apple, sprinkled over a sugary almond crumble and baked until golden.

Decidedly excellent, Nigella directs a mean kuchen, and impressively her descriptions on crumbling techniques surpass even our proficiency at suggestive foodie smut.

Blackberry apple kuchen

The next item on the agenda was the one about which I was most apprehensive. Due to my new-found twittering wherewithal, I may possibly have begun taunting some of our more avid readers with cryptic statements regarding the subject of this week's baking adventures, and giving them cause to proclaim me a shameless tease (I prefer to think of it as being an alluring temptress, but each to their own I guess). Of course, such bouts of egotistical bantering give rise to expectation, and not having Miss Rose's outward confidence when it comes to new baking experiences, I was somewhat fearful that I would be all talk but fail in the execution. I needn't have worried, as to put it simply, we're rather brilliant.

So anyway, to explain a little further - I'd been missing London rather badly, and have been trying to re-live a few of the more memorable foodie moments since my visit in June. One particular experience I'd been praising to Miss Rose was the bagel delights of Brick lane, and rather than continue moping about geographical separation, we decided instead to do our own (so yes, Miss Sally, you were half right).

Salting beef is an interesting experience, and one which lends itself to a little doubt. You start with a significant slab of cow and soak it for an entire week in a herb-salt solution super-saturated to the point of precipitation. During this time it undergoes a number of changes: moments of unnerving greyness, odorous hints of wet dog and a disturbing although perfectly logical tautness; and you do begin to fret that what may ultimately eventuate is a rubbery, salty mess. But then you get to rinse it off and simmer it slowly for a good many hours and all your fears abate as what ultimately eventuates from your nurturings is some meltingly soft and delicious salted beef.

Salted beef

The bagels themselves are a little less scary, and simply require the production of a silky smooth dough which is made in to rings using the time-honoured Hula hoop method, momentarily boiled and then baked to produce what we think is a pretty impressive first attempt at these doughy delights.

Bagel production

Team Pretty Bake bagels

Of course, to fully replicate the London experience, it was then necessary to fill our beautiful bagels with salted beef, pickles and hot English mustard.

Team Pretty Bake's salt beef bagel

I still yearn for Brick lane, but have to admit these are a damned fine substitution, and the immense joy of sinus-blowing mustard insanity was happily experienced by all.

We concluded the day with a salad of Miss Rose's choosing – a simple combination of potato and Polish sausage adorned with bacon, capers, dill pickles and rosemary. An undemanding amalgamation of gorgeous ingredients working to the mantra of 'simple but effective', this was very enjoyable indeed.

Potato and Polish sausage salad

And so endeth another Sunday with Team Pretty Bake. We were quietly pleased with our bagel achievements and happy to be meeting our butter cake expectations. Happy baking to you all…

August 16, 2009

Summer couldn't wait...

Team Pretty Bake recently encountered a bit of a problem. You see, we've been dying to do Smitten's sour cherry slab pie, but what with living in the southern hemisphere and all, summer just seemed too long a wait. So we compromised somewhat and went for blueberry slab pie instead.

Blueberry slab pie

Our impromptu kitchen session was graced by a relatively pleasant winter's day, and apart from a few unintentionally lewd comments on my behalf, we for once managed a politesse of relative civility (however, there's dough on the cards for next week, so expect the naivety gloves to come off). And the pie? Well, it was simply delicious.


August 10, 2009

And the moose said to the penguin, "We'd better stick together"...

Another of our much anticipated Sunday sessions was once again upon us, and even a wonderful night spent cupping with the lovely folk at Padre couldn't quell my excitement for this one. That's not to say I wasn't enamoured by the interesting Finca Himalaya from El Salvador, the chocolatey Bali Highlander, the tasty Chanchamayo of Peru, the delicious Costa Rican or M's pretty new pony (swanky!); or that we had anything particularly spectacular planned (well, above our usual standards anyway); there were just new things to try and I was in need of a happier headspace, which is often easily found in the kitchen of TPB.
After the salad spectacular that was our last Sunday session, we decided sweet treats should be the order of the day, and while no particular theme had been chosen, you could say that our array of afternoon delights were all perhaps 'classics, with a twist'. And as you all know, good food is made better when shared with pleasant company, so in addition to the affable Marc and Will who were charming company indeed, we thought there was none more deserving of an invitation to join us in our saccharine escapades than the delightful Miss Alice, an all-round lovely lady and recently submitted master of glue (hurrah, I say!).
Our first decadent selection came about from the following thought process…'We should do something with rhubarb and ginger, that relish we did with the pork was just divine'… 'Well, we've been meaning to do Chocolate & Zucchini's very ginger cookies'… 'How about rhubarb parfait with very ginger cookies?'… 'Nice. Why don't we do it with the marsala cream from our tiramisu?'… 'Brilliant!'
Yep, brilliant.

Parfait preparation – Marsala cream and very ginger cookies
(And yes, that is what happens when you're a few degrees out with your sugar syrup)

Rhubarb parfait with Marsala cream and very ginger cookies
The second classic evolved from a slightly simpler train of thought… 'How do you think we should use The Moose?'… 'Um, mousse?'
The Moose, I should probably explain, belongs to a rather cute collection of cookie cutters acquired by Miss Rose from a quaint little kitchen shop in the bohemian locality of Prenzlauer Berg, in Berlin. To feature said moose, we made some chocolate wafers, a cherry white chocolate mousse (with TPB sweet preserved morello cherries, naturally), combined the two and, vois la!

Chocolate wafers

Cherry moose mousse
The last of our sweet classic concoctions was selected for a number of reasons. Firstly, Miss Rose had created a stunning ten-inch double-layer masterpiece during the week that ignited an urge to continue exercising her decorative talents. Secondly, I experienced (by my standards at least) are rather severe baking disaster (oven died, icing didn't take…) and was damned if I was going to be defeated by something as simple as sour cream frosting. And thirdly, for reasons that will become clear in due course, I was on a mission to find and master the greatest butter cake recipe known to man.
Mother Yow graciously disclosed to us her butter cake secrets, and from then the pressure was on. Could I deliver a cake worthy of Mother's standards and perform competently under the watchful gaze and scrutiny of Miss Rose? Well, of course I could…

Mother Yow's butter cake
And I will retract my derogatory cursings made to describe my feelings for sour cream frosting. When a more careful selection of ingredients is made and you give it a little more love, it actually works a treat.

Butter cake with chocolate sour cream frosting
(decorations by the de-lovely Miss Alice)
But if frosting is not your thing, then you can always just do this:

Butter cake with TPB raspberry jam and cream
For dinner, we of course required something savoury, and this took the form of penguin pie. For guidance we turned to none other than Fergus Henderson with his classic fish pie (you didn't think we were really using penguin, did you?). Some lovely smoked haddock was cooked in milk and flaked over hard-boiled eggs before being smothered in white sauce and topped with creamy mashed potato. Finished with said penguins and served with crisp green beans, Fergus' fish pie was the epitome of comfort food and a superb way to end a day of classic indulgences.

Penguin pie
So, thoroughly satisfied, we retired for the day. Consumed to excess we most certainly had, but we withdrew happy with what we'd produced and glad to have shared our extravagances with such wonderful people. If a day can distract you for its entirety and remind you of what it's like to smile then it is a good day, and this was indeed one of those days.
Until next we meet…