Silky Rich

panna cotta

I’m not even going to apologise this time, since thankfully you all seemed to understand and support my infatuation with pears when I rhapsodized about them earlier. I really did mean what I said about pear recipes following me around! I couldn’t decide whether to sigh with gleeful contentment or with exasperation when I flicked through my copy of Donna Hay’s winter issue and saw the lovely section all about pears. I’m just surprised that it has been so long since I cooked a curvaceous pear into anything – I must have been distracted by leggy rhubarb; another of my many culinary crushes.

Among the multitudes of pear recipes I have accumulated, this one in particular caught my eye because I love coffee. In fact, I’m addicted to coffee, no question about it. About two years ago, a friend dared me to go a week without caffeine. I thought it would be easy, but by the end of day three I broke down in tearful defeat. Now I also drink a lot of tea during the day, but without my morning coffee, lets just say I might not have many friends left! Though this dessert might be a powerful secret weapon to lure them back.

I love the strong sweet espresso syrup and the silky rich (and jiggly!) cream, and was surprised as to how nicely they worked with the pear. Though next time I would remove the peel. It was pleasantly sophisticated, definitely a grown up dessert. Because my mum doesn’t like coffee, I doubled the panna cotta recipe and made two without the pears and syrup. It’s a really nice base, and so easy to prepare in advance. I can imagine pairing other fruit with it or perhaps a simple strawberry, raspberry or even chocolate sauce drizzled over the top.

Pear and Espresso Panna Cotta
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
Makes 2

• 1/3 cup espresso coffee
• 1/3 cup caster sugar
• 1 small pear, cut into 2 x 2cm slices, peel and seeds removed
• 2 tablespoons milk
• 2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
• 1 cup pouring cream
• 1 cup milk, extra
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place the coffee and caster sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the pear slices and cook for 10-15 minutes or until tender and the syrup has thickened slightly
2. Place the pears on the base of 2 x 1 ¼ cup lightly greased ramekins. Pour the syrup evenly over them and allow to cool.
3. Place the gelatine and milk in a small bowl. Stir to combine and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes until the gelatine has dissolved.
4. Place the cream, extra milk, brown sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add the gelatine and whisk to combine. Set aside to cool.
5. Pour the cream mixture over the pears and syrup. Refrigerate for 4-6 hours over overnight. Invert into shallow bowls to serve.

Honey and Almond Granola

granola

You know that grand plan I had, the one where I was going to eat breakfast every day? Well it worked for a while, but I soon sunk back into my old ways. I was bored with the breakfast options on offer at home, yet had no time to make something more interesting on a normal morning, between important wardrobe decisions and catching the early train – the only one on which I manage to get a seat! When granola recipes popped up on several blogs that I love, I thought that this could be a great option for me. It could be made in advance and filled with lots of good stuff, unlike mass-manufactured cereals with lists of ingredients you can’t pronounce. It could also be adapted to include the things I like.

But it took me a while to actually get around to making it. It seems like quite a turning point, the day you decide to make your own cereal, like stepping over to the other side, and I just wasn’t ready yet! Even yesterday, when I did make granola for the first time, I was slightly hesitant. Quietly prepared to be converted and knowing that what I was doing – measuring oats and chopping almonds – could be something I do every weekend from now on. And I think I was right, judging by how excited I was about breakfast today. Simply adorned with some chopped strawberries, this granola is wonderful.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and easily it came together, and the amazing smell that wafted through the house as it baked had everyone asking what I was cooking. I adapted the recipe slightly from Molly’s, adding sultanas instead of the chocolate, using macadamia oil, and adding a little vanilla. I am already looking forward to further tinkering with the recipe. Next time I might add some cinnamon, some sunflower seeds, and some dried cherries. And I’m definitely making a double batch!

Oh, and here’s a question for those in and around Melbourne. I’m going to be visiting for eight days in early October. Last time I was there it rained every day and we didn’t get to explore very much, unfortunately. From an insider’s perspective, what should we make sure to see and do? Which markets are the best? And more importantly, where should we eat? I have a special interest in patisseries, chocolate and coffee!

granola

Honey and Almond Granola
Adapted from Orangette

• 3 cups rolled oats
• ½ cup shredded coconut
• ½ cup natural almonds, finely chopped
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• Pinch salt
• 6 tablespoons honey
• 2 tablespoons macadamia oil (or vegetable oil)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ½ cup sultanas or other dried fruit, chopped if necessary

1. Preheat oven to 150ºC (300ºF) Combine rolled oats, coconut, almonds, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
2. In a small saucepan, warm the honey, oil and vanilla, whisking occasionally until combined. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir well.
3. Spread the mixture evenly over a rimmed baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden, stirring at the halfway point to ensure granola cooks evenly. When it’s ready, remove from the oven and stir well. Cool completely.
4. Transfer to a large bowl, jar or zip-lock bag and stir in sultanas or other chopped dried fruit. Store in an air-tight container and serve with milk or yoghurt.

One Whole Year: Butternut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

butternut-cupcakes-with-cream-cheese-icing

I honestly don’t know where the time goes, it’s already mid-July and the year is absolutely flying past. I can’t believe it was one whole year ago that I sat down to write the very first post here on Spicy Icecream. Inspired by blogs like La Tartine Gourmande and Delicious Days, I decided to start my own little blog to share my cooking adventures and keep track of all the different recipes I tried. I would often snap a photo of my dinner before I started eating, so writing about it naturally seemed like the next step. And so, with nary an introduction, I launched into an essay about meat pies.

My first year of food blogging has been quite a journey, but I have enjoyed it immensely. I’ve learned so many new skills, tried cooking with new ingredients, and overcome food dislikes that I’d harboured for years, though there are a few I’m still working on. And, as expected, my collection of kitchen gadgetry and cookbooks has expanded significantly, though my waistline hasn’t, luckily! So many memorable moments in the last year have revolved around food, whether I cooked it myself or I shared it with someone else. It’s a huge part of my life, and I want to keep it that way.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that cooking is not just about eating for survival, it’s also about sharing, and I think that is one of the things I like the most. I love to sit down with my family to a meal I’ve prepared, I love to plan menus, and I love to surprise my friends with cookies or cupcakes I’ve baked. In the next year I want to have more dinner parties, try new things – cuisines, dishes, techniques, ingredients – to expand on my knowledge, skill and experience in the kitchen, and to make the time occasionally to cook purely for pleasure.

A quick word about the cupcakes… I love pumpkin. I just don’t understand how people can dislike it – yes, I’m looking at you Steve! I loved the idea of using pumpkin in a cake and I have wanted to make these since I saw Fanny’s post about them, and the episode of Jamie At Home about squash, within days of each other late last year. They are so easy to put together in a food processor! I used my favourite cream cheese icing with them and they were very nice. They sort of reminded me of a carrot cake, though I think in a blind taste off, my delicious carrot cake recipe would win.

Butternut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted from Jamie At Home by Jamie Oliver
Makes 18

• 400g butternut pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
• 350g brown sugar
• 4 eggs
• Pinch salt
• 300g plain flour
• 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
• Handful of walnuts
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 175mL extra virgin olive oil
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Icing
• 250g cream cheese, softened
• 1 cup icing sugar
• ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped (or 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line a muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Whiz the pumpkin in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the sugar and eggs. Add a pinch of salt, the flour, baking powder, walnuts, cinnamon, olive oil and vanilla extract. Whiz together until well beaten. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
3. Fill the paper cases three quarters full with the cake mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool on a wire rack.
4. To make the cream cheese icing, combine ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Smooth onto the cooled cakes.

Past Tense

chicken and leek pie

I love a good pie, with good being the key word. I like almost any kind of sweet pie, I like beef pies and pork pies, but try as I might, I never really liked chicken pies – even those I made myself. Call me picky but I always felt that something wasn’t quite right, that there was something lacking, and I was always disappointed. But as you might be able to tell from the use of past tense, things have changed.

When I was in Perth, I decided to try something a little different in my chicken pies and was very impressed with the results. I couldn’t wait to make it again for my family when I got home. The secret? Leek.

I’ve used leek in risottos and soups before, but never in a pie. I love its delicate oniony sweetness that teams perfectly with the creamy chicken filling. I chose potato, carrot and celery because that is what we had on hand at the time, but I think it would be nice with peas or mushrooms included as well.

The filling is quick and easy to make so it’s good for a weeknight meal, and is especially satisfying on a cool winter evening. This is the perfect way to use up leftover cooked chicken and the vegetables that have been kicking around in the fridge for a while. I would imagine that the cooked filling could also be frozen, so it’s ready for pie assembly whenever you are.

Chicken and Leek Pies
Serves 4

• 50g butter
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 leek, chopped
• ½ onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
• Salt & Pepper
• ½ cup white wine
• 1 carrot, chopped
• 1 stalk celery, chopped (optional)
• 1 potato, chopped into small cubes and cooked until tender
• 1 large chicken breast, cooked and shredded
• 400mL cream
• Puff pastry, store bought, thawed
• 1 egg, whisked

1. Preheat oven to 200°C (390°F)
2. Melt butter and oil in a frying pan. Add leek, onion and garlic, and stir until softened. Add parsley, and season with salt and pepper.
3. On high heat, add wine. Then add carrot, celery (if using), potato and chicken and cream. Simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
4. Cut pastry rounds to fit individual pie dishes. Spoon filling evenly into each. Cut rounds for the lids and press down to seal. Cut a small slit into the top of each pie, and brush with beaten egg.
5. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until pies are golden. Serve with mashed potato or salad.

Aroma Festival

coffee!

If it were ever doubted, it was proven today – Sydney is obsessed with coffee. In the city, there is a café (or a Starbucks) on practically every corner, so it’s no wonder that I navigate my way around based on where the coffee is.

The Aroma Festival is an annual event held in Sydney’s historic Rocks district. It has expanded in the last few years to include tea, spices and chocolate as well as coffee. What a turnout there was today! The weather was fantastic, much better than for last year’s festival when it rained… And really, what better to do on a beautiful Sunday in winter than sample coffee and tea from dozens of roasters and suppliers, as well as chocolates, cupcakes, cookies and fudge from many more.

cupcakes!

After a cup of coffee and a wander around, we found ourselves looking for something sweet. Sydney has well and truly embraced the cupcake trend, with numerous cupcake bakeries popping up over the last few years. However, most of the cupcakes I’ve tried have been kind of disappointing. No matter how cute, they are either dry on the inside or the icing is far too sweet for my liking, and I’m left with the feeling that I could have made it better myself.

Online Cupcakes had a gorgeous display, and we sampled a chocolate flavoured and an espresso flavoured cupcake. For the first time I was surprised at the quality of the product! The cake was tasty with a nice crumb, and even though the icing could have had a more of a coffee kick, it was still delicious.

cups

As far as the coffee goes, we only tried two different ones because of the crowds and my need to actually get some sleep tonight. I wanted most of all to try Toby’s Estate, but every time we walked past, the long line seemed to be getting longer! It just gives me an excuse to visit their café and ‘tea emporium’ in Chippendale – which is something I should have done long ago anyway!

I really enjoyed the Aroma Festival today, and look forward to another caffeine hit next year. The atmosphere was fun, the crowd was as diverse as they come, and you just can’t beat a good cup of coffee for only $1 on a winter’s day.

aroma festival

Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate and Caramel Frosting

cake

Some foods should come with a warning label. Not like “may contain traces of nuts” on a packet of peanuts, but useful, helpful advice like “may cause addiction” or “may induce a diabetic coma”. Making some recipes is almost like an extreme sport – a feat of skill, precision and often insanity, but for this cake, the extreme part comes with the eating.

I’ve been in Perth for the last twelve days or so – a fun trip even though I got sick for about half of it. There was however, finally, a trip to Choux Café, a gorgeous little patisserie that I’ve wanted to visit for months now. We had macarons, opera cake and an amazing caramel religieuse. We cooked at home a lot, mostly because I didn’t feel up to going out, but that was okay because I managed to perfect my chicken pie recipe, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you soon.

On my final night in Perth, we invited Steve’s ‘parental shaped people’ over for dinner, and as luck would have it, it was Bob’s birthday the next day. I decided there needed to be cake, and not just any cake, to go with the roast chicken and hasselback potatoes, made with rosemary picked fresh from the garden. Dinner was great, even if I did slice two fingers with a new, and therefore sharp (!) knife while chopping carrots. But the winner of the evening was definitely the cake.

chocolate

The sinfully rich chocolate cake is paired with a caramel and milk chocolate frosting that reminded me a little of Cadbury Caramello, which is definitely a good thing, in case you were wondering. The frosting had two and a half blocks of milk chocolate, plus some dark chocolate thrown in there for good measure. But to be fair, the frosting came from a cake recipe meant to have three layers and mine only had two, so there was a lot leftover. I’d also never made caramel before but it worked out wonderfully. Every girl needs a good classic chocolate cake in her repertoire and I really liked this one (in tiny slices). It was moist and very rich on the inside. I think it would be nicely adaptable to other kinds of frosting you might decide to try.

The cake got rave reviews, especially from Bob who took most of it home with him. I’d be surprised if it lasted a day. As for a warning label, I think this cake should have “do not eat alone” – food tastes better with the people you like anyway.

frosting

Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate and Caramel Frosting
Adapted from Epicurious
Serves 8-10

Note: You may want to halve the frosting recipe if you don’t want leftovers.

Cake
• 2 cups plain flour
• 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
• 220g butter, softened
• 1 cup brown sugar, packed
• ¾ cup sugar
• 4 large eggs, room temperature
• 50g dark chocolate, melted and cooled
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 ½ cups buttermilk

Frosting
• 650g milk chocolate, finely chopped
• 85g dark chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• ½ cup water
• 2 ¼ cups whipping cream

1. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Line two 22cm round cake pans with baking paper.
2. To make cake, sift flour, cocoa and baking soda into a small bowl. Cream butter, brown and white sugar together with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add chocolate and vanilla and beat until just combined.
3. On low speed, add flour and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture until just combined. Divide evenly between prepared cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean.
4. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack. Peel off baking paper and allow to cool completely.
5. To make frosting, combine milk and dark chocolate in a large bowl. Stir sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Boil without stirring until syrup is dark amber in colour, about 10 minutes. On low heat, carefully and slowly add the cream – the mixture will bubble up. Stir until any solids dissolve and the mixture is smooth.
6. Pour the caramel over the chocolate, stand for 1 minute then whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Chill for 2 hours until completely cooled, and then let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
7. Using an electric mixer, beat frosting until the colour resembles milk chocolate and the frosting is spreadable. Be careful not to overbeat.
8. Place one cake layer on serving platter, flat side up. Spread frosting evenly over the top. Top with the second layer, flat side up, and spread frosting over top and sides of the cake.

Expert Borrowers

baked macaroni

As much as I like to share brand new, shiny, exciting things here in my little corner of the web, I think its time today to share a family recipe that is quite special to me. It occurred to me that I haven’t done this much at all, save for my Dad’s BBQ potatoes. To be honest, I kind of forget sometimes. They seem so ‘every day’ that I wonder if they are even worthy of a post of their own. But after making one of our favourites last night for dinner, I just couldn’t help but photograph the leftovers.

It’s our take on a traditional Maltese dish Imqarrun fil- Forn or Baked Macaroni, similar to the Italian Timpano, because the Maltese were expert ‘borrowers’ of language and cuisine. Saveur magazine even printed a variation of it, with a flaky pastry lid. My family has been making it seemingly forever; I remember a story that my Grandpa told me from when he was a little boy. Instead of cooking it in their own kitchens they would take it to the local bakery, and for a small fee they could cook it in the wood-fired ovens. The article mentions it as a tradition of ‘communal baking’ going back centuries and I think it sounds just wonderful. Imagine chatting with your friends while someone else cooks your dinner! One unfortunate night while carrying the cooked dish home, my Grandpa’s brother dropped it all over the pavement!

This hearty, filling meal is so simple to put together; just cooked macaroni or rigatoni mixed with bolognaise sauce, a few eggs, some Parmesan, and, if you like, some fresh herbs, salt and pepper. It’s not the quickest weeknight dinner, granted, but it’s one of the easiest I can think of. We usually make a huge stockpot full of bolognaise sauce and freeze it in portions, which makes the assembly of this dish even easier. I haven’t given a recipe for the sauce here, so use your favourite! This is not like your typical baked pasta in that the eggs bind the mixture together to set while baking, rather than remain saucy on the inside. And those crunchy burnt bits on top? My favourite thing about it!

baked macaroni

It works equally well as an entrée or a main meal with a leafy salad and balsamic vinaigrette, and leftovers are good at room temperature for lunch or even a picnic the next day. You can also freeze it in its unbaked state. But please heed my advice about the non-stick baking paper, it makes life (and washing up) so much easier.

Baked Macaroni
Serves 8

• 2 x 500g packets macaroni or rigatoni
• 4 ½ cups pre-prepared bolognaise sauce (use your favourite home-made recipe)
• 5 – 6 large eggs
• ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
• 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
• Salt and Pepper

1. Grease and line large baking dish with non-stick baking paper. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F)
2. Cook macaroni in a large pot of salted boiling water until just before al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Stir in bolognaise sauce, eggs, Parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper and mix with a large spoon until pasta is fully coated.
3. Transfer to the baking dish, pressing mixture into all the corners. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, turning the dish around at about the 40-minute mark. Don’t worry, those crunchy burnt top bits are good! However you can cover it with foil to prevent the top from over-browning.
4. Have a wire cooling rack ready, and remove the pan from the oven. Place the cooling rack upside down on top of the macaroni and invert, being careful because it’s hot. Remove the pan and the baking paper. Place the macaroni back in the oven upside down for 15 – 20 minutes longer to crisp up the bottom.
5. To serve, cut into square pieces with a serrated knife. Serve with a green leafy salad.

Something New

profiteroles

I love the concept of learning something new everyday, whether it’s a new word to add to the vocabulary, or a snippet of information you didn’t know. I’ll admit I’m one of those people who love useless trivia. Did you know there are two million possible sandwich combinations that can be created from a Subway menu, or that fish are in fact susceptible to seasickness? I don’t ever want to stop learning, there are so many subjects that I find fascinating.

But one of the things I like most of all is the feeling that you could learn something every time you step into the kitchen. There are hundreds of different cuisines to explore and a countless amount of ingredients, each with its own flavours and properties. It excites me to go into the kitchen knowing that I’m going to make something new, because you’re never quite sure how it will turn out – in triumph or in tears. I remember the first time I made choux pastry, about two years ago. My profiteroles were sad, flat little mounds rather than gloriously risen puffs. I didn’t know what went wrong, and it took me three attempts (and probably some rather choice language) before I finally got it right. Here is a short list of the things I’ve since learned about making perfect choux…

• This recipe has a considerable amount of water. It’s the water turning to steam in the oven that makes them puff.
• When adding the flour, make sure the butter mixture is boiling rapidly. This ensures that the starch cells in the flour will accept more water and create more steam, and consequently more puff.
• I like to sift the flour before adding it to the mixture. You will need to stir vigorously to prevent lumps forming and incorporate the flour evenly.
• Make sure the oven is at the correct temperature before the puffs go in, and don’t be tempted to open the oven door while they are cooking!
• When they are cooked, prick the puffs with a skewer or cut them open to release the steam, and then return them to the oven for 5 minutes, which prevents them from going soggy.
• Cooked but unfilled choux will keep in an airtight container for 3 days or can be frozen for up to 3 weeks.

Choux pastry is a wonderful base for an incredible variety of sweet and savoury dishes; the choice of what to fill your éclairs or profiteroles with is up to you! Crème pâtissèrie, or pastry cream is one of my favourite things to make so I decided to put my leftover ginger to good use with one of its very best friends, dark chocolate. It gave the cream a nice subtle flavour that I loved. I dipped my profiteroles into melted chocolate, but you could also drizzle it on top. This is also my entry for Hay Hay Its Donna Day #20, brainchild of Barbara from Winos and Foodies, now being looked after by Bron Marshall, and hosted this month by Suzana of Home Gourmets.

Chocolate and Ginger Profiteroles
Adapted from Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan and Gourmet Traveller
Makes about 40 small profiteroles

Chocolate and Ginger Pastry Cream
• 2 cups whole milk
• About 6 strips of fresh ginger, cut with a vegetable peeler
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tablespoons sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornflour, sifted
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 7 (200g) ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
• 2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature

Choux Pastry
• 100g unsalted butter
• 1 cup cold water
• 150g plain flour, sifted
• 4 eggs

• Melted dark chocolate, for dipping

1. To make the dark chocolate cream, bring the milk to a boil, add strips of ginger and infuse for at least 30 minutes. Strain and discard the pieces of ginger.
2. Re-heat the milk. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cornflour and salt until thick and well blended. Without stopping whisking, drizzle in about ¼ cup of the hot milk, then add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat, and whisking vigorously, bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking for 1-2 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in the melted chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. In the meantime, fill the sink about a quarter full with water and ice cubes. Whisk in the pieces of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the cream is smooth and silky.
4. Put the bowl into the ice filled sink, and stir occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled. Refrigerate with plastic pressed against the surface of the cream to avoid a skin forming.
5. To make the choux pastry, preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Combine butter and water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Add flour and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture leaves the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and cool for 10 minutes.
6. Add eggs to the mixture, beating vigorously to combine after each addition before adding the next. To make profiteroles, use either a piping bag or a spoon to make 3cm mounds on the baking tray.
7. Bake for 15 minutes. Prick pastries with a skewer or the tip of a small knife and bake for an additional 5 minutes until golden and dry. Cool profiteroles on a wire rack before filling with chocolate and ginger pastry cream. Dip into melted dark chocolate before serving.

Fine Specimens

upside down

I have a new favourite fruit, and they won’t leave me alone. I can’t walk past the fresh fruit at the market without at least gazing at them, if not slipping a few into my basket. I always admire their curvaceous shapes when I slice them in half. I’m talking about pears; they’re bountifully in season and absolutely gorgeous in every way. I don’t know if it’s lucky or unlucky, because without even trying, I’m finding pear recipes everywhere I turn, and I’m nothing short of helpless when there are already fine specimens residing in my fruit bowl.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, or a crazy obsessive lady. I know there was the pear and vanilla brown butter crumble, which still makes me dribble a little every time I think about it. And I’m aware that I posted these pear and maple cupcakes barely two weeks ago. A few nights ago for my Dad’s birthday, I made a surprisingly delicious dish of roast lamb cooked with rosé and pears, but unfortunately didn’t get a photo of it. I suppose I can only hope you share my fondness of them, because here I present to you a most delightful pear and ginger cake courtesy of Orangette, the Macrina Bakery and Seattlest.

On the eve of winter, I can’t imagine a more appropriate dessert. The warm cake is intensely comforting as the temperatures at night get cooler. It was a good opportunity to use the treacle that’s been sitting in our pantry for ages; one of dad’s impulse buys that I’ve been scratching my head over what to do with. I’d also never used fresh ginger before (shame!) and I’m now looking forward to using what’s left in other dishes – perhaps something savoury to balance out all the desserts I post here.

fork

To be completely honest, I don’t think I would have looked twice at this recipe if there weren’t pears involved, but I really did love the result. The cake itself was the real winner here, but the glossy cinnamon-slicked pears played a nice supporting role. The cake was beautifully moist with an incredible depth of flavour, not too sweet and not too rich. I kind of like the idea that I can conjure up a famous but far away bakery in my own kitchen… until I plan a trip to Seattle and can taste for myself!

I keep forgetting that Pam tagged me for a six word memoir a few months ago. If those six words had to form a sentence of sorts, I think “small mocha, double shot, two sugars” would aptly describe me, but otherwise, here are some words put together by me and people who know me well… Caring, Spirited, Cute, Idealistic, Imaginative and Affectionate.

Pear and Ginger Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Seattlest and the Macrina Bakery
Serves 10-12

Topping
• 75g butter, at room temperature
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 4 medium pears, peeled, cored and quartered lengthwise

Cake
• 250g butter, at room temperature
• ¾ cup brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
• 3 eggs
• 2/3 cup treacle (molasses)
• 3 cups plain flour
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 ½ cups buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F). Grease a 22cm (9-inch) removable-bottom cake tin and line with baking paper.
2. To make the topping, combine butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat until melted. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place quartered pears on top of the mixture tightly in a decorative circle so that none of the bottom shows through.
3. To make the batter, place butter and brown sugar in a large bowl. Cream with an electric mixer until pale in colour. Add the ginger, and beat for another minute. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Slowly pour in the treacle and beat to fully mix. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled.
5. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder and baking soda and salt together, and whisk to combine.
6. Alternately add small amounts of flour and buttermilk to the batter, being careful to only mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
7. Transfer the batter into the pear-lined pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
8. Bake for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.
9. Cover the pan with an upside down serving plate and carefully invert. Release the sides of the pan and lift it away. Peel off the baking paper, and cool for about half an hour. Serve warm, with whipped cream or ice cream.

Autumn Appropriate

autumn cupcake

Gosh, I didn’t mean to let three weeks go by without a post. I’ve been sick for almost all of that time, so I hope you’ll forgive me. I also had a string of lacklustre recipes emerge from my kitchen that I thought didn’t seem worthy of sharing, or at least not until I’ve altered them to my liking. But mostly, I’ve been revisiting old favourites, many of which I’ve posted here before. There’s been pesto and pie, biscotti, and a new take on these simple slice and bake cookies, adding lemon zest and chopped dried cranberries. They were delicious!

I recently pondered the fact that I had not baked, let alone eaten a cupcake in quite a long time. In fact, they hadn’t really crossed my mind in a while. Surely my infatuation with them was not waning? I firmly believe that you can never outgrow a cupcake, they seem to be much loved by young and old. I decided to make a batch of autumn-appropriate cupcakes with some delicious pears. They are in abundance right now and I can’t get enough. I drank the pear juice reserved from Step 2 of the recipe by itself but couldn’t help but think how delicious it would be with some vanilla-infused vodka in a fruity cocktail.

I loved everything about these cupcakes; they were deliciously moist on the inside, not too sweet but with a hint of warmth from the cinnamon. The chopped walnuts made an interesting textural contrast and the creamy vanilla bean icing set it off in all the right ways. I wasn’t the only fan of these cupcakes either! My (nearly) three-year-old cousin Cooper loved them too, and had an interesting way of eating them. He licked all the icing off the top before he actually ate the cake. Awwww…

cooper

Pear and Maple Cupcakes
Adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly Cupcakes
Makes 12

• 2 medium pears, grated coarsely
• 60g butter, softened
• ½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 eggs
• ¼ cup maple syrup
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¼ cup self-raising flour
• ¾ cup plain flour
• 1/3 cup walnuts (or pecans), finely chopped

Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Adapted from Cupcake Project
• 1 ½ cups pure icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
• 200g butter, room temperature
• ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
• 1 tablespoon milk

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F) and line a 12 hole cupcake pan with paper liners.
2. Strain the juice from the grated pear, squeezing out as much juice as possible.
3. Beat butter, brown sugar and cinnamon with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, maple syrup and vanilla and mix to combine.
4. Add flour and mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix. Fold in walnuts (or pecans) and grated pear using a large spoon.
5. Divide between paper cases and smooth surface. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.
6. To make vanilla bean buttercream, beat icing sugar with butter until creamy. Add vanilla seeds and milk and beat for another minute. Smooth onto cooled cakes.