Coconut Bread

coconut bread

It’s been over a week now, and I’ve managed to eat breakfast every day. I’ve even enjoyed it! Whether it’s a bowl of cereal with yoghurt (I have a strange aversion to milk on cereal, is that weird?), my favourite crusty Italian bread toasted, or even just a delicious juicy peach from the fruit bowl, its nice to establish a routine in the morning, and breakfast is a good one for all the right reasons.

The weather has been pretty dismal, last week especially. It hardly feels like February at all. When it’s pouring rain outside, there’s nothing I like better than baking. I made this coconut bread one evening when the oven was still warm from dinner. It comes together quickly with minimal washing up (no need to bring out the mixer), and cooks in about an hour while you watch TV. It was perfect, because the next morning was drizzly and dark and I stayed in bed quite a lot longer than I should have.

Which brings me to my point – sometimes, breakfast needs to be portable. Whether eaten on the run or saved until you have a second to sit down, this coconut bread will be the highlight of your morning. I’m inclined to take Bill Granger’s advice and “keep slices in the freezer for workdays when you’d rather be in the Caribbean.”

I made this coconut bread once before, but thought a few minor modifications could make it better. This time I used shredded coconut, with a little less cinnamon. I swapped ½ cup of plain flour for wholemeal, but feel free to use the whole 2 ½ cups of plain flour if you’d like. The addition of coconut essence was also used to enhance the flavour. Next time I might use coconut milk in place of milk. A mashed ripe banana, some lime zest, chopped dried cherries or grated chocolate would also go very nicely in there, and I’m looking forward to trying other variations on this great breakfast recipe soon.

Coconut Bread
Adapted from Sydney Food by Bill Granger
Makes 8-10 thick slices

• 2 eggs
• 300mL milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon coconut essence
• 2 cups plain flour
• ½ cup plain wholemeal flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 cup caster sugar
• 2/3 cup shredded coconut
• 75g unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (375°F) and line a 21x10cm loaf pan with baking paper.
2. Lightly whisk eggs, milk, vanilla extract and coconut essence together in a small bowl.
3. Sift flours, baking powder and cinnamon into a bowl. Add sugar and coconut and stir to combine
4. Make a well in the center and gradually stir in the egg mixture until just combined. Add melted butter and stir until the mixture is just smooth, being careful not to overmix.
5. Pour into prepared load pan and bake for 1 hour, or until bread is cooked when tested with a skewer
6. Leave in the pan to cool for 5 minutes, and remove to cool further on a wire rack. Serve in thick slices, lightly toasted

Chocolate Whisky Cake

chocolate whisky cake

Since I started this blog last July I have been looking more keenly at cookbooks. No big surprise there I suppose, but these days I’m not just looking for mouth-watering recipes and photographs, I’m interested in the stories behind them. I’ve learned from others and experienced firsthand how food can invigorate all of your senses, bring people together and stir long-forgotten memories. Some of the most thoughtful things people have ever done for me have included food, and I’m always first to put my hand up to make birthday cakes for friends or family. It makes me kind of happy that food in all its forms plays such a big part in my life these days.

Given the choice between two recipes for the same thing, one with a memorable bittersweet story, and one with only a pretty picture, which would you choose? Give me the story every time. This cake you’re thinking about making has touched, and even changed someone’s life. This someone is Dorie Greenspan, and it’s the cake that got her fired. “Creative Insubordination” was the reason her employer gave for her dismissal, when she switched Armagnac-infused prunes for the much-loved whisky-soaked raisins in this restaurant’s famous chocolate cake.

The thought of a chocolate whisky cake has intrigued me since I saw it in an issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine. It seemed like fate that I found Dorie’s book Baking: From My Home To Yours only a few days before my Nanna’s birthday, when I was looking for an intensely chocolatey cake spiked with whisky – the plump juicy raisins were a heavenly bonus. Let me tell you – and I don’t say this lightly – this is my new favourite cake without a doubt, and it garnered similar reviews from all of the samplers. In some cases, two slices were needed for confirmation. After all, it’s a big thing to commit to a favourite, especially where cake is concerned.

Chocolate Whisky Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours
Serves 8-10

• ¼ cup raisins or sultanas
• ¼ cup whisky, I used Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch
• 2/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
• ¼ cup plain flour
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 200g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
• 125g unsalted butter, chopped
• 3 large eggs, separated
• 2/3 cup sugar

Chocolate Glaze
• 85g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
• 3 tablespoons icing sugar
• 75g unsalted butter, slightly softened

1. The night before you intend to start this cake, place the raisins and whisky in a jar. Seal and shake a few times. Leave to soak for at least 3 hours, or up to 1 day. I left mine for about 15 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and line a 20cm round cake pan with non-stick baking paper.
3. Whisk together the walnuts, flour and salt in a small bowl
4. Combine the chocolate and butter with 3 tablespoons of water in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate and butter are melted.
5. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale, then stir in the chocolate mixture, the walnut mixture and the raisins plus any liquid left in the jar.
6. With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until firm and glossy. Gently fold into the chocolate mixture using a large metal spoon.
7. Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan, bake for about 30 minutes. When it’s ready, a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out streaky – not wet but not dry.
8. Transfer cake to a rack and let it cool for about 10 minutes, before removing from the pan and letting cool completely.
9. To make the glaze, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat, then add the icing sugar, and the butter, a bit at a time, stirring until you have a smooth glaze. Now you can either pour the glaze over the cake straight away for a smooth finish and refrigerate for 20 minutes, or allow the glaze cool to room temperature for a more spreadable, swirl-able frosting.
10. This cake tastes fantastic at room temperature, but is also good straight from the fridge. It can be served with whipped cream or ice cream.

Crumpets

home made crumpets

A typical morning for me involves sleepwalking to the kitchen to make coffee, agonizing over what to wear and then having to practically run to the train station. I don’t have much of an appetite in the morning, so often I’ll leave without eating breakfast. I know what they say about breakfast, and I always feel somewhat guilty when I run out for coffee and a muffin on my morning break. With college about to resume for my third and final year of Graphic Design, I thought I’d try and implement some better habits. For the month of February, I’m going to eat breakfast every single day.

I think its safe to say that Bill Granger is the King of breakfast in Sydney – the man built his empire on scrambled eggs! His three restaurants are world-famous, beloved by locals and tourists alike. I haven’t eaten there yet, but the next time I stay overnight in the city, bills will be my first stop for breakfast. His first cookbook Sydney Food tries to capture Sydney’s eclectic attitude to food, and has a great list of produce suppliers. It also has a great chapter all about breakfast.

After the adventures we had this morning in the kitchen, I’m not sure why I was drawn to the crumpets featured in the book. Maybe it was Bill’s claim that home made crumpets had to be tried at least once to compare to their store-bought counterparts, but hours later I’m not so sure. I don’t mind putting in a lot of time and effort for worthy results, but this morning I was disappointed.

I think their success has a lot to do with cooking technique – very, very slowly. In my impatience (and hunger) I was flipping them over too early. My sister Beth was more patient, giving them time to bubble up and dome gorgeously, but when they were flipped over, they too went flat. It was a learning experience for us both, and if we were to ever try this again, we’ve got some tricks up our sleeve.

The winner of the morning however was the maple and walnut butter that I made to serve them with. It had a nutty sweetness that worked well with the crumpets, but would possibly be even better on waffles or pancakes. Of course additions such as chopped dark chocolate, or other kinds of chopped nuts would be wonderful too.

Crumpets
Adapted from Sydney Food by Bill Granger
Makes about 14

• 1 ½ cups milk, slightly warmed
• 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
• 7g sachet dried yeast
• 1 ½ cups plain flour
• pinch of salt
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
• 200 mL water
• Butter, for greasing pan and metal rings

Maple Walnut Butter
• 50g butter, softened
• 2 tablespoons maple syrup
• 1 – 2 tablespoons walnuts, very finely chopped

1. In a bowl, combine the warm milk, sugar and yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes, until the milk starts to bubble, indicating that the yeast is active
2. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the milk to the flour and beat with electric beaters until completely smooth. Start on the lowest speed because the mixture is likely to splatter.
3. Cover with plastic wrap and stand in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until doubled in volume and full of air bubbles.
4. Mix the bicarbonate of soda with 200mL water, and use electric beaters to combine with the batter.
5. Heat a flat-bottomed non-stick frypan over low heat. Use your finger to grease the inside of a metal ring with butter. Melt a little butter in the bottom of the pan.
6. Spoon mixture into the metal ring, leaving 3-5mm gap from the top. Cook until large bubbles form and burst all over and a skin has formed around the top. It should start to shrink away from the metal ring.
7. Remove the metal ring carefully. Keep a bowl of cold water handy to rinse the hot metal rings.
8. Don’t be in a rush to flip it over, the bottom should be well browned and crispy, and the top should have no liquidy batter remaining.
9. Flip carefully and cook until brown. Serve immediately with maple walnut butter, because they deflate quickly.
10. To make the maple walnut butter, combine butter and maple syrup in a bowl. Use electric beaters to mix until smooth and creamy, then fold in chopped walnuts.

Hope Helps


Photo credit: stock.xchng

Today I would like to talk about the hard work of Melanie Jeffree, founder of the cancer fundraising group Hope Helps. Two years ago, Melanie’s husband was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma and is still fighting hard against the disease. His positive thinking and amazing spirit were Melanie’s inspiration to do everything she can to help the fight against cancer.

Hope Helps runs a variety of different events and projects including trivia nights, market nights, Daffodil Day, Biggest Morning Tea, and a Girls Night In. All of the profits are distributed between two charities, The Cancer Council and OnTrac@PeterMac.

The Cancer Council’s core business is cancer control. They conduct and support research, as well as delivering support and prevention programs and advocacy to reduce the physical and emotional burden of cancer. The leaders are of international standing and we are significantly and positively influencing the cancer agenda. They are a non-profit organization and rely on the generous support of donors and volunteers.

OnTrac@PeterMac is a state wide, multidisciplinary clinical and research team of healthcare professionals working towards improving the survival rates, quality of treatment and care of Adolescents and Young Adults (AYA) through the:
• Establishment of a dedicated state-wide AYA cancer team
• Development of a research and development program
• Development of a health promotion, training and education program for healthcare professionals working with young people
• Effective leadership in advocacy and policy development in AYA cancer care

OnTrac@PeterMac is currently supporting over 400 young people aged between 15-25 years living with cancer and is now an internationally recognized leader in identifying and addressing the medical, psychological and social issues impacting on young people living with this disease.

The goal at Hope Helps is to give these hard working cancer prevention groups better opportunities to make a difference in the lives of so many people. The money raised will be used to continue research into finding a cure for cancer and helping make a difference in the comfort of patients under going treatment for their Cancer.

Guess what, food bloggers? One of the projects that Hope Helps is co-ordinating this year is a collaborative cookbook. It is still in the planning stage so far, and Melanie is looking for recipe submissions. We are looking for original recipes to be published in the Hope Helps Cookbook. They can be absolutely anything, from a simple snack to an elaborate dessert. The success of this project depends on how many recipes are submitted, so if you can help either contact me at fruitcakey (at) gmail (dot) com or Melanie at melanie.jeffree (at) gmail (dot) com

Alternately, if you live in Melbourne and are interested in any of the Hope Helps events, contact Melanie for information.

***

In other news, a big congratulations to Jessie from Sui Mai, she won the logo design package offered in Menu For Hope. I’ve been working on the design and I can’t wait to show you what I’ve come up with! Thanks also to every one who nominated my prize for their Menu For Hope donation, and thanks to Pim and Helen for their efforts in organization. $91,188 was the total amount raised, an incredible achivement. Lets hope we can beat that number next time!

Lord Lamington

lamingtons

Being Australia Day today, I thought I’d bake appropriately. The British landed with the First Fleet on Australian shores and declared it a colony 220 years ago, so Happy Birthday Australia, why don’t you have some cake?

The lamington is undeniably an Aussie icon, much like the meat pie. It was most likely named after a 19th century Queensland Governer, though ironically Lord Lamington apparently hated the dessert named in his honor.

There are many stories about how the cake came into being, but even if the origin of the lamington is a little fuzzy it is nonetheless an enduring favourite. It’s a staple at the local bakery, and one of the best sellers at cake stall fund-raisers.

lamingtons

It can be dressed up with jam and cream but I prefer it plain – butter cake, chocolate icing and coconut. Today I was tempted to add some grated orange zest to the cake mixture but I refrained in the name of keeping it traditional. Don’t let that stop you though, there are so many possible alternatives and additions that could be used. Adding berries or dried fruit to the cake itself would be an interesting substitute for jam.

Lamingtons
Recipe adapted from Women’s Weekly Sweet
Makes about 40 bite-size lamingtons

• 90g butter, softened
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ½ cup caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup self-raising flour
• 2 tablespoons milk
• Shredded or desiccated coconut

Chocolate Icing
• 2 cups icing sugar
• ¼ cup cocoa powder
• 10g butter
• ½ cup milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a rectangular slice pan with baking paper
2. Beat butter, vanilla, sugar, eggs, flour and milk with an electric mixer on low speed until ingredients are combined. Increase the speed to medium, until mixture is pale in colour.
3. Spread mixture evenly into the slice pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow cake to stand for 10 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool.
4. Trim the top and sides from the cake, and cut into 2-3cm cubes. Freeze the cake cubes for about 30 minutes before dipping into the icing.
5. To make the chocolate icing, sift icing sugar and cocoa into a heatproof bowl. Stir in the butter and milk. Stand the bowl over simmering water and stir until icing is of a good consistency.
6. Place coconut in a small bowl. Hold each cake cube on a bamboo skewer or toothpick. Dip into the chocolate icing then toss in coconut, one at a time, to cover. Stand lamingtons on a wire rack until set.

Aptly Named

perth

When showing friends and family the photos from my recent Perth trip, many of them asked why are there so many photos of food? I didn’t find it strange at all, actually its been a habit of mine for years. Looking through old holiday photos it’s not unusual to find pictures of various lunches scattered amongst those of beaches and palm trees.

I’ll leave the detailed restaurant reviews to those who do them best, but I wanted to quickly mention two places at which we dined. An afternoon in Fremantle culminated with the best frites I’ve ever tasted at Little Creatures, a restaurant/brewery with a great buzzy atmosphere. The rest of the menu was awfully appetizing but my poor stomach couldn’t handle it. Much deliberation also took place at Little Caesars Pizzeria, Mundaring in the Perth Hills. We finally decided on the Mexican-inspired Chicken Siesta and the dessert pizza Caramello Sam, which was much acclaimed by past visitors, and rightly so. Pastry cream, bananas, macadamias and caramel sauce – this pizza was lick-your-fingers good.

But we cooked at home for the most part, which I really enjoyed. Holiday cooking need not be complicated, though it was tempting to make it so when you have all day to plan for it. I made my delicious roast chicken, tried pizza dough from scratch for the first time, and was treated to my host’s own specialty – plum chilli chicken nachos. One night we lit candles and ate outside just after sunset. But closest to my own heart was something that had been in the works for well over a year – the aptly named sea disaster cake.

sea disaster cake

I don’t even remember how the idea came about, but somehow a shipwreck and the subsequent bloodshed at the tentacles of a monster on the high seas seemed a good concept for cake decorating. We started with a white chocolate mudcake base, one of my favourites and used a buttercream icing for its versatility and texture. The sinking ship is a piece of chocolate and almond biscotti. The sea monster is a green meringue, although next time I would bake a smaller cupcake in addition to the large cake and use green icing. The sea disaster victims are unfortunate jelly babies. We had so much fun putting this cake together, and we’re already planning the next catastrophe to be rendered in cake form.

White Chocolate Mudcake
Recipe Adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly Cupcakes
Serves 10-12

• 250g butter, chopped coarsely
• 160g white chocolate, chopped coarsely
• 2 cups caster sugar
• 1 cup milk
• 1 cup plain flour
• 1 cup self-raising flour
• 1 teaspoon coconut essence
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 eggs

Butter Cream Icing
• 250g butter, softened
• 1 cup icing sugar, sifted
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• Food Colouring

1. Preheat oven to 170°C, and line a 22cm round cake tin with baking paper
2. Place butter, chocolate, caster sugar and milk in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until smooth. Transfer mixture to a small bowl and cool for about 15 minutes.
3. Whisk in sifted flours, essences and eggs.
4. Transfer to cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tin.
5. To make the butter cream icing, beat butter with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add icing sugar and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add food colouring as desired.
6. Spread over cooled cake and refrigerate until set.

sea disaster cake

Hoping and Dreaming

blueberry muffins

I had the most wonderful thought the other day. It made me smile and dream and hope as only ambition can. I love simplicity and most of all, genuine thoughtfulness, and often find more happiness in the little things in life than the so-called milestones. Plus who wants to wait until society obligates you to let people know you care about them. This is why I have mixed feelings toward Christmas and the holiday season. I enjoy the gift giving but not the gift buying.

A sneak peek into the more corporate world of graphic design showed me that it isn’t where I want to be – deadlines for clients you’ve never even met in person! But in this business, it’s all about learning and experience. I may very well end up there for a few years before I can go out on my own and start my own design studio (in a little terrace house with gorgeous wooden floorboards and a fireplace). That’s my dream, and I’ll tell you now, things will be done differently.

In this daydream I was about to start a presentation to a client. It was a project I was excited about, to be working on packaging with an artisan chocolate maker. It was a casual meeting, explaining initial ideas and really getting to know them and their product. In the middle of the table was a plate of freshly baked muffins that I’d made that morning.

It might never happen – who knows what the future will bring – but it got me thinking, it got me hoping and dreaming. And to complete the reverie, I baked some gorgeous blueberry muffins. It was kind of nice to get back to one-bowl basics, since muffins were one of the first recipes I ever cooked. I used Donna Hay’s recipe, but next time I’ll tweak it slightly to be a little more moist, perhaps with some applesauce or yoghurt.

Also, if you haven’t already, go and check out the prizes available for this year’s Menu For Hope. This year I’m offering a fully personalised logo design and development package that I am very excited about! There are only a few days left, so please help us beat last year’s amazing total.

Blueberry Muffins
Recipe adapted from Donna Hay
Makes 12

• 2 cups plain flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• ¾ cups caster sugar
• 1 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
• 2 eggs
• 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
• 1/3 cup vegetable oil
• 1 punnet fresh blueberries

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar.
3. Place the crème fraiche or sour cream, eggs, lemon zest and oil in a bowl and whisk well until smooth. Stir this mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Be careful not to overwork the mixture or it will not rise as successfully.
4. Add the blueberries and stir gently.
5. Spoon the mixture into a greased muffin tin. Bake for 12-20 minutes depending on the size of muffins.

Menu For Hope 4

How great is Menu for Hope! I am so happy to be involved, after watching from afar last year before I had actually started my own blog. It is so great to see so many people hop on board with fantastic prizes to raise money and awareness for such a fantastic cause, the UN World Food Program to end the fight against hunger.

The prize that I am offering is a completely personalised logo development package for your blog or business.

A logo says so much about you. It embodies your attitudes, values and style, and helps you stand out from the crowd. It should be recognisable, creative and unique. But a logo is just the beginning of a whole cohesive identity that can extend into business cards, websites, packaging, signage – whatever you need!

self promotion

So what does this mean? I will work closely with the winner to develop the logo that is right for you. I’ll ask you questions to get to know you better, and from there hit my trusty Powerbook Alice to design your logo.

For first time visitors to my blog, here’s a little bit about my design background. I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer when I was in Year 9 at high school. I got into my first choice of colleges, a place that solely teaches graphic design, but I was also accepted into three others. The last two years have been a wonderful rollercoaster of creativity. I have worked on book covers, magazines, packaging, CD design, posters, illustrations, identities and countless logos. You can check out some of my work on Flickr.

I’ll tell you a little secret. My rate for logo development is up to $500, and many professional designers would charge much more. This is your chance to grow your blog or business and support a great cause.

If you want to check out the prizes on offer throughout the Asia/Pacific region, visit Helen at Grab Your Fork

If you want to check out all of the prizes, visit Chez Pim

If you are interested in this prize, the code is AP19

Here’s what you should do:

1. Go to the donation page at http://www.firstgiving.com/menuforhope4
2. Make a donation: each US$10 will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. In the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form, please specify which prize or prizes you’d like, using the prize-code and detailing the number of tickets per prize you’d like to purchase. For example, a donation of US$50 can be 2 tickets for AP01 and 3 for AP02
3. For US donors, if your company has agreed to match your charity donation, please remember to tick the box and fill in the information so we may claim the corporate match.
4. Please make sure you tick the box to allow us to see your email address so we may contact you if you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.
5. Winners will be announced on Chez Pim in mid-January 2008.

Good luck, and please give generously!

Chunky Chicken and Vegetable Soup

chunky chicken soup

Let me say one thing of November, now that it’s over… Phew! In the temporary insanity of deadlines week at college and the twilight zone of freelance design work there wasn’t a lot of time for cooking. Even when I did manage to cook (tried and tested recipes mostly, and usually late at night), there was not a lot of time for photos, much less to sit down and write about the chocolate orange clafoutis, the rhubarb jalousie or the fifteen litres of pasta sauce that we made. Wouldn’t it be nice to pick up some extra time along with your groceries? I think it would live near the energy-saving light bulbs or more appropriately, in the aisle with the coffee.

I must say, it is odd sometimes to live in the other hemisphere. I’ve never seen snow and I’ve never tried eggnog, but you guys are making me crave cinnamon buns and warm scarves, and I don’t even like winter! It is summer here in Australia, there are cherries and blueberries in my fridge just waiting to be turned into something delicious, if they are not all gobbled up in the meantime.

The days are longer, but the weather has a surprising unpredictable-ness. Yesterday morning I was walking in North Sydney, finding myself smiling when a fellow pedestrian talked to me at the traffic lights about the trees we had found shade under. Just hours later I sat at the window watching the rain and hearing the thunder, but what I noticed most was the smell – absolute purity. I took great pleasure looking outside while chopping up vegetables, knowing that the soup I was making was the absolute perfect match to the weather we were having.

This is the chunkiest soup I’ve ever seen. It is more like a slightly ‘juicy’ risotto with pasta than an actual soup, which is great because each spoonful (I ate it with a fork actually) gives you different colours and textures. The slightly crunch of the celery is nicely offset against the perfectly cooked pasta. The hearty chunks of chicken team well with the slinky spinach. You know how I love versatility, so all of you Northern Hemispherers can throw in some butternut squash or potatoes for a comforting winter meal.

Chunky Chicken and Vegetable Soup
Adapted from October Australian Gourmet Traveller
Serves 6

• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 5 slices shortcut bacon, diced
• 1 onion, diced
• 2 carrots, diced
• 2 celery stalks, diced
• 3 chicken breasts, diced
• 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
• ½ cup white wine
• 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
• 3 cups chicken stock
• 1 – 1 ¼ cup small pasta such as risoni
• 1 large zucchini, diced
• 1 x 400g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
• 50g baby spinach leaves (optional)
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsely
• Finely grated parmesan and fresh crusty bread, to serve

1. Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat, add bacon and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally
2. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook until slightly softened.
3. Add chicken and garlic and continue to stir until chicken becomes opaque.
4. Add wine, tomato and stock, and season to taste with salt and cracked black pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add the pasta, zucchini and beans, stir to combine. Increase the heat again to medium high and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.
6. Remove from the heat and stir in parsley and spinach, if using.
7. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately with parmesan cheese, more cracked black pepper and bread.

Drawing Inspiration

apple pie cupcakes - custard

Re-invention is a theme often on my mind. As a graphic designer, I often find myself drawing inspiration from a huge variety of sources, from food to fashion, people to literature, nature to architecture and so many more, because design would be boring if people looked only to other design for inspiration! It is these individual interests and influences that create difference. Even at college when 30 of us have exactly the same project, everyone’s solution is unique.

This is also why I love the food blogging community. I’ll admit, I’ve been lurking watching from afar for a little while at different events. It is incredible to see what you all come up with, that one theme can inspire so many different ideas in people. The food blogging world has opened up my eyes to so many different culinary possibilities that I would never have thought of in a million years, each inspired by different cultures, interests and talents.

I am very happy though, that my first blog event is cupcake related, it seems oddly appropriate, as they are quite an obsession for me these days. The dish that I have chosen to reinvent is apple pie. As simple as it sounds, it has always been a favourite of mine, and its infallible popularity suggests plenty of others feel the same way. It is also something that I’ve personally never seen done in cupcake form before.

I started with a cinnamon cake base, filled with a home made applesauce and topped with a custard cream. I really liked the way the flavours and textures came together here. The only thing I would have liked better is a stronger cinnamon flavour in the cake, or even in the applesauce.

I know there looks like a scary amount of steps here, but much of this recipe can actually be done in advance. The sweet pastry can be refrigerated or frozen (see note), and the applesauce and custard cream can both be stored in air-tight containers in the fridge for 2-3 days. The cupcakes taste best when served on the day, but one day (unfilled) in an air-tight container won’t be a problem.

Thanks to Cheryl and Garrett for hosting such a great event!

Apple Pie Cupcakes
Makes 12

Sweet Pastry
• 2 cups plain flour
• ½ cup almond meal (optional, to make it almond shortcrust)
• 1 tablespoons caster sugar
• 150g cold butter, chopped
• 2-3 tablespoons cold water

1. In a food processor or stand mixer with a dough hook, combine butter, sugar, flour and almond meal (if using) until it becomes a crumbly mixture that resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Add water as needed, until a smooth dough forms and comes away from the sides of the bowl.
3. Roll 12 small balls of dough, of about 1.5-2cm diameter. Place them on a baking sheet covered with non-stick baking paper, about 5cm apart. Place another sheet of baking paper on top and press each down until it is about 0.5cm apart.
4. Roll the rest of the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze it until needed.
5. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
6. Peel off the top layer of baking paper and make holes in each pastry piece with a fork. Place in a preheated (180°C) oven the oven for 10 minutes until they are slightly golden.
Note: I wouldn’t recommend making the pastry crust just for these cupcakes. If you have some leftover sweet dough from another recipe, or have other plans for a pie or tart, then go for it, but these cupcakes are truly just as good without the pastry as with. Sweet dough can be refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen for a couple of months.

Cinnamon Cupcakes
• 115g butter
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 ¼ cup flour, sifted
• ¾ teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ½ cup milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a standard muffin tray with paper liners.
2. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer
3. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each addition
4. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon
5. Combine milk and vanilla
6. Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter mixture alternately, starting and finishing with flour
7. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool in tray for 5 minutes then move to a wire rack.

Apple Sauce
Makes enough to fill 12 cupcakes, and probably a small apple pie or two
• 2 medium apples (I used Pink Lady), peeled, cored and cut into 1.5cm cubes
• 4 tablespoons water or apple juice
• 4 tablespoons sugar
• ½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place apple pieces in a small saucepan with the water/juice and cook over a low heat, stirring often until apples are very soft.
2. Stir in half of the sugar until dissolved and then add the other half and the cinnamon.
3. Place in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Vanilla Custard Cream
• 1 cup milk
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 egg yolks
• ¼ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons plain flour
• 1 tablespoon custard powder

1. With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale. Add the flour and custard powder and mix well.
2. Place milk and vanilla extract in a small saucepan and heat until milk is just boiling.
3. Pour the milk into the egg mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
4. Return mixture to the pot over a low heat and whisk continuously until mixture is starting to thicken. At this point it depends if you want a runny custard or a thick “pipe-able” custard, but remember that it will thicken slightly as it cools.
5. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl sitting in a dish of iced water. When cool, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until needed.

Assembly
1. Make pastry, if using
2. Prepare cupcake batter
3. Place 1 tablespoon of the batter in each of the cupcake liners. Add a pastry disc to each, and add more batter so that they are about three quarters full, and bake.
4. Prepare apple sauce while cupcakes are cooling
5. When cool, use a small sharp knife to cut a cone from each cupcake. (See this post at Cupcake Bakeshop for detailed instructions) Cut off the bottom and set the lid aside. Place 1 teaspoon of the applesauce in each cupcake, then replace the lid. Store in an air-tight container.
6. Make the custard cream.
7. Just before serving, remove paper cupcake liners.
8. Warm cupcakes in the microwave, and either pipe thick custard on top of each cake, or spoon runny custard so it dribbles deliciously down the sides.