Friday, 18 September 2015

Bread, cream, honey

I was drawn in by the words again. This time it was this sentence:

"For some reason, today I imagined while getting up, cutting up a fresh flatbread and coat it with a thick layer of Kaymak and Honey."
-Insane in the Kitchen

There's something very lovely about it, and even though I didn't know what Kaymak was (a Turkish dairy product similar to clotted cream), the sentence definitely sounded like something I would want to make and eat.

The recipe that came with the sentence was also lovely, a soft dough fragrant with olive oil, only a single 45 minute proof, and the satisfying balance of using an egg white in the dough and its yolk as a glaze.

Being my imperfect self, I forgot to add the salt which resulted in an overly risen loaf, and living with a spice-averse family, I stuck to black sesame seeds rather than the traditional caraway topping.

Not having the 8 hours or so that is required to make kaymak, I decided to use my homemade creme fraiche as a stand-in spread, to accompany the drizzle of honey and sprinkle of salt that the sentence had me dreaming of.

This bread is just as delicious as I imagined, and I can't wait to make it again correctly. It would be the perfect thing to have as a centrepiece to a special breakfast, to accompany dips or soups, and keeps very well when sliced and frozen in airtight containers or bags - just defrost and turn them into toasted sandwiches.

Ramazan pidesi (Turkish flatbread)
straight from Insane in the Kitchen

3c flour
1 egg, separated
1Tb active yeast
2Tb sugar
1Tb salt
1/2c milk
1c water
2tsp olive oil
sesame and caraway seeds OR black sesame seeds for sprinkling

1. Heat the milk and water together in the microwave (in 30 second bursts) or in a small pot until it is very warm, almost uncomfortable to touch. Remove from the heat and stir in yeast and sugar. Leave for 10 minutes, until the top of the mixture has become thick and foamy.
2. Place flour and salt in a large bowl, add yeast mixture and egg white. Combine with a fork until you have a shaggy mass of dough, then start kneading. Continue until the dough springs back when indented with a finger.
3. Add olive oil and knead until it is incorporated.
4. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave somewhere warm for 45 minutes.
5. Cover a baking tray with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
6. Punch down the dough, leave it to rest for 10 minutes, then roll the dough into a circle or oval, so that it just fits in your baking tray.
7. Place the dough on the baking tray and brush with the egg yolk. Sprinkle over seeds.
8. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the bread is a deep golden brown.

Let the bread cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before slicing, unless you plan to eat all of it in one go.

Monday, 14 September 2015

And another one

Green tea swirl sables
Spring and green tea continued to be a primary inspiration for me over the weekend. This lightness has transferred across to everything from my sartorial choices (actual colours!) to movie selection, with a shift away from my staples of sobering documentaries and slow-paced, thinking pieces to brighter and louder works. I watched We are the best! and God save the girl over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed them both. The former reminded me a lot of my own teenage, band-having years, and I passed on the recommendation to my high school friends. God save the girl was lovely and reminded me of how I used to listen to Belle & Sebastian while walking to the hospital when I worked in the Emergency Department. Despite being dressed in practical sneakers and ugly hospital scrubs, and despite knowing that I was due to face a thoroughly unwhimsical shift in a busy ED, the music was enough to make me feel exactly like I was a character in an adorably hipster musical.

In keeping with the aesthetics of the weekend, I baked something cute and interesting. I came across a recipe for green tea sables that used two tones of green to make cute swirled cookies but unfortunately lost the link and was unable to find it again. I would love to attribute the idea correctly if I find it again. Luckily though, I already had a great green tea sable recipe at hand. From the incomparable Smitten Kitchen, of course.

Recipe notes
  • I made the recipe in two half-batches, adding 1tsp of green tea to the first batch and 2tsp of green tea to the second one. My kitchen is still quite cool, so before chilling, I rolled the dough out between two sheets of clingfilm into 2x 20cm by 35cm by 0.5cm(ish) rectangles, placed one on top of the other, and gently rolled them together like a sushi roll. I then chilled the rolled up dough for 2 hours before slicing into 0.5cm slices and baking.
  • My green tea powder is quite strong, so if your powder is mild, consider increasing the amounts by 0.5tsp each.
  • These cookies are just as delicious made without the swirl.

Green tea swirl sables
makes about 30 moderately sized sables
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

ingredients (halve to make one light green and one dark green batch)
2c flour
1/2tsp salt
1/2c icing sugar
226g butter (softened)
1/2tsp almond extract
1 tsp of green tea powder for batch 1 and 2tsp of green tea for batch 2

1. For each batch, place 113g butter into a medium bowl until smooth, add 1/4tsp almond extract and beat again to combine.
2. Sift in 1c flour, 1/4c icing sugar, 1/4tsp salt and correct amount of green tea powder and beat on low until you get a uniform dough.
3. If the dough is unmanageably soft, form it into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 1hr. If it is firm enough to handle, shape as described in recipe notes.
4. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Slice the rolled up dough into 0.5cm thick cookies and place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Leave around 3cm between cookies as they do spread a bit. Bake for around 15 minutes, until the edges are barely golden.
6. Cool on the baking tray for 2-3min before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Will keep for 1 week when stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Spring and green tea

As I have already made plain, I am enamoured with the shifting seasons and am endlessly inspired by them. I like to form my own associations between them and certain objects, emotions and activities that are personal rather than the machinations of some faceless marketing person goading me to make everything smell like pumpkin spice. For some reason, spring reminds me of matcha, or powdered green tea. I think it is because of the delightfully vibrant green colour and flavour, which complements the freshness an fragrance of the season. A green tea treat and a cup of tea, sitting next to a little bunch of freesias is my vision of spring.


This green tea pound cake is a quintessential weekday morning or afternoon tea sort of beast. Simple (as in you can mix it up while the oven is preheating) to make and flavourful without being challenging. You can slice off a thickish slice, wrap it up and take it wherever you may roam. The flavours of green tea and raspberry are interesting but not too challenging, and the texture is dense and delicate at the same time. I recommend brushing the cake with vanilla syrup as soon as it comes out of the oven for a little extra moisture.

Green tea and raspberry pound cake
adapted from Love & Custard
makes 1 standard loaf-sized cake

200g flour
2tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt
1.5Tb green tea powder (standard notice about not using bad quality product here)
170g sugar
170 butter, softened
4 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 raspberries, I used frozen ones

vanilla simple syrup
1/4c sugar
1/4c water
1/4tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius and line a loaf tin with baking paper, allowing for overhang so that you can lift the cake out later.
2. Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl and use a whisk to combine them.
3. Add remaining ingredients except the raspberries and beat with an electric mixer on low for 2 minutes. Increase to medium speed and beat for another 2 minutes, until you have a smooth batter.
4. Pour 1/4 batter into the loaf tin and scatter over 1/3 of the berries. Repeat until all the batter and berries are in the tin. Bake for 45-55 minutes. At about 40 minutes, consider covering the top with foil if it looks like the cake is over-browning.
5. While the cake is baking, make the syrup: bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla. You can also heat this in the microwave on 45 second intervals until the sugar dissolves.
6. Check the cake for doneness using a toothpick. Lift it out of the loaf tin and onto a wire rack to cool. Peel back the baking paper and brush all over with the syrup. Cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A stunner

I'm sure that I've mentioned this before, but one of my biggest reasons for being an avid cook is pure self-gratification. I love being able to imagine something delicious then make it come true. Because I take a very pragmatic/amateur approach to this process, things don't always turn out as planned.However, most of the time it is a most satisfying process and often results in something that makes me a bit proud of myself.

I am a frequent user of frozen fruit, I freeze bananas and buy bags of berries and mango pieces for baking and the occasional bowl of nice cream. When I went to the supermarket recently, I saw bags of frozen black cherries for the first time. Because the local cherry season is so short, any fresh cherries I come across are promptly devoured. I was compelled to buy a bag to try out all the baking recipes that I had only been dreaming about.

The first portion went into a cherry clafoutis, which was delicious but not exceptional or photogenic. Next, I improvised a free-form cherry and pastry cream tartlet with a rough puff pastry base, it was one of the tastiest things I had made in ages but the rustic design resulted in the loss of a lot of the precious cherry juices during baking.

Second draft tartlets
After these efforts, I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted to eat. Juicy, perfumed cherries, creamy custard and buttery pastry, held together with enough structure to give the impression of something quite elegant. I found a recipe that was reasonably close to what I wanted and improvised the rest. I used the pastry recipe (subbing 3Tb of cream for the yolk because I had used all the eggs to make pastry cream) and baking instructions found in the recipe but used my own pastry cream recipe and flavoured it with vanilla and a few drops of almond extract. Partly because I ran out of cherries and partly to add a bit of sharpness and interest, I used a mixture of cherries and raspberries, although either would make a delicious tart. I also didn't precook or add a thickening agent to the fruit, because I like to walk on the wild side sometimes.
The results were everything I ever wanted. The pastry was short and buttery, holding everything together but yielding easily to the fork. The pastry cream smooth, rich and comforting. And the fruit, soft and juicy but not cooked to the point of jamminiess, the two berries contrasting delightfully with each other and the almond in the pastry cream. To serve, I gilded the lily with a spoonful of homemade creme fraiche, which unbelievably made the tart even more delicious. Needless to say, the tart was gone in less than a day.
Cherry and raspberry custard tart
makes one 23cm round tart
pastry and baking method adapted from this recipe
1c flour
110g softened butter
3Tb cream
1Tb sugar
pinch of salt
Pastry cream (1/4 batch of this recipe with 1/2tsp almond extract added)
2c cherries and 3/4c raspberries (frozen fruit can be used without defrosting)
1. Butter a 23cm round removable-bottom fluted tart pan.
2. In a large bowl, use a whisk to combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or fingertips to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients. There shouldn't be any bits of butter bigger than a pea. Add the cream and mix with a fork to make a cohesive dough.
3. If it isn't too warm, the dough can be rolled out straight away, otherwise chill for 30min-1 hour before rolling. Use silicon mats or two pieces of baking paper to make things easier. Place the rolled out dough on the tart pan, pressing it down gently. Use a rolling pin to pinch off any overhanging edges. Chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
4. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Spread the pastry cream into the pastry, and sprinkle over berries, trying to get as close to a single layer as possible.
5. Bake for around 45 minutes, a knife inserted into the custard should come out clean with it is done.
6. Cool for at least 30min before cutting and serving.

Hello spring

Spring and autumn are my favourite seasons by far. There is something so fleeting about those times of the year. The temperature rises a little, the spring bulbs flower, and suddenly they are dried up by the summer sun. The sultry skies turn deep and blue, and just as the air takes on the scent of drying leaves, winter rain washes them away.

Today's torrential rain is not quite what one pictures when dreaming of spring, but even before the official start date, the flowers have been out in all their glory.

In addition to taking close to daily pictures of the flowers in the garden, I have become a bit interested in growing my own food. It all started after reading this book by my favourite Asian-American activist-philsopher Grace Lee Boggs. I could relate to and agree with so much of the book, that after I was finished folding down the corners of notable pages, every other page was marked. In this seemingly hopeless and helpless age, it is Ms Lee-Bogg's orderly and reasoned case for what revolution means today that gives people like me the framework in which to envision directions for the future. The book's content also helped explain why I always felt the need to keep some distance from activists and groups who work in a more traditional manner. The new revolution is small in scale but wide in scope and happening in the minds of everyone who realises that the way of the 20th century and of now is an unsustainable and impractical model for the future. Some people will raise their voices, while others will quietly effect positive change in their midst, both are revolutionary and valuable.
On that note, here are the some of the microgreens that are the first harvest of my gardening efforts.
Chia grown in a terracotta plate. 
Wheat, barley, rye and sunflower grown in a plastic tofu container with holes punched in the bottom

Rocket/arugula in a takeout container

Mesculun in an uncycled baklava container
All the seeds, except the chia, were sprouted using the same method:
  • take a container with drainage holes, add about 3cm of damp soil/seedling raising mix/potting mix (I used potting mix), sprinkle over seeds
  • cover with a paper towel and mist with water to keep the towel wet
  • remove towel when the seedlings start to lift it up
  • continue to water with a spray bottle until you want to harvest your greens.
I have also been growing sprouts using the grain and sunflower mix and growing a variety of seedlings; as well as preparing small container vegetable beds and making a rather homejob pallet planter. It is exciting to be pottering about with soil again, I was quite an enthusiastic gardener in high school, before medical school kind fo engulfed it all. I have been wanting to reread Karel Capek's 'The Gardener's Year' too.
I have been baking  consistently too, perhaps a bit less often than usual as work is getting a bit busier. This past weekend, I was involved in a co-ordinated anonymous act of kindness, the New Zealand Ninja Baking Drop.I volunteered to bake something for a nominated person and secretively drop it off on their doorstep or in their letterbox. I made vanilla bean shortbread, raspberry-cheesecake brownies (my recipe, with this brownie base) and blueberry crumble bars.
 Unexpectantly, I was also a recipient of someone else's delicious baking. While I was making my pallet planter, a stranger came up to me and handed me challah bread pudding and chocolate ganache. I have to say, the kindness of a stranger is one way to confirm that the universe wants you to be happy at any given moment.
This post has become a bit long, so I will share a recipe as a separate post. Here's to the anticipation of tulips and cherry blossoms and the scent of freesias in the air.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Simply delicious

The magnolias are magnificent these days
It started raining again yesterday, bringing a string of perfect winter days to a close. Perhaps I am getting maudlin now that the end of winter is approaching but there is something about the sparse, grey aesthetic of winter that I quite like. It makes all colours seem more vibrant and every soft, warm thing more comforting.

Wintertime is when the rich flavours of coffee and chocolate sing, a fact that I especially appreciated when I received the following package late last week from this Pledgeme campaign.

Coffee and chocolate are amazing but not worth enslaving other people.
The dreamy scents of coffee and chocolate inspired me to bake something with these ingredients. As the package arrived in conjunction with a sudden craving for chocolate muffins, I found an interesting chocolate muffin recipe to play around with. This one to be exact, a cornflour 'custard' forming the base of the batter, ensuring light-as-cloud muffins with a tight crumb. It is an entirely different creature to the open-crumbed, moist texture of most muffins and actually reminded me of a mousse or flourless chocolate cake. I modified the recipe by adding some freshly brewed coffee to the batter and sprinkling over raspberries and sliced almonds for textural and flavour accents.

I am a bit torn about whether these should be called muffins at all, their rich texture and complex flavour is on par with a very good chocolate torte, however calling them muffins means that they can be eaten as breakfast. I remain undecided but will call them muffins as per the original recipe.

Chocolate-coffee muffins with raspberries and almonds
makes 16 muffins
adapted from this recipe

50g cornflour
3Tb cocoa
100g soft brown sugar
225mL freshly brewed coffee that has been cooled for about half an hour (I used coffee brewed in a French press)
75g butter
125g dark chocolate
75mL flavourless plant oil (I used coconut)
2tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
125g sugar
125g plain flour
2.5tsp baking powder
2/3c raspberries (I used frozen)
1/2c sliced almonds

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.
2. Place cornflour, cocoa and brown sugar in a small pot and combine with a whisk. Add coffee and heat over a medium-low flame, stirring continuously. Keep cooking until you have a thick custard.
3. Remove from the heat and add butter, chocolate and oil. Stir until all three are melted and incorporated.
4. Add vanilla and then the eggs one by one, stirring until each is combined into the mixture. Then add the second lot of sugar and stir well.
5. Stir in the flour and baking powder.
6. Spoon batter into the muffin tin, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Sprinkle over raspberries and almonds, then gently shake the muffin tin so that they settle over the batter.
7. Bake for 25 minutes, please note that these muffins are quite delicate straight out of the oven. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.
8. Optional - sift icing sugar over muffins before serving.

I also received this big box of Trade Aid chocolate, still dreaming about what to make with these.

Sunday, 26 July 2015


Green tea latte with shells

I am an idealist and consequently a believer in the redemptive qualities of humanity. However, this is easier in theory than in practice, it is much easier to have faith in a undifferentiated collective called humanity than in the people that inhabit ones day-to-day life. It all sounds quite grand until someone hurts your feelings or leaves you disappointed. Maintaining a promising outlook on humanity is much more difficult in that moment.

I had such an experience recently. It wasn't anything too tumultuous, but nonetheless I was left wondering whether trying to be kind and responsive to the needs of others was worth it. In my world that is a pretty bad mental space. Being decidedly introverted, with the potential to go full hermit at any stage, this kind of thinking threatens to topple the foundations of my rickety philosophy for dealing with people. All the dry, logical arguments about not being reactionary and maintaining my centre were swept into disarray by a wave of cortisol and adrenalin.

As is so often the case, I sought wisdom from the arts. I recently watched 'Taxi' by Jafar Panahi at the film festival and fell in love with Mr Panahi's perspective on everyday life. It was so gentle, bemused, interested, and above all, loving. My friends and I used to say of particularly good and kind people, "He has a good heart," and I could feel that his heart was not only good but gigantic. So, in my temporary and reactionary despondency, I looked to him again. I watched, 'This is not a film,' and despite the uncertainty and claustrophobia that runs through the film, it is the sympathetic interactions with his family, friends, iguana and especially the young man who collects the rubbish that demonstrated his quiet charisma. I finished watching the film a bit more hopeful than when I started, and that is no small feat.

Being part of academia and thinking lots of scientific thoughts has given me a greater appreciation for the power of art. The good stuff can use something as mundane as a streak of paint or a few well chosen words to demonstrate a situation or emotion with more truth than all the facts and figures in the world. After a time of quiet reflection and a good book, thudding hearts are calmed and angry thoughts can be organised. 

Once again, the recipe has become a bit of an afterthought to this post, but it is a nice one to know. I recently opened a package of green tea (matcha) powder and am trying to use it as quickly as possible, knowing that it oxidizes rapidly. One way of using the powder is to make green tea lattes. They are sweet, mellow and not challenging - which is nice sometimes. 

Green tea latte
makes 1 serving

3/4c whole milk (or your choice of other milks)
1tsp sugar
1/2tsp green tea powder

1. Warm up your serving vessel by filling it with boiling water.
2. In a small bowl, combine sugar, tea and 1Tb of hot-but-not boiling water. Stir well to get rid of lumps.
3. Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it is almost simmering. At this point you can use a milk frother if you have one.
4. Pour the boiling water out of the serving vessel. Pour in green tea mixture followed by the milk. Sift a little extra powder over the foam for decoration if you want to.