December 19, 2013

Merry Christmas and Goodbye

If you were wondering why it's been a little quiet here of late I'm afraid I can offer little more than the usual December excuses. Life's been frantic, I've had lots of other commitments, and on the rare occasion I have managed to sneak in to the TPB kitchen there's been a rather dedicated focus on pre-Christmas baking.

There were those Christmas cakes that needed regular feeding.

And a few week-long efforts preparing mincemeat for everyone's favourite yuletide pies.

There was meant to be some beautiful, honey-scented torrone sardo, but despite a rather intensive stirring session it, quite disastrously, didn't set (turns out that experimenting with new recipes en masse while trying to pack and move house isn't the best idea).

So instead it was left to this sweet and spicy apricot and ginger panforte to help round out this year's hampered offerings.

Regretfully the TPB hampers won't be quite up there with previous efforts but there's been a lot going on in the background, and since there are some very big changes afoot it's time I let you know that the real reason for why it's been so quiet here is I've decided that, after five fabulous years, it's time to say goodbye to Team Pretty Bake.

Now don't panic, this isn't a proper end. All will become clear in due course, but for now let's just say that it's time to change tack and freshen things up.

Thank you for sharing in our adventures thus far. Through all its various iterations TPB has been an absolute riot, and while it feels a bit sad to be saying goodbye I'm looking forward to sharing with you a new (and, just quietly, pretty exciting!) project I've been working on early in the New Year. Plenty of excitement ahead, but as to what that involves? Well, you'd better just stay tuned...

Wishing you all a safe and happy Christmas, and much love and laughter for the coming New Year. 

Thank you, and goodbye.
Miss Emily xx

November 24, 2013

Technical challenge: Gibassier (of sorts)

A native of the French province of Provence, the Gibassier is a delicately scented sweet brioche bread enriched with olive oil and the bitter tang of oranges and anise seed. It's been on my to-do list for some time and while the dough itself isn't technically challenging (although there are three days worth of proving and fermentation so make sure you plan ahead), it was the manner of this one's folding that was going to put me to task.

Gibassier loaves are traditionally round with a five score cross patterning, but I decided to set the bar a bit higher and try out a six-section snowflake and twelve-section rosette instead.

Six-section snowflake Gibassier

Twelve-section rosette Gibassier

They both baked up beautifully. The snowflake was more traditional in appearance, and while in my naivety I managed to over-splay the sections and create tethered segments rather than an actual loaf, it still had good definition and a wonderful crust.

The rosette, despite being rough and uneven, actually held firm, and there were no wayward tips flying up as it baked. This was by far my favourite of the two loaves as the shaping created a much denser loaf with a beautifully pungent and soft centre, heady with citrus and that gorgeous pull characteristic of a well made brioche.

Both were well on the way to being my perfect breakfast sweet bread. Delicate and light, the use of olive oil makes the Gibassier less-rich than a traditional brioche, and the oranges and anise also added a delightful savoury tone. The shaping obviously needs work but it was good fun, and if you'd been able to enjoy the aroma of my kitchen this morning you'd understand why, for me, the term breakfast pastry is synonymous with bliss.

Now, if someone could please teach me how to shape Swedish bullar like this...

November 10, 2013

Seasonal regional: Jonai Farms

A few months back I decided to sate my curiosity for home charcuterie by joining the Melbourne Meat-Up, a social start-up group for people "passionate about the art, science and craft of home- or house- cured and smoked meats". While I've thus far only made it to the occasional event it's been absolutely fascinating and a wonderful opportunity to share in the knowledge and experience of a great bunch of people.

Our latest outing was a visit to Jonai Farms where we spent the day with the immensely generous and enthusiastic Tammi, Stuart and kin; a family of ethicurean farmers who run a herd of 90-odd rare breed Large Black pigs on a beautiful 23 acre property just outside of Daylesford in country Victoria.

After a quick tour of their new butchering facilities Tammi and some of the more experienced members of the Meat-Up crew walked us through breaking down a half carcass for the 'big eight' cuts of salumi.

Conversations were continued over an exceedingly tasty barbecue lunch, and then it was off for a quick stroll to meet the rest of their charges.

Filled with farming insight and one of the better analogies for how to pick up a piglet I've heard to date, it was back to work with all hands in as bacon, pancetta, coppa, lonza, salami and guanciale were all set down to cure. The hind leg was reserved for our first Meat-Up prosciutto, and the quality of sausage innuendo did not disappoint.

Obviously I'm cheating a little this week as it will be some time before our efforts—many of which went to separate homes—are ready, but learning about where our food comes from is just part of the process, and the opportunity we had yesterday was simply too good not to share. It was great to see the progress of a project many of us had helped to support, and to see what can be done in a short time when you're passionate about what you want to achieve. Add to that delicious food and good company with a breathtakingly fabulous backdrop and there's very little more you could as for. So while we take time over the coming days and weeks to wait for our various cuts to cure, I think I'll just sit back, relax, and enjoy the view...

November 3, 2013

Book club: Bouchon Bakery

Cooking from Thomas Keller is like attempting fine art when your lifetime expertise has been in manual labour. Where he creates exquisite masterpieces you make what can at best be described as 'charmingly rustic'. A bumbling novice up against a champion of creative finesse. But this is no reason to shy away from the beautifulness of Bouchon Bakery, for while your efforts may appear clumsy, they're guaranteed to taste spectacularly good. 

Cooking from Thomas Keller is also like completing a decathlon. You don't just make a tarte a la rhubarbe et au beurre noisette—rhubarb tart—you first cure rhubarb and brown some butter,

learn fraisage while making pâte sucrée,

do some blind baking and whip up some toasted almond streusel,

and it is only then that you make your visually stunning and heaven-scented rhubarb browned butter tart.

Craquelins, with slightly fewer preparatory components, are delightful little Belgian brioche pastries that are made with an enriched dough and studded with zest, and the sharp tang of candied orange peel.

Despite the crunchy pearl sugar (and central cube if you're being traditional) these are not overly sweet, and make a delicious change from your standard everyday brioche.

Petite, aromatic and a delight to look at, by my book the craquelin is yet another for the list of perfect breakfast treats.

Très délicieux!