March 25, 2012

A taste of things...

After a few massive weeks of fine wining and dining this week saw yet another successful Melbourne Food and Wine Festival draw to a close. With an extraordinarily big program on offer it was an applaudable effort from all involved, and while I personally could only manage a few outings I did have a thoroughly delightful time learning how to taste and enjoyed sharing a fabulous sweet feast with good friends. Across the program there was a strong focus on following food from farm to plate and there were some really enjoyable discussions highlighting the importance of being able to source quality, sustainable produce when it comes to bringing tasty and innovative new dishes to our tables. During the festival, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to listen to Ben Shewry, Rene Redzepi and Dan Hunter talk about their experiences in food, and while all three came across as genuinely charming and down-to-earth individuals with thoughtful and inspiring approaches to feeding the masses, what I found most refreshing was being able to hear from people who honestly give a damn about what they do. Not only are they committed to sharing their take on food in really exciting and engaging ways, they are also very passionate about the people who make what they do possible, and as Ben spoke of the likes of Melbourne City Rooftop Honey and Sea Bounty Mussels doing big things here in the city, Dan and his team took the time to show us around some of their main suppliers from Western Victoria.

We visited Elizabeth and Bruce at Grampians Pure Sheep Dairy, who are doing wonderful things with yoghurt,

and stopped in to see the Kumnick's and their delicious and devastatingly cute free-range rare breed pigs and piglets at Greenvale Farm.

Great food doesn't happen without great produce, and it was a real privilege to meet some of the wonderful, passionate people responsible for bringing such exceptional quality to our plates.

The same can be said for meal accompaniments, and so as we journeyed on we also managed a quick stop at Enigma Variations biodynamic winery, 

before enjoying a superb lunch featuring some fine produce from the most stunning kitchen garden I've ever had the pleasure of envying.

Naturally, you don't travel all that way to one of Victoria's unique, award-winning establishments without staying for dinner, and so I may also have indulged in a ten-course omnivore feast of epic proportions, featuring dishes so texturally engaging I still get goosebumps just thinking about them.

It was an immense pleasure being able to share in the offerings of a team who are not only clearly very proud of what they produce, but have the ability to present you with course after course that conveys their passion and enjoyment in what it is that they do. If you're ever down Dunkeld way, do go. The dining experience alone will be memorable, and then there's always the morning view...


As for bake night, it was time to revisit some old friends in these fabulous little chocolate ding dongs filled with a lush caramel cream.

My adventures into gluten-free were continued with some delightful little apple olive oil teacakes with cinnamon maple glaze.

There was a classic orange polenta cake,

a fabulous coconut milk layer cake featuring the most luscious meringue buttercream imaginable,

and the impossible-to-go-past chocolate salted caramel tarts were joined by some of their deliciously bitter ginger grapefruit curd siblings.

There may also have been some dabbling into burnt honey and praline ice cream, but I think we'll save that for later.

Well, maybe just a taste...

March 19, 2012

Gluten schmuten...

"Is it gluten-free?..."

With kitchen time still being partaken as a late-night, moodily-lit activity it's fair to say that the planning of any TPB-based affairs has been particularly haphazard of late. And so, in a vague attempt at gathering together some very lose ends, I'm going to pretend that it was this week's task to explore methods for baking gluten-free.

Gluten is a protein comprised of gliadin and glutelin, which together with starch forms the endosperm of grain species including wheat, barley and rye. While it is an important source of nutrition and is responsible for providing both shape and texture to everything that we bake, autoimmune reactions towards gluten can wreak dietary havoc in predisposed individuals, and result in the most unpleasant of consequences for all concerned. Requests for 'gluten-free' goods have certainly become more common of late, and while it's not clear whether this is due to a genuine increase in the prevalence of gluten intolerance, or simply a higher frequency of poorly (and probably self) diagnosed wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity, it's clear that as a baker, having a few GF options in your baking repertoire is certainly going to be handy.

Now, I'm not all that big on diets, and while I'm generally respectful of other's dietary decisions, I've realised that my problem with 'exclusion' diets comes down to a matter to perspective. Whether it be vegetarian, paleolithic or gluten-free, I'm firmly of the opinion that meals will never be great if you try an directly replace the unwanted ingredient. I would rather focus on the fabulous array of vegetables at my disposal that substitute a luscious steak with faux meat, and with so many interesting flour varieties now at our disposal, I think the same approach can be made toward baking gluten-free. Where this becomes slightly more complicated, however, is in textures. While varieties like quinoa and amaranth bring unique flavours that merely require you to adjust your tasting perception, the loss of that gluten-based elasticity makes getting light, well-risen, structurally stable treats with the requisite 'chew' a tad more difficult.

For novices like me, however, it appears that the trick is quite simply in finding the right recipe, and as two of my favourite food bloggers also happen to do a lot of gluten-free baking, it ended up being quite easy indeed.

First on the agenda were carrot and walnut cupcakes, which with a combination of amaranth, chestnut, quinoa and sorghum flours presented with both a lovely moist texture and delicious nutty flavour.

These were closely followed by some light and delicate lemon coconut teacakes, which enjoyed an interesting, grainy crunch thanks to the inclusion of rice flour and millet meal.

To be fair I thought it best not to exclude anyone, and so there were also a number of options for the dedicated gluten lovers out there, including:

and some jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, I-may-just-take-over-the-world-with-these chocolate salted caramel tarts, just for good measure.

Maybe I should have gone with the theme 'little pleasures'...

March 11, 2012

Night bakes...

Having been left feeling decidedly fragile on account of a few tumultuous weeks filled with deadlines, fun times, devastations and inspirations, there has been little room in life for TPB of late. Thankfully I have managed to occasionally seek refuge in the pleasures of baking, but given the late-night, poor-light nature of these kitchen catharses, you'll have to forgive me when I say that the results have, understandably, been far from photogenic. But to assure you that the oven is being kept warm in anticipation of calmer times, here's a quick and poorly-snapped round-up from the firsts of March, during which time I've discovered that:

(i). Bourke Street Bakery's mixed berry muffins and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting remain the perfect go-to crowd pleasers, especially when paired with Yotam Ottolenghi's decadent chocolate and raspberry tart.

(ii). HFW's energy booster bars (banana version) thankfully live up to their name.

(iii). Honey, semolina and pistachio; and apple, cinnamon and maple are both winning combinations; and not only does Yotam Ottolenghi inspire a captivating chocolate tart, but his brownies are also second to none.

(iv). The inclusion of oatmeal in Dan Lepard's sticky lemon poppy seed cake is sheer genius.

(v). In continuing the chocolate theme, further to those brownies, which were indeed decadent, this chocolate and hazelnut meringue cake is seriously plush deluxe.

(vi). And as for these baby spice and rhubarb butter cakes, well, they're just dandy.