May 31, 2015

Apple Pie

I recently watched and loved the TV show Pushing Daisies starring Lee Pace, who plays a sweet, socially awkward pie-maker.  Naturally, there were many pies featured on the show and I have never baked a pie other than lemon meringue.

My family is decidedly not a pie family; I haven't had a wide range of pie experiences, so I decided to tackle apple pie first.  It seemed like a good place to start.

The first time I tried this, I went straight from the recipe and it was a pretty big disappointment.  Putting uncooked apples in the pie resulted in, basically, a pie shell with slightly softened apple slices inside.  I wanted something with more of a soft, squishy apple filling, so I played it by ear and did my own thing.

I'm pleased to say that my round of pie-baking was a success!  The crust has a great texture with a hint of lemon that's not overpowering; and the innards of the pie are sweet, soft and lightly spiced.

Recipe heavily adapted from: Jamie Oliver
Ingredients - crust (20 cm (8 inch) pie)
250g flour
50g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
Zest of 1/2 lemon (use the zest from the other half in your filling)
125g cold butter
1 egg
1 tsp milk

Ingredients - filling
4 cooking apples (I used Granny Smiths)
1 eating apple (I used a Pink Lady)
5 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Squeeze of lemon juice

Ingredients - egg wash
1 egg
Splash of milk

Method - crust
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).

2. Mix the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor.

3. Add the lemon zest and cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

4. Add the egg and pulse until the dough starts to come together.  Add the milk and pulse until the dough is smooth.

5. Form the dough into a flat rectangle and wrap it in cling wrap.  Leave it in the fridge and get on with making your filling!

Method - filling
1. Peel your apples and cut them up into eighths.

2. Place the apples into a saucepan along with the brown sugar, ginger, lemon zest and lemon juice.

3. Mix the ingredients together and cook over medium heat until the apples are softened.  Cook longer if you want a softer filling, or cook for a shorter time if you prefer more texture.

4. Take the filling off the heat and let it cool.

Method - baking/assembly
1. Take the crust dough out of the fridge.  Flour your clean work surface and split the dough into two portions, about 2/3 and 1/3 each.  The bigger portion will be for your base and the smaller for the top of the pie.

2. Roll the larger portion out into a circle about 1/2 cm thick (make sure to flour your rolling pin and the top of the pastry so nothing gets sticky).  You want it to be big enough to drape over the sides of your pie dish.

3. Carefully roll the pastry over your rolling pin then unroll it over the pie dish.  Gently manipulate the pastry so there are no air bubbles and the pastry is flush with the entire base and sides of the dish.

4. Pour your apple filling straight onto the pastry and make sure it's packed in evenly.

5. Whisk the egg with a small splash of milk (egg wash).  Brush some of the egg wash around the edge of the pie crust.

6. Roll the other portion of pastry out to 1/2 cm thick.  Roll the pastry over the rolling pin and unroll it over the top of the pie.

7. Fold the edges of the pastry in and crimp them together with your fingers.

8. Brush the top of the pie with the egg wash.

9. Cut a few slits in the top of the pie - to let steam escape as it bakes.  I also sprinkled the top of my pie with some white sugar.

10. Bake the pie for about 40 minutes until the crust is golden and firm.

Let the pie cool, then enjoy!

May 21, 2015

Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is a staple recipe and it's so, so good.  The cake itself is moist and absolutely delicious, with the slight crunch of walnuts throughout, and topped off with classic cream cheese icing.  I find that carrot cake is a universally liked dessert so it's great to have in your baking repertoire!

Ingredients - one layer 23 cm (9 inch) square cake or two layer 20 cm (8 inch) round cake
250g brown sugar
3 eggs
250mL vegetable oil
230g flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb soda
Pinch of cinnamon
250g carrot (2-3 carrots)
Walnuts to taste (I usually use about a cup - this step is optional!)

Ingredients - cream cheese icing
60g butter (room temperature butter works best!)
350g cream cheese
350g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Optional - walnuts for garnishing

Method - cake
1. Preheat your oven to 180C (356F).  Grate your carrot.  If you're using walnuts, chop them up roughly.

2. Beat the sugar and eggs, then mix the oil in.

3. Fold the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda and cinnamon into the mixture.

4. Finally, fold the grated carrot and chopped walnuts into the batter.

5. Line a baking tin (23cm square tin) with baking paper and pour the mixture in.  Bake the cake for 1 hour, an inserted toothpick should come out clean.

6. Let your cake cool for a bit in the tin, then transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.

7. Get started on the cream cheese icing!

Method - icing

1. Beat the butter and cream cheese until combined.

2. Add the icing sugar and beat until smooth and creamy.

3. Finally, add the vanilla and beat until combined.

4. Once your cake is completely cool, ice it to your preference.  It looks great decorated with walnuts.

The great thing about carrot cake is that you can make it look as 'rustic' and 'homey' as you want it to.  If you're doing it in layers, you can just ice between the layers and on top and leave the sides icing-free; you can put walnuts anywhere you like; and you can make the icing smooth or messy-looking.  There's lots of room for experimentation!

I like to ice the whole cake (because more icing is better!), chop walnuts up and put them on the sides.  Another method I often use is placing walnut halves around the edge of the top of the cake.

Carrot cake is also great in cupcake form!

May 13, 2015

Braided Nutella Bread

This sweet bread is a feast for your eyes and your belly!

I recommend that you consume this within two days of baking for ultimate deliciousness.

Recipe adapted from: Manu's Menu
Ingredients - starter dough
4g dry instant yeast (I'm pretty sure I used a full 7g packet and it worked out fine...)
75mL lukewarm water
1 tsp honey
135g flour

Ingredients - dough + filling
400g flour
75g white sugar
120mL lukewarm milk
5g salt
3 egg yolks
120g room temperature butter
1 1/2 cups Nutella

1. Make the starter dough (I did this in a little jug) - mix the yeast, water and honey together.  Ensure that the water is just lukewarm, not too hot (you'll kill the yeast) and not too cold (the yeast won't activate).  Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes until the yeast starts foaming.

2. Mix the starter dough flour into the yeast mixture until smooth, then set it aside covered with cling wrap or a tea towel for about 45 minutes.

3. Once the starter dough has risen, in a separate bowl whisk the sugar, lukewarm milk, salt and egg yolks.

4. Add the flour and knead the dough.  I used the dough hook on my electric mixer for this.

5. Add the butter a bit at a time, mixing in between so it's combined.

6. Finally, add the starter dough and knead until fully incorporated.

7. Grease the bowl lightly with butter and let the dough rise for another 2 hours.

8. On a clean, lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a large rectangle.

9. Spread the Nutella onto the dough evenly.  If there's not enough Nutella...add more Nutella.  Less is not more when it comes to Nutella.

10. Roll the dough up starting from the longer edge until you form a long cylinder.

11. Cut the cylinder lengthways, leaving a bit at the top uncut so that the two sections stay stuck together.  At this point, you can transfer the roll onto a sheet of baking paper so that it makes it easier to move the finished product to a baking tray.

12. Turn the sections so that the cut cross-sections face upwards, then plait the ropes around each other and form the braid into a circle.  Tuck the ends together so they look neat.

13. Slide the braid onto a baking tray and leave it to proof for another 30 minutes.  During this time, you can preheat your oven to 180C (355F).

14. When the dough has risen, bake it for about 35 minutes.  Be sure not to overbake it because the bread could get dry.

15. Let the bread cool for a few minutes.  You can eat it warm or cold, it's also good heated up in the microwave for a few seconds the next day!

May 1, 2015

Giant Browned Butter Choc Chip Cookies

I've never made cookies as big as this before!

Of course, you can make them any size you like - personally, I enjoy bite sized cookies for easy snacking.

These particular choc chip cookies are full of flavour with crunchy edges and soft middles, and chock full of chocolate chips!

Recipe adapted from: Top WIth Cinnamon via Butter Baking
140g butter
2 tsp vanilla essence
100g white sugar
140g brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp bicarb soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
230g flour
1 egg
160g dark chocolate chips/chunks (add more if you desire!)

1. Start off by browning the butter.  Place the butter in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the butter starts to froth - watch it carefully and take it off the heat when it smells nutty and brown specks appear in the pan.

2. Stir the vanilla into the butter and set aside to cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 190C (375F).

4. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, bicarb, baking powder, salt and flour.

5. Mix the browned butter into the dry ingredients.

6. Add the egg and mix until combined.

7. Stir the chocolate chips into the dough.

8. Scoop the dough into balls the size of your choosing onto a baking tray covered with baking paper.  I did some bite-sized and some the size of my palm!  Make sure you leave enough room in between the cookies as they do spread.

9. Let the dough rest in the freezer or fridge for at least 10 minutes, or up to 1 hour (depending on how desperate you are to eat them...)

10. After they've chilled, bake the cookies for about 12 minutes (for large cookies)/9 minutes (for smaller cookies) or until they're golden brown and have spread out and puffed up.

11. Let the cookies cool for a bit after they come out of the oven, then enjoy!

As I usually find with choc chip cookies, they're best when warm and the chocolate's still melty.  Delicious.