June 30, 2012

E is for Eccles...

During my last visit to London I had a bit of a baker-changing moment. Now, those who know me well will already know that I love St John. I adore absolutely everything it is that they do, think their bakery section is truly a sight behold, and still firmly believe that they are responsible for the greatest doughnuts ever created. But on this particular occasion, having convinced myself that it may be wise to try something other than these doughy delights for breakfast, I decided to partake in that other quintessential baked British treat, the Eccles cake. And on that cold, crisp day down at Maltby street, as I bit into its sweet flaky crust, well... oh my!

At first I didn't quite know what had me so besotted; after all they're really nothing more than few spiced currants wrapped in pastry. But with a weakness for pastries most certainly playing some part there was, of course, that sticky caramel crust haphazardly formed by a little wayward filling and, ultimately, it was the manner of their suggested consumption that really clinched it: "enjoyed hot - or cold - and are particularly fine when consumed with cheese". Perfect.

But having returned home, St John's fixation happily sated and excited by the promise of newly-found treats, it quickly became apparent that we're not that enamoured by the humble Eccles down here, and I was soon left to lament their relegation to the 'reasons to move overseas' list.

Then it came...

"...we are open this [Queen's birthday] weekend, including Monday. Eccles cakes to celebrate!"

Huzzah! Someone at one of my favourite bakery's had succumbed to their yearnings for home and was to be selling this much longed-for treat. Oh happy days! And so it was, with these excited cries still resonating, that the inevitable happened...

"...terribly sorry, we've sold out."

Clearly I wasn't the only one with fond memories of this delectable sweet, and it was going to take a little more persistence to satisfy my Eccles needs. As luck would have it this particular long weekend occurrence kickstarted a social media ado, and as one thing lead to another and conversations snowballed, all of a sudden a 'Great Eccles-off' had been organised and was being held this Friday. But what should have been cause for excitement soon turned to defeat, for in all this talk and fond recollection of my first ever Eccles, I'd never actually made them myself, and you can't very well ask to step up and play with the big kids when you've nothing to bring to the table.

So as The Great Eccles-off came and went, a good sulk turned to sturdy resolve and come Saturday morning it was straight to the kitchen for a little Ecclestrian adventure of my own. As alluded to earlier there's really not that much to it. You make the pastry.

You fill it with currants.

et voilĂ !

To see how my Eccles stood up against Melbourne's best I did finally manage to get my hands on one of these:

And, while I've clearly got some way to go before measuring up, it was a fun (and not to mention delicious!) way to figure out what I'd change next time around.

Still, not bad for a first attempt. Now if you'll excuse me...

June 24, 2012

Good gourd...

One of the good things about coming from a family of green thumbs is that despite living in a flat with a garden that is most notably absent, I often get to enjoy the pleasures of home-grown produce thanks to my wonderful and generous kin. 

The latest delivery was this rather spectacular pumpkin that, in addition to the usual fear of losing one's digits, came with a rather specific challenge. Weighing in just shy of five kilos, it certainly wasn't a wee thing, and as others, too, benefited from this timely overabundance of produce, the question was: how to use up such a large quantity of pumpkin without becoming cucurbita-phobic in the process?

Predictably, it all started with soup, and this chunky version; with the addition of kale and a good punchy harissa, was an especially nice variation on the traditional blend.

From there, thoughts turned to morning tea, and so it was time to try out this delightful brown butter spice cake, with its beautiful treacly flavours and deliciously light crumb.

To make the most of some other wonderful produce I had stored, dinner no. 2 was a simple, Moroccan-inspired dish of braised pumpkin and lamb.

And of course, a gourdy feature week wouldn't be complete without satisfying one's craving for the quintessential pumpkin scone - studded with raisins and some cinnamon spice, just for good measure.

That got me just over halfway...

The final savoury was this stunning North African squash and chickpea stew, which started with a quick and simple homemade stock and finished in a richly spiced bowl of nourishing comfort.

And as it wouldn't be a true TPB post without some mention of everyone's favourite frozen treat, I opted to cap things off with a dash of pumpkin spice ice cream sandwiched between a couple of gingerbread sugar cookies. Perfect.

So if you're ever stuck for ideas on what to cook using pumpkin...

June 11, 2012

Lemon delicious...

One of the most memorable things about my last trip to London was marmalade.

A happening of blissful coincidence, it all started at Hawksmoor with the most delectable marmalade pudding I have ever eaten. Comfortingly sticky and dense while outrageously light and spongy, picture it smothered in creme anglaise and this was truly the mother of all good desserts. From there it was on to some sweet gustatory bliss as offered by the Young Turks at Ten Bells, and on inquisition into the source of their most heavenly Seville concoction it was revealed to be none other than the delectable London Borough of Jam who, as it just so happened, was conveniently perched atop my statutory holiday 'to be headhunted' list.

Supplies were thus promptly acquired and I returned to Australia - jar of Seville marmalade in one hand, Hawksmoor cookbook nestled under the other - giddy with excitement and trying desperately to make both outlast summer so that they could be enjoyed properly and appropriately at the height of pudding season, as is one's want. But alas, to no avail, and after succumbing to the temptation of a flourish of new bakeries, as the frosty mornings finally settled in I was left contemplating my jar of sublime marmalade, empty.

Steeling myself to move on from the rues of a missed opportunity I then had the overly good fortune of catching up with the ever-wonderful S&S who, knowing full-well my various kitchen weaknesses, arrived at our NYC rendezvous with London Borough of Jam jars aplenty.

Oh happy days!

And so after a hot and humid week of Stateside overindulgence it was back to a grey and miserable Melbourne and straight in to the kitchen for marmalade pudding... with a difference.

You see, by this time Sevilles were no longer in season and so I received not your traditional rindy goodness, but the most heavenly lemon and vanilla marmalade imaginable. This, strewn through a perfectly light and spongy pud with a little whisky glaze and a dollop of cream is sublime, and most definitely up there on the list of personal all-time favourite ways to finish a good meal.

Coincidentally, while satisfying my marmalade pudding cravings I came across an interesting recipe for Shaker lemon pies which, with curiosity peeked, I just had to try. 

The Shakers were a religious sect with a penchant for hard work and perfection who, among other things, were credited with the development of a unique range of architecture, furniture and inventions (the circular saw and clothes peg to name but a few). They were also a resourcefully frugal bunch with a reputation for good food that included a 'calendar of pies', which stemmed from their successful fruit growing abilities. One of said pies was the Shaker lemon pie that was traditionally made using whole lemons. With a preference for Meyer, these were sliced ever-so thinly and left to macerate in sugar for some time before being slathered in egg in what could be considered a bastardised curd, and then blanketed in rough puff and baked until crispy, golden and delicious.

I didn't use Meyers and can see that many people may find this too bitter, but personally I loved it and if you choose your lemons to taste, it makes an interesting and refreshing change from the standard lemon tart. While the rinds do soften with maceration they maintain a nice chewy bite that lends texture, and there was less of a tendency for this pie to seem overwhelmingly sweet. Delicate and delicious, and with such ease of preparation, this one's most definitely a keeper...

June 9, 2012

Coast to coast...

Thanks to a rather well placed work conference I recently had the opportunity to travel Stateside and enjoy my first ever visit to the constitutional republic. There was, naturally, both fun and sightseeing aplenty, but as far as TPB is concerned, it was all about the food...

First stop, San Francisco, and while work took priority there was still ample opportunity to explore the burgeoning cafe scene of this delightful city, which included: Four Barrel, Ritual, Sight Glass and Blue Bottle.

Reservations, too, about an unhealthy and uninspiring fast food culture were left thoroughly unfounded as we enjoyed delicious breakfasts at Farm Table, Mexican in the Mission district, the paper-bib-worthy crab Cioppino at Sotto Mare, and some superb rustic urban fare at Nopa, among many others.


There was a very quick stop in Seattle before heading east, but being conveniently placed in Capitol Hill meant both Stumptown's were on our walking route, there were sliders downstairs at Barrio, and the (sadly only visual) delights of Pike Place Market were also just a short meander away.


And then, there was New York...

I don't think we even found the ocean, let alone the iceberg and its tip, but with five days and appetites to burn, we sure gave it a red-hot go.

For coffee there was Cafe Grumpy, Ninth Street, Ports, Third Rail and Stumptown.

Eats: Fatty Crab and Momofuku Ssam Bar.

Treats: People's Pops, Big Gay and Ample Hills CreameryMomofuku pretzel milkshakes and corn cookies; and the delectable Mast Brothers Chocolate.

And not in the least, delicatessen delights thanks to family Katz's, and Marlow and his sons and daughters.

Everything was fabulously fun, and while I can't wait to return and spend more time exploring all of the above destinations, after a couple of weeks out of the kitchen I'm also really looking forward to getting my bake back on. Although after all of that, I might have a coffee first...