Waiting for Agnes

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One October 6, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking — titchandboofer @ 11:41 am
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Seven am, small awake and break-dancing on my pillow. At least we’re not calling it six am any more. Kettle on. Small playing with noisiest toy in whole house. The blue cow says moo. The blue cow says moo. The blue cow says moo. The blue cow says moo. The blue cow says moo. Sodding cow. Should we be teaching small that cows are blue? Nope, don’t care. Must remember to do things on list today. Ring someone. Who? Where is list? Not that list. Other list. Why is beloved pretending to be dead under the doona? Make small’s breakfast of hated porridge extra loudly. Success. Breakfast. Drop in on LMF for tea and mini-playdate. Drink tea in LMF’s yard in glorious sunshine. Small hijacks her work phone and sends random blank messages to her clients. To shops. Unsuccessful attempt at buying food or a wedding gift. Home. Wedge spoonfuls of mystery mash into small’s mouth while he tries desperately to pull my top off.  He breastfeeds like he’s not been fed for days. He sleeps. Still no sign of list. Pay a bill? Cook something? Yes! Food for a friend, another LMF, who’s just had her fourth baby. Macaroni cheese. Brownies. Soul food for the breastfeeding mama. Find letter reminding me to re-enrol in deferred university course. Will I have time to study next year? Small awake, trying to climb up me to plunge his hands into all the pots on the stove. Pouring rain. Chickens all huddled under one shrub. Overgrown chicks trying in vain to squeeze under Betty’s wings. Very entertaining. Alarm going off? Oh, brownies.

Brownies for the Breastfeeding Mama (and her children)

200 grams of dark eating chocolate

125 grams of unsalted butter

1/2 a cup of brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup of almond meal

1/4 of a cup of plain flour

160 grams of dark eating chocolate, chopped roughly

80 grams of flaked almonds

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 fan forced).

Grease and line a square tin.

In a medium saucepan, melt the 200 grams of dark chocolate with the butter over low heat, stirring until smooth.

Take off the heat and allow to cool for ten minutes.

Stir in the sugar, eggs, almond meal and flour.

Stir in the chopped chocolate and flaked almonds.

Spread into the tin and bake for 25 minutes, until just firm to touch.

Allow to cool in the tin for ten to fifteen minutes.

Turn onto a wire rack. Turn again and dust with icing sugar.

Cut into as many pieces as you like.

Wrap brownies. Think for the hundredth time how useful it would be to have a big basket to carry food in. Must put that on list. Damn. The list. Ring who? Never mind. Everyone in car. Arrive at house of new baby. Baby is breastfeeding, on the brink of blissful sleep. Her older sisters and brother bounce about. Biggest sister carries small off to play. Tea with our friend. We chat about the uni course she has just finished, the same one I am procrastinating about. Hmm. That puts things in perspective.



Cross ants September 11, 2010

I have often been asked “who taught you to cook?”. The simplest explanation would be “my mother” but that’s not entirely true. The Granny loves to cook, cooks a lot (some might say way too much, but they are just ungrateful whinypantses) and is pretty damn good at it. She is not, however, an instructional type of teacher. Starting from when I was little, if I was bouncing around, begging to make cake (oh, it started early, this compulsion) she’d just gesture at the kitchen and tell me to have at it. Then she might pop in a few times to check nothing had exploded or caught fire. I will never forget one particular devastation when I was about seven. I was making a chocolate cake (natch) but hadn’t learnt the difference between beat/mix/cream/fold/stir etc. Figuring they were interchangeable and must be the product of some creative editing (well, you wouldn’t want to bore people) and indulging my growing love affair with the Kenwood Chef mixer, I just beat the crap out of everything. This, as you may have already predicted, did not end well. All ingredients in, vigorous beating complete, I peered into the bowl to see….not very much at all, a dismal amount of runny batter so thin it would barely coat a spoon. The Granny, in her wisdom, advised me to cook it and see what happened. A burnt chocolate pancake, that’s what happened. Lesson 1 – Folding – Complete. And so the years went by. The ‘learn as you go’ school of teaching was all fine when it came to cooking from recipes. Now, though, The Granny is still two decades ahead in her own baking evolution and just makes stuff up. Really good stuff. Stuff that would be nice to repeat. Trying to get specific instructions out of her is still impossible. We have had many variations of the following conversation:

Me – Thish ish vreally ymmmm (with mouth full)

Her – Oh, it’s easy, I just whipped it up before breakfast while I was knitting a fire-engine (or something)

Me – What’s in it?

Her – Um, butter and eggs and things

Me – How do you make it?

Her – Oh, you just, um, did you want a cup of tea? (The Family equivalent of ‘quick! look over there!’)

I once suggested she could do a recipe for this blog and we were suddenly diverted into a conversation about the Christmas holidays. So, it’s likely her baking secrets will remain just that. Anyhow, The Granny’s passion for baking is almost equalled by her enthusiasm for eating baked goods. Unlike me, she has no qualms about having the equivalent of cake for breakfast every day and, for as long as I can remember, her breakfast plate has held some kind of sweet pastry delight. While I’m not prepared to commit to the seven hundred weekly hours of exercise required to balance this out, I do join in when we holiday together. I have two favourite breakfast baked treats – the coffee scroll (oh, how I love you) and the almond croissant (and you). Yesterday, in what seems to be becoming a weekly event, the beloved staged a takeover of the kitchen and made ordinary, boring croissants into almond croissants. Then she told me she’s not really that into baking. Then she turned the croissants into pudding, involving two types of custard and a chocolate sauce. Then, being lazy friday, we got together with the LMFs and ate it all.

Cross Ant Pudding

The first bit:

4 croissants, preferably a day old (you could make them yourself, but that is a whole other level of baking enthusiasm)

150 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature

75 grams of icing sugar, sifted

1/3 of a cup of plain flour

2 cups of almond meal

1 teaspoon of almond essence

1/3 of a cup of flaked almonds

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees celsius (150 fan forced)

Put the butter, sugar, flour, almond meal and almond essence in your food processor. Whizz well to combine.

Split the croissants in half horizontally.

Place the bases on a baking tray.

Spread with 3/4 of the almond paste.

Replace the croissant tops and spread with the remaining paste.

Scatter with the flaked almonds.

Bake for ten-fifteen minutes, until golden and lovely.

Dust with a bit of extra icing sugar.

The next bit:

Your 4 almond croissants

4 eggs

110 grams of caster sugar

300 mls of full fat milk

300 mls of pure cream (not thickened)

1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped

2 tablespoons of Amaretto (or whatever you like best)

Grease a baking dish. The beloved used a square glass one, about 1.5 litre capacity.

Tear up the croissants and fill the dish.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl until just combined

Put the milk, cream, vanilla pod and seeds into a medium saucepan. Heating over low heat, bring it to just below boiling (sort of simmering around the sides).

Gradually pour the warm milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.

Add the Amaretto and whisk to combine.

Pour this mixture over the torn croissants in the baking dish. Set aside for at least an hour to soak in.

The next bit:

4 egg yolks

250 mls of full fat milk

250 mls of pure cream (not thickened)

55 grams of caster sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Put a medium sized bowl ready over a bigger bowl with some ice in the bottom.

Lightly beat the egg yolks in another medium sized bowl.

Put the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

Bring to just below boiling point.

Pour the milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return the complete mixture to the pan and stir constantly over a low heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Pour immediately into the bowl over ice, cover with clingfilm and let cool until needed. (It’s to serve over the finished pudding)

The next bit:

200 mls of pure cream

50 mls of full fat milk

200 grams of good dark chocolate (the beloved used Whittaker’s 72%), chopped

25 grams of cocoa powder

Put the cream and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.

Bring to just below boiling point.

Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until smooth (here the beloved had a mini-tantrum when the sauce split – we fixed it by stirring in a bit of extra cream)

Whisk in the cocoa, then set aside.

The last bits:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 fan forced)

Bake the pudding for 45-55 minutes, until just set and golden. Cover with foil if it browns too quickly.

Remove the pudding from the oven, let it sit for a little while (at least 10 minutes).

Turn out of the dish, slice and serve drizzled with the custard and the chocolate sauce. Add some extra almonds and raspberries if you want to, but it’s hardly essential, there’s quite enough going on.

Eat it up.


Pear Solo August 20, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking — titchandboofer @ 11:39 am
Tags: , ,

Dinner has been eaten, an ordinary beef stew with carrot stoemp (trust me, calling it stoemp – pronounced shtoomp – makes carrot and potato mash sound a lot more exciting than it really is). The small one has gallumphed around in the bath, whacking the taps with his fleet of plastic boats. He has had his last, lingering, drowsy breastfeed for the day and gone to bed. The beloved is working the late shift. So here I am, on my nige, not a baked good in sight and the only hope of dessert is a poached pear. They are lovely poached pears, sweet with vanilla and star anise, tender and syrupy. But it’s still just fruit really, isn’t it? Can I be bothered making something else, a biscuit or a spongy pudding? Not really, it’s late. Well, it’s past pensioner hour anyway. Hmph. I have little leftover bits of almond meal. And I have little leftover bits of flaked almonds. Almonds and pear? Pear and almonds? Pear and almonds and cinnamon? Yes. Crumble is the answer – isn’t crumble often the answer? Crumble is quick, buttery and sweet. Crumble will add texture to the lovely pears. Extra crumble will keep for days in a little snack box in the fridge, for emergencies.

Poached Pears & Emergency Crumble

Pears first:

4 beurre bosc pears, not too ripe

1 litre of water

250 grams of sugar

1 vanilla pod

3-4 star anise, more if you love it

Put your water, sugar and spices into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

While the pan is coming to a simmer and the sugar is dissolving, peel and quarter your pears. Scoop out the core from each quarter with a small sharp knife and put each piece immediately into the pan. This prevents the pear from discolouring. Find a saucer or small plate with a diameter slightly smaller than your saucepan. Rip off a piece of baking paper big enough to cover the pan. Place the paper directly over the simmering water and rest the saucer on top. This is called a cartouche and it serves to keep the pears submerged while they poach, again keeping them from discolouring.

Let the pears simmer for 25-35 minutes, until tender when poked with your small sharp knife.

Allow to cool. There’s something a little odd about hot poached pears, especially if you’re like me and you eat them with natural yoghurt. Plus, allowing them to cool intensifies the flavour of the spices. I pour the whole contents of the pan into a watertight plastic container and tuck them in the fridge door. They will keep for 5 or 6 days and are tasty on muesli, on their own, with a dollop of cream or yoghurt, or with some almondy crumble.

Crumble next:

1/2 a cup of almond meal

1/4 of a cup of flaked almonds

1/4 of a cup of brown sugar (not firmly packed)

1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon (you could use more but I ran out after 1/2 a teaspoon)

25 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature, chopped into small pieces

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 fan forced)

Line a baking tray with baking paper

Put all your dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the mixture using your fingers. You don’t have to be too thorough, just rub the butter in until you have a coarse, crumbly texture that holds together if pressed. Rubbing in will also break a few of the almond flakes, which is no bad thing.

Scoop the mixture onto your prepared tray and press into a large, biscuit-like shape, about 1-1.5cm deep.

Bake in the oven for 6-8 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool on the tray, then break into chunks.

Serve with a few pieces of poached pear and a scoop of natural yoghurt or cream.

If you have leftovers that you want to be creative with, you could soften a few scoops of vanilla ice-cream, break some chunks of crumble into it, mix thoroughly and return to the freezer for a while. In summer, eat emergency crumble with fresh fresh strawberries, tiny basil leaves and thick cream. Mmmm, summer. I’m almost ready for some hot weather again, for sunshine and cold drinks, bare feet and juicy peaches. In the meantime, I’m heading back to the couch, to a woolly blanket, a mug of tea and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Goodnight.