Dark Chocolate Pistachio Torte

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If you follow me on Instagram you’d probably already be party to my big news of the month. Three weeks ago, Aaron and I adopted a tiny chocolate brown poodle x mini pinscher puppy (a ‘pinny poo‘) with golden eyes and a wispy grandpa beard.

Subsequently, our night life has transitioned from drinks with friends to pee puddles, gushing swoons (when he frets in his sleep, so cute) and copious amounts of mashed sweet potato (not entirely new, but this time with minced chicken and puppy biscuits). It’s been a beautiful learning experience, for both teeny pup and his proud new parents.

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If you’re wondering what his name is, that admittedly took a day or two (I’m predicting a week of baby-without-a-name when Aaron and I make a human). We finally settled on Loki, more for its cuteness than mythology or semantics. It seems to suit him.

Names aside – I’ve come to a few realizations about pet ownership over the past three weeks. First and foremost, it’s much harder to cook with a puppy sitting on your feet. Secondly, it’s impossible to type when a puppy is gnawing on your keyboard; stern words and distraction techniques are required.

Thirdly? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Anyway, chocolate brown puppies aside, let’s get back to the real purpose of this post. CAKE. Or rather, a recipe for dark chocolate and pistachio torte.

This dark, rich slab of heaven was baked as a birthday gift for a very special work friend of mine, Belinda. Despite many challenges of her own, this amazing woman has been a steadfast source of encouragement, support and grace throughout the past two years. I’m grateful that life brought us together.

Thanks Bels, for all you are and all you do.

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Strangely enough, I wrote notes whilst baking this cake (a scattered occurrence, to say the least). And just as well, as I’ve been asked for the recipe at least five times since the cake was baked.

So, a few nights ago I gathered my crumpled notes and typed out a semblance of a recipe. It’s dead easy, inspired by Nigella Lawson’s chocolate and pistachio fudge and a similar recipe of hers which I believe was published in her cookbook, How to be a Domestic Goddess (which I do not own, so admittedly the reference is vague).

This cake is deeply chocolatey, complex and densely moist. Ground pistachios add both texture and flavour to the cake batter, whilst orange blossom and dusky rose provide sweet fragrance to the rich, shiny ganache.

I hope you love it as much as we did.

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Dark Chocolate Pistachio Torte

Makes one 23cm round cake

  • 150g dark (at least 60% cocoa) chocolate
  • 150g raw caster sugar
  • 150g shelled pistachio nuts
  • 150g soft unsalted butter
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Grease and line a 23cm round springform cake tin, then set aside.

Place the pistachio nuts and caster sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture reaches a fine meal.

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Melt together the butter and chocolate over a double boiler. When thick and glossy, remove from the heat and add to the processed nut mixture with a pinch of sea salt. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time, ensuring they’re fully combined. Set aside.

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In a separate clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they reach firm peaks. Add a large spoonful of egg white to the chocolate mixture and vigorously fold in (you need to chocolate mixture to loosen).

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Add the loosened cake batter to the rest of the egg whites and fold in gently but firmly until no large patches of egg white remain. Pour the cake batter into your prepared tin.

Transfer into the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until risen and firm when touched in the centre.

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Allow the cake to cool in the tin, then refrigerate for at least one hour before icing with ganache (recipe below).

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Orange Blossom Ganache

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 150ml thick cream
  • 1/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • optional: 1-2 tbsp roasted, crushed pistachio nuts + 5-6 dried organic (unsprayed) rosebuds, crushed.

Melt the chocolate and cream together over a double boiler until smooth. Remove from the heat and add in the splash of orange blossom water. Keep mixing until the mixture is thick and glossy.

Cool slightly then pour or spread over your cooled cake. Use a palette or butter knife to smooth out any extra-thick patches.

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Sprinkle the edge of your cake with the pistachio and rose mixture, if using.

sidecu*Another big thanks to our dear friends Shawn and Erin for providing us with fresh, home-laid eggs from your chicken coop over the past few weeks. Seriously blessed <3

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Cranberry and Orange Glazed Ham

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Despite his many (many, many) redeeming qualities, Aaron’s not really the textbook romantic. Flowers, moonlight walks, date nights and the like… well, they’re not his thing.

I get that – I’m just building a picture here, not complaining about absent romanticism. Not everyone finds authenticity in bunches of long-stemmed roses or shiny pieces of jewellery; there are other ways to demonstrate love. But with that in mind, you can understand how excited I get on the odd occasion when he does make an effort to appease his soppy wife. Like a picnic he planned in the second year of our marriage.

A Valentine’s Day picnic nonetheless.

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It was a balmy February afternoon. I had just returned home from work, quietly exhausted with little expectation of intrigue. I was greeted with a mischievous smile and the smell of fresh-baked bread from a wicker picnic basket. We drove to the beach, lay on the grass and ate cured meats, strawberries and cultured butter. As the night grew cold, we wrapped ourselves in fuzzy wool and sipped red wine with icy fingers.

I remember every detail from that night, from pebbles under my feet to the music playing in our car on the way home (Bon Iver, if you’re wondering). I also remember the scent of the skip bin as I climbed in to retrieve our best cutlery (accidentally thrown out as Aaron cleaned up. Ah, bless him).

Now, I’m not just spinning sweet allegory on a Sunday morning whilst teasing you with baked ham. Aaron bought most items for our Valentine’s Day picnic from The Boatshed market in Cottesloe (I’m obsessed with that place). Beneath a happy tumble of sourdough, French butter and Gorgonzola (he knows me well) was a jar of vibrant green pesto. The best jarred pesto I’ve ever tasted, in fact. In the moonlight I took very little notice of the label itself but after returning home (and climbing out of the skip bin) I made a mental note that has since remained.

Roza’s 100% natural, gluten-free Traditional Pesto, fresh-made in Brisbane. I’ve been buying it ever since.

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My infatuation with the traditional pesto led to staunch enthusiasm when I was approached to try a few other items from the Roza’s Gourmet Sauces range this week. In particular, a seasonal Cranberry & Orange Sauce with brandy-marinated orange rind.

After popping the lid, I can honestly vouch that this stuff is good. I’d eat it straight from the jar, smeared onto dark rye with a chunk of double brie. But as it’s one week shy of Christmas, I thought it’d be an opportune time to experiment with a seasonal favourite – glazed ham.

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So, yesterday morning. I woke with fragrant dreams of sticky cured pork, sizzling scored fat with a caramelised cranberry glaze. After eating some breakfast, I removed the pork rind, ran a knife through the fat and pricked each diamond with a scented clove.

Now for the good part: I smothered the scored fat with a thick layer of cranberry, orange and balsamic glaze. The end result was better than I could have ever imagined; deliciously moist, sweet meat with crunchy bits of caramelised cranberry, dark vinegar and bitter orange. I was stealing bits straight from the roasting tray.

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This recipe will definitely be a keeper in our family for years to come, but if you’re pressed for ingredients? I’d be happy for you to just douse your ham with the jar of Cranberry & Orange Sauce (obviously, you still need to prepare the meat before hand – sorry folks – and add half of the sauce before putting the meat in the oven and the rest half-way through the cooking time). The brandy-marinated orange rind and sweet, whole cranberries are already beautifully balanced.

A perfect addition to your Christmas table (and mine).

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Cranberry and Orange Glazed Ham

Serves 8 – 10

You will need a large baking tray with a rack for this recipe.

  • 6kg cooked leg ham
  • 1 x 240g jar Roza’s Cranberry & Orange Sauce
  • 1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
  • finely grated rind of 1 orange (about 1 tbsp)
  • large handful of cloves

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (160 degrees fan forced, 350 degrees f). Place the ham on a sturdy cutting board. Use a small, sharp knife to carefully cut through the ham rind about 8cm from the shank.

Run your thumb under the rind to separate it from the thick layer of fat. Carefully peel it back, making small cuts with the knife if the rind sticks too tightly. Peel back and remove the rind, then discard.

Score the fat in a shallow diamond pattern (don’t cut all the way down to the meat or the fat will melt and spread out during cooking). Press one clove into the centre of each diamond.

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Cover the shank end of the ham with foil to prevent burning.

Combine the Roza’s Cranberry & Orange sauce, balsamic vinegar and orange rind in a medium microwave safe bowl. Heat for 20-30 seconds, stirring regularly, or until thinned (squash any large whole cranberries with the back of a spoon).

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Place the ham over the wire rack, then spoon half the cranberry sauce mixture over the ham, using a pastry or basting brush to ensure even distribution.

Bake for 30 minutes, then use a spoon and pastry brush to baste the meat with the remaining cranberry sauce mixture (make sure you get the glaze into any cracks that have opened in the scored fat). Cook for another 20 – 30 minutes or until the fat is sizzling and the glaze looks caramelised.

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Serve warm or cold, thickly sliced with salad and buttered bread. Or, as I’ll be doing this year – as a beautiful part of a Christmas banquet.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a sample of Roza’s Gourmet Sauces Cranberry & Orange Sauce for the purpose of recipe testing. However, I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.

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Amaretto and Dark Chocolate Shortbread – TSP Christmas Cookie Week

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It’s hard to believe it’s the final month of 2014. This year has flown by in a tumble of seasons and emotions, the most significant of which were two summers and two autumns (the product of a four month trip to the Northern Hemisphere, which I’ve written about in a series beginning here).

This month marks the beginning of our second summer – hot, dry and sun drenched, trademarks of an Australian December. As I write, a soft breeze drifts through the window; eucalyptus-scented and warmed by the afternoon sun.

It’s less than three weeks til Christmas. Three weeks until glasses will clink, presents will be opened and carols will be sung around gilded trees. As per usual, I’m a little behind in terms of organizing small stuff like presents, cards and, uh, turkeys, that kind of thing.

But at least I’ve baked cookies.

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Now that I’ve confessed my chronic Christmas disorganization, let me introduce you to someone who’s the polar opposite. Despite planning for the (exciting!) arrival of her very first child, my beautiful friend Erin at The Speckled Palate is again hosting a massive Christmas Cookie Week for 2014!

If you’re a long-term reader of this blog you may remember that I scraped into the last day of Christmas Cookie Week 2013 by the skin of my teeth (or rather, by furiously typing into the wee hours – read the post here). I’m pleased to say that this year’s been a little bit different. I’ve baked, jotted and photographed in time for the kick-off!

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As for the recipe? Well, after a recent trip to Scotland I couldn’t help but think of shortbread as the classic Christmas cookie. For something extra special, I’ve embellished the traditional version with almond meal, Amaretto liqueur and a drizzle of bitter dark chocolate.

The Speckled Palate‘s Christmas Cookie Week will run from Sunday, December 7th to Saturday, December 13th 2014. If you’d like to participate, you can find more details right here.

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Amaretto and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

Makes 18 cookies

  • 125g butter, at room temperature
  • 60g pure icing sugar, sifted
  • 60g almond meal
  • 115g (3/4 cup) plain flour
  • 2 tsp Amaretto liqueur
  • 50g dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa content), melted

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter, Amaretto and sugar together until pale and creamy.

butterAdd in the almond meal and flour, then stir to combine (the mixture should be cohesive but not sticky).

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Roll tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls, then place onto your lined trays (allow room for spreading). Press down gently with a fork until the cookies are about 1.5cm thick.

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Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes or until golden.

Remove from the oven and leave for five minutes (the cookies will be soft when you first remove them from the oven) before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

When your cookies are completely cooled, drizzle with the melted chocolate (I just used a fork dipped in chocolate in a back-and-forth motion, however you can use a small snap-lock bag with the corner snipped off if you prefer).

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When set, store in an airtight container for up to one week.

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Thanks Erin for coordinating another beautiful Christmas Cookie Week for 2014! Now, onto my Christmas shopping…

Asparagus and Cheese Tarts

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It’s Monday night, blackened quiet, a few hours away from the pale dawn of Tuesday. I’m sitting on the couch, right hand nursing a glass of wine as my left taps on plastic keys.

The wine seemed like a good idea three hours ago because… well, I like wine. But as sleep envelops my senses, I’m starting to regret the decision. This blog has been long-neglected since I returned from Europe, buried under work and fatigue. So, as I’ve found a quiet evening, I’m determined to pump out a post before my brain retires. Hear that, red wine? Good.

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A few nights ago, Aaron and I picnicked at King’s Park with two of our very best friends. As night slowly swallowed the blush of day, we spread blankets upon dewy grass and ate smooth cultured butter upon chewy sourdough.

Glasses were clinked and stories were swapped beneath plaid woollen blankets. Our feet grew cold and our hearts warmed as we feasted on fresh mango, olive and zucchini salad, beef meatballs with nectarine chutney, soft cheese, asparagus tarts and cured salami.

Oh, it was good.

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By late evening, we were laughing into empty plates as brown ducks battled over the leftovers. My half-eaten asparagus tarts (the product of a glut of new-season asparagus at the market) were swiftly packed away from prying beaks and feet.

By 10:00pm, the canopy of cloud started weeping on the darkened landscape. We shuffled towards the car, lugging baskets, lanterns and blankets, packing them away before officially calling the night’s end.

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These asparagus and cheese tarts are still a bit of work in progress. The first taste-testers proclaimed them to be a ‘cross between sweet and savoury’ due to the creamy mascarpone and lemon zest.

Despite liking the original tarts, I’ve amped up the flavour in the recipe below with extra cheese and peppery Dijon mustard. The finished product is a shallow, pale-golden savoury tart with streaks of crunchy asparagus, fragrant lemon zest, salty cheese and soft egg custard. The crisp cheese pastry adds both flavour and transportability. Chipotle sauce is optional (unless you’re, me, of course).

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These little tarts are begging to be brought to your next barbecue or family gathering. Their cheesy asparagus flavour is perfect for what’s left of the Australian Spring asparagus season*.

Get amongst it.

*Northern Hemisphere friends, don’t let winter stop you. Thin batons of raw zucchini, halved cherry tomatoes or bits of finely diced broccoli would be a perfect substitute for asparagus during the off-season.

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Asparagus and Cheese Tarts

Makes eight 12cm diameter x 2cm height tarts

Pastry:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 40g wholemeal spelt flour (or just add another 40g plain flour)
  • 85g butter
  • 85g cheese (mixture of cheddar and Parmesan)

Filling:

  • 6 free-range eggs
  • 100g cheese (cheddar and/or Parmesan)
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp freshly grated lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
  • 2 bunches (400g) fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and halved (do NOT use canned asparagus. Substitute raw zucchini batons or halved cherry tomatoes if desired)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 50g blue cheese, crumbled (such as Roquefort or Stilton, optional)

For the pastry: Butter eight loose-bottomed tart tins, place onto a sturdy oven tray and set aside in a cool place (put them in the refrigerator if your apartment or house is hot). Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter to the flour and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add in the grated cheese and mix. Add 3 tbsp cold water and mix until the pastry forms a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill for 5 minutes whilst you prepare your filling.

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When pastry is sufficiently chilled, roll it into a log and cut it into eight even portions.

pastrycutPress one portion into a rough circle and flatten using the ball of your hand. Carefully lay it into a buttered tart case. Press to fit with your fingers (don’t worry if the pastry seems very thin, it’s supposed to be like that). Line each case with baking paper and baking beads. Blind bake at 180 degrees C (360 degrees f) for 10 minutes or until light golden.

For the filling: whilst the cases are blind baking, combine eggs, herbs, cheese, lemon zest, salt and pepper, Dijon mustard and mascarpone into a large bowl. Whisk together well.

Wash, trim and halve your asparagus spears. After removing the tart cases from oven, gently distribute the egg mix between the cases, then top with sliced asparagus, salt and pepper. Dot with crumbled blue cheese (optional).

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Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until egg mix is set (do not allow to brown). Enjoy warm or cold with chutney, bread and/or some dressed rocket leaves.

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Cacao Overnight Oats + Australian Sun

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It’s been just over a week since Aaron and I returned to the city of endless sunshine and eucalyptus trees. Despite initial apprehension, the Australian weather has been treating us kindly, with temperatures largely under 30 degrees C (86 degrees f).

Despite this fact, I’ve been struggling with the brightness and heat after four months of increasingly grey skies and chilly mornings. On the day that Aaron and I left London, we wore woollen hats and kicked autumn leaves whilst drinking hot mulled wine from paper cups.

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Today I’m dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, with bare feet and a scraggly ponytail. A glass of iced water sits on the coffee table in a dripping pool of condensation.

But it’s not all bad. Despite initial fatigue, jetlag and lack of internet (we are still awaiting a home broadband connection) we’ve spent many hours catching up on lost time with beautiful family and friends (and their adorable new puppies, eep! Say hi to Mooch below). I’ve rediscovered my balcony garden, planting rainbow chard, dark Tuscan kale and a glut of organic tomato seedlings.

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Cooler afternoons have been spent in our tiny, cramped but altogether beautiful kitchen kneading spelt pizza dough and making fragrant tomato passata. I’ve pounded basil for pesto and picked mulberries from a nearby churchyard (with permission, of course) for baked goods and fresh chia jam.

It’s been idyllic, really. All the things I’ve missed wrapped into a warm, fuzzy ball of eight days. I’d be happy for it to last forever but (understandably) four months of travelling has made a significant dent in our bank account. Cue our return to full-time work (with 6:00 am wake-ups, a million emails and 20 minute lunch breaks for me) next week. Sigh.

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In preparation for our return to routine, I’ve been dabbling in healthy pre-prepared breakfasts, lunches and snacks over the past week. Transportable, nutritious deliciousness that can be shoved into an airtight container and snatched from the fridge as we rush out the door. First on the list were a million things in jars ranging from creamy nut butters to pesto, chia pudding and sauerkraut (from this recipe by my friend Graz) followed by healthy fruit slices and wrapped nut-and-seed bars.

In terms of breakfasts, I’m a big fan of homemade granola (I’m a sucker for this Christmas-y recipe from lovely Kate) but after reading this recipe from my beautiful dietitian friend Heidi, well… I had to make a batch. Before heading to bed last night, I folded the ingredients together, popped the bowl in the refrigerator and (as always) went to sleep with happy thoughts of breakfast.

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This morning, I awoke to a bowl of creamy, chocolatey overnight oats. Aaron and I topped our servings with tart raspberries, strawberries, toasted sunflower seeds, crunchy dried mulberries and plenty of sliced banana (Aaron doused his in extra milk because, well, that’s what he does) before happily tucking in. We’ve now decided to make one double batch per week (to be scooped into bowls or packed into transportable boxes) for health, deliciousness and convenience. It’s the perfect transportable breakfast for an active day.

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Now, in terms of the recipe – I’m not going to include it here as I don’t want to deprive you of a visit to Heidi’s beautiful blog, Apples Under My Bed. It’s one of my personal favourites, both for wholefood recipes and heartfelt, honest stories (the hashtag #wishwewereneighbours perfectly applies).

Heidi states in her recipe that the maca powder is an optional extra, however I was happy to include a large spoonful towards both mood and hormone regulation (post travel and cessation of, uh, certain medication). I’m still debating whether the investment is worth it, so if any of you have experienced any personal benefits (or detriments) from consuming maca, I’d appreciate your advice.

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As I finish this post, it’s just past six in the evening. The soft remants of daylight are slowly melting into an inky, cloud-streaked dusk. Aaron is sketching next to me, tiny templates of figures for a commissioned project. Light falls upon his face and as always, my heart melts.

We’ll soon be eating garlicky greens with smashed avocado, poached eggs, goats cheese and this seeded sourdough from Wild Bakery for dinner. I relish the simple things in life. Like oats for breakfast and home grown vegetables.

And the wet noses of puppies. Yep, I just went full circle.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Tart + Heading Home

header I’m decluttering today. Decluttering my mind, aided by steaming earl grey with a dollop of runny honey. In a Rolling Stones cup, no less, because… well, that’s what the English do.

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It’s another grey autumn day. Rain hits lightly on glass as I glance at the cluttered back streets of Chertsey, Surrey. Cars shift absently as their owners go about daily business, it’s Wednesday after all; not that that makes much difference to this Aussie girl pounding Digestives on her uncle’s kitchen counter.

It’s somewhat therapeutic to crush round wheatmeal biscuits. I’d say it’s the repetitiveness combined with a defined crunch as each morsel disappears under my rolling pin. There are definitely benefits to not having a food processor; I can hear hazelnuts sizzling as the oven heat toasts them to perfect golden brown.

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I’m making a chocolate tart for dessert tonight. Thick, rich chocolate cream encased in a crunchy hazelnut shell, wholly in gratitude to my Uncle for letting us stay at his home for almost a week. It’s the second time we’ve dropped by, the first being upon our arrival in old Blighty some five weeks ago. We’ve since travelled from London to Devon to almost-Cornwall to Bristol and Bath, Newport to Cardiff to Swansea to… well, you get the point.

We’ve been all over Great Britain in a massive road trip, some highlights of which include stops in the Scottish highlands, the North York Moors and Oxfordshire. Aaron and I also spent an all-too-short day getting stick in blackberry brambles with Trixie from Almonds are Mercurial (and her lovely Yorkie, Clemmie). I miss them already.

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kilchurnlaurahill sheeeep

After almost four months, Aaron and I are now immersed in the very last chapter of our journey. Time with family in Chertsey before a few days in London (essential: eating this at the London Borough Market; Sam your feed is blissful torture), catch-ups with friends and relatives and then… homeward bound.

In just over one week, we’ll be back on Australian soil, breathing salty ocean air and eating toast smothered in butter and Vegemite. We’ll also be baking in temperatures nearing 30 degrees C (just take a look at this forecast) which will be a shock after weeks of frigid temperatures and necessary wooly hats.

But regardless, I can’t wait. I’m going home.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

Serves 8

Base:

  • 200g (approx) digestive (or other wheatmeal) biscuits, crushed
  • 50g hazelnuts, toasted and roughly crushed (some chunks are a good thing)
  • 65g butter (doesn’t really matter if it’s unsalted or salted), softened
Filling:
  • 150g good quality dark chocolate (at least 50% cocoa solids), chopped
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 325ml single cream (thickened if you can find it)
  • 1/4 tsp gelatine powder, dissolved in a splash of hot water

Combine biscuit crumbs, crushed hazelnuts and softened butter in a medium bowl.

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Use your hands to mix well, ensuring that butter is evenly distributed. Press mixture over the base and sides of a loose-based rectangular fluted pan (about 35cm x 12cm, 3cm deep). Ensure that the crumbs are firmly packed (use the back of a spoon or a small glass to press down if required).

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Refrigerate whilst you prepare the filling.

Place chocolate and half of the cream into a glass or metal bowl over a boiling saucepan of water (ensure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Stir constantly for 3-4 minutes or until smooth.

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Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly (10-15 minutes). Using an electric mixer, combine chocolate mixture with the remaining cream. Beat until thickened, then add in the dissolved gelatine. Beat until thoroughly combined. Gently pour the filling in an even layer into the refrigerated tart case.

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Carefully transfer into your refrigerator (don’t worry about covering it at this stage). Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.

Remove from fluted tin. Using a heated knife, carefully cut into 8 slices to serve. Dust with cocoa if desired. The rich, smooth chocolate filling combines beautifully with a dollop of crème fraîche and some plump, tart raspberries.

secondend endI’m going to end with just a few more pictures of the stunning British landscape; rolling hills, pea soup fog, waterbirds and bunting in the breeze.

Australian friends and family, see you very soon.

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La Bella Italia

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It’s late on Tuesday afternoon in suburban Glasgow. I’m sitting in bed, swathed in a polka dot bedspread whilst a sniffling Aaron quietly reads. He’s recently contracted his fourth virus since we disembarked our first flight at Charles de Gaulle, Paris. As I had it last week, I feel wholly responsible (despite division of cutlery, plates, cups and general breathing space, the hated thing still spread. Argh. Don’t you hate that?!).

So, in light of coughs, colds and bone-weariness, we jointly decided that today would be our rest day. Perfect for quiet reading, watching videos, photo editing and general blog-time with some decent wifi. As I type, I’m eating a punnet of sticky, luscious figs that cost me (wait for it) £1 for four (AU$1.80). Food is such ridiculously good value over here in Scotland. I’m already preparing myself for a shock when we return to Australian prices (insert sad face here).

Anyway, in light of this afternoon’s productivity, I’ve finally got enough photographs together share some of our Italian adventure with you all (I say some as… well, I’m guessing that you don’t want to see six hundred photographs of Italian cobbled streets. And even if you do, it might just surpass your monthly internet download allowance). We started our trip in the northeastern city of Venice before taking the train to the stunning capital of the Tuscany region, Florence. From there, we rented a cherry red Fiat 500 (classic Italian style) to explore the historical vine-covered landscape including Arezzo, Siena, Chianti and the fortress-town of Monteriggioni.

The final leg of our Italian adventure was an ItaliaRail journey from Florence to the Roman capital. Despite the impressive architecture, history and artwork, it was ridiculously hot, humid and overwhelmed with crowds. As a couple of native Italians have advised, don’t go to Rome in August. Just don’t (but… well, we did. And it was still beautiful, despite the drawbacks).

As per Five Days in Paris, this Italian post is more of a photo diary than a comprehensive travel guide. To be honest, it’s really difficult to find inexpensive, beautiful food in Italy (well, it was for me anyway, despite comprehensive research) and restaurants or cafes that you locate on the internet can take hours to discover on foot (due to poor or absent signage, winding roads and reluctance of some businesses to attract tourists). I’ve added a few notes where I can, but regardless, I hope that you enjoy this mini tour of Italy through our eyes.

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Venice

One of the most beautiful, almost-surreal places I’ve ever been to. How this city-on-the-water has survived for hundreds of years is quite remarkable. We stayed at a hostel called Ai Boteri which was value for money whilst still being clean, spacious and very convenient for most central attractions. There’s an unexpected city tax (which from memory was €2 per person per night) but it’s unavoidable when staying in Italian cities (Florence and Rome were the same).

One thing about Venice: there are mosquitoes EVERYWHERE during the Summertime. They attack you as you sleep (or don’t sleep, in our case. I had about 40 mosquito bites from the first night). Bring heaps of mosquito repellent or, even better, a mosquito net.

We also skipped on the classic Venetian gondola ride due to an 80-100 price tag (and lack of romanticism) though admittedly, the skilled gondoliers are quite impressive. We sat at the edge of the canal and watched them for about half an hour and, despite restricted amounts of space, shallow areas and boat congestion, there were no collisions. Very cool (just like me whilst selecting stone fruit. Ah, yep).

marketloveriverhouse

We also managed to find an amazing tucked-away bar (it had no signage so I have no idea what the name was) that served 6 mojitos every night of the week. Needless to say, we were happy to provide regular patronage, despite the tiny interior necessitating that we sit on the sidewalk. I’d definitely recommend getting ‘lost in Venice’ as there are so many tiny, beautiful venues (with cheap booze and delicious cicchetti, Italian bar snacks) outside of the main tourist areas.

mojitosign nikesDisclaimer: I take no responsibility if you thereafter fail to negotiate the Venetian maze of streets back to your accommodation. Your happy, cheap-ass mojito-drinking self won’t care. You’ll just do a ‘weird dance’ (as Aaron calls it) like me. I’m quite impressed that I was standing in one leg (I’m sure that you will be too Graz!). Oh, and mum, that wasn’t my cigarette butt.mojitoweirddance

Florence

In terms of the trio of Italian cities that we visited, Florence was definitely my favourite. The Renaissance architecture, great wine (gluts of Chianti Classico from the nearby wine region), gelato (La Carraia was our absolute favourite) and public art were present in abundance. The city was also big enough to thankfully diffuse the clusters of iPad tourists (I mean, seriously people! You’re seeing your holiday on a screen!).

We stayed at a B&B called Redenza Martin which was spacious, clean and centrally located. The lovely couple who run the accommodation were also very approachable in terms of travel tips and recommendations (factor in city tax which was about €2-3 per person per night).

florenceviewA tip when staying in Florence: definitely buy fresh provisions from Mercato Centrale. There’s a beautiful daytime fresh food market downstairs (with everything from cured meats and vegetables to fresh pasta and spices) and some great ready-to-eat bites upstairs in the evenings. I’ve included a few snaps below:

meat pastamakersalami marketfruitbalsamico

In terms of eating out in Florence? Well, let’s just say that non-touristy places aren’t very consumer-friendly. I did a lot of research prior to arriving in the city and half of the venues we wanted to visit were closed (on normal trading days, with no signage advising of a reason for the closure or when the restaurant might be re-opening). So, in want of a better option, we ended up eating at some very touristy pizza and pasta spots. The food was still good, but menus were in English and the produce wasn’t as authentic as we may have liked.

One successful venture did lead us to Da Vinattieri, a tiny hole-in-the-wall sandwich (panini) shop specializing in fresh Tuscan bread and porchetta.

outside

Unfortunately, there was a lot of inconsistency between our sandwiches and the bread of my panino was dry and hard (between me, Aaron and our friend Paul, we couldn’t bite through it. I actually hurt a tooth). Paul’s was brilliant though, with thin crusty bread and thickly sliced, fresh-roasted porchetta.

sandwichshop It’s worth a visit but don’t let your hopes skyrocket from TripAdvisor reviews (like mine did, *sob*. Half of my sandwich ended up in the bin… but I do hope you have better luck).pannini

Tuscany

If you’re planning a trip to Tuscany, hire a car. Non-negotiable. Apparently there are buses than run sporadically around the area but with the amount of ground you want to cover, you’ll spend half of your time at bus stops.

We stayed at an amazing Tuscan villa in an Arezzo vineyard and olive grove owned by the Messina family (who were happy to produce some amazing samples of their extra virgin olive oil and delicious Chianti DOCG wine). We attempted to visit the cellar door during our days in Tuscany but… well, after a few bottles of wine we got lost on the winding roads. Tuscany does that to you (definitely visit if you can, the wine is beautiful).

Over a few blissful days, we travelled from Arezzo to Siena, stopping in Lucca and most of the Chianti wine region before dropping our rental car back in Florence.

tuscanhillside sky

The countryside, people, wine and cuisine are incredible throughout the Tuscan region. Simplicity is definitely central to food in Tuscany, and some of our favourite meals simply involved a quick visit to some local stores to pick up thickly-sliced porchetta, Florentine salami (gloriously fatty, rich and delicious), fresh ciabatta, marinated vegetables, olives and Italian cheese.

Paired with deep red Chianti wine and peppery local first-press extra virgin olive oil, we were in absolute foodie heaven.

tuscanydinner meatIf you’re interested in wine tasting, there are quite a few Chianti Classico tours that run throughout the Summer months. We preferred to be ‘free agents’ (definition: roaming around the countryside until we drove past a cellar door) but still managed to gain quite a lot of knowledge about different types of Tuscan wines and regional differences.

Personally, traditional Chianti (pure Sangiovese) was by far my favourite wine from the region; rich and dark with subtle tannins. In contrast, the increasingly popular ‘Super Tuscans’ (Sangiovese mixed with a ‘Bordeaux Blend’ of grapes or various quantities of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, occasionally Shiraz) were quite unpredictable from one vineyard to the next. Worth trying but not quite as ‘specific’ to region.

I also fell in love with the gloriously sweet, sticky and syrupy Vin Santo, a dessert wine often served with almond biscuits (cantucci, similar to biscotti) for dessert. The process of dipping, crunching and sipping is a gloriously light way to end a meal.

Tuscan life truly makes one understand the term ‘la dolce vita‘.

flowerpots

meatceilingOn a side note: perhaps of interest to some (Stefano, I’m thinking of you!) is the rising popularity of synthetic corks (alternative wine closure) in Italian wine production. I actually hadn’t come across one until we set foot in the Tuscan region and I’m undecided on whether I like them or not.

I understand that some technical merits exist but… what’s the fun in uncorking a piece of plastic from a quality bottle of wine? Hm.  rubbercorkP.S. In Tuscany, there seem to be untended tomato plants growing all over the place, on roadside verges, in fields and other random locations in the countryside (far from fixed dwellings; don’t worry I didn’t raid anyone’s garden). Some have rusted stakes, others just sprawl over the nearby ground.

I like to think that an elderly nonna planted them there, long ago before the roads were built. Now they belong to everyone…tomatoes

flowers

Rome

We ended our Italian adventure with two days in the Italian capital, Rome. Many photographs were taken (mostly of the Colosseum and other such things) but as aforementioned, the hot, sticky, touristy aspect of the city was rather overwhelming.

We ate pizzas in abundance whilst sipping on Peroni beer. We trekked to the Vatican City before deciding against spending four hours in a queue to enter the Sistine Chapel. The beauty, history and architecture of Rome is truly stunning but… well, Luigi, you were right. Don’t visit in August. You live and you learn.

rome pizzaSo that’s it. The end of another chapter of our massive European sojourn. I’m signing off from our now-darkened Glasgow bedroom before venturing to the kitchen for some leftover homemade chilli con carne (thank goodness for available kitchens, despite an absence of sharp knives).

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If you’d like to see more snaps of our visit to Italy (and the rest of our Eurotrip), click over to my Instagram account. Thanks, as always, for being interested in this Aussie girl, her food obsession and present wanderlust x

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce by Hip Foodie Mom6

It’s sunny in Scotland this morning. Bright, clear and gusty with soft puffs of variable cloud. Some distance away, sunlight reflects off the still waters of Loch Fyne. The glare casts a pleasant glow upon the ceiling of our attic room; the light dances upon weathered timber as my fingers tap on black plastic keys.

Despite the sun, it’s decidedly chilly today. After a full Scottish breakfast (sausage, beans, fried haggis, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding and a potato scone) both Aaron and I have re-wrapped ourselves in thick blankets whilst our warmest clothes wash in the hostel laundry. That suits me just fine. A couple of hours to rest, think, breathe and type… something that I haven’t done in quite a while. Travelling is beautiful but (as any traveller will tell you) the constant momentum eventually breeds fatigue. I presently feel like I could sleep for the large part of a week.

Anyway, enough about being tired. I’ve got a treat for you today, a delicious guest post written by another dear blogging friend of mine across the seas: the beautiful Alice from Hip Foodie Mom. I’ve been reading Alice’s blog for a long time now and I’ve always been impressed by her genuine kindness, creativity and interest in other blogger’s work (not to mention her drool-worthy food… Mexican Biscuit Casserole, anyone?!).

But in February of this year, I read this post about #FeedSouthAfrica and Alice’s honesty, faith and generosity of heart really spoke to my own values, social consciousness and belief in God. We connected up and… well, the rest is history. I am so grateful to have Alice as a friend and inspirational blogging sister. She inspires me every day.

So, without further ado: here’s Alice and her beautiful recipe for soft, pillowy, cheesy gnocchi (thanks Alice for contributing such a delicious recipe for readers of the Mess!).


Hello Laura’s Mess readers! I’m Alice from Hip Foodie Mom. I live in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m a wife, mother of two girls and love to cook. Hip Foodie Mom is a fresh food recipe blog. You’ll find a little bit of everything from meat dishes to Asian food to vegetarian and desserts… but one thing remains constant: my use of fresh, organic, quality ingredients.

While Laura is away on holiday, I have the great honor of sharing a recipe with you all. And before I get to the recipe, I have to say how much I love Laura and reading her beautiful blog. We have not met in person but I am always inspired by her writing and photography. She is a beautiful soul inside and out.

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi Dough

I don’t know what it is but there is something so relaxing and comforting about working with your hands and working on dough. I feel like an artist when I’m rolling dough for pasta, or pastry crust or pizza dough. Whatever it is, I love working with my hands and creating.

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi prep

We are moving into fall here in the Northern hemisphere. Fall is my absolute favorite season. I love the fall for many reasons but cooler weather, seeing the leaves change colors, pumpkins everywhere and hearty home cooked meals are my top four!

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce by Hip Foodie Mom2

Fall is when I dust off my slow cooker and bring out all of favorite comfort foods. Chili, stews, slow cooked beef and pork, casseroles and pasta.

If you’ve never made homemade pasta, gnocchi is a great one to start with. It doesn’t require a pasta making machine or attachment and it comes together fairly quickly. And even though my gnocchi isn’t the prettiest in the world, it tasted even more delicious knowing I made it myself. So the next time you are craving gnocchi and don’t mind getting your hands a little messy, I hope you try this. I’m definitely trying potato gnocchi (or some crispy gnocchi) for next time. I hope you enjoy!

And Laura, safe travels to you my friend and we can’t wait until you are back home and in your kitchen again. Cheers!!

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce by Hip Foodie Mom3

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce

by Alice Choi, Hip Foodie Mom

Serves 4

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi

Ingredients

For the gnocchi:

  • 2 cups zucchini, grated (skin left on)
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, start with ½ cup

For the brown butter sage:

  • 1 stick, 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, sliced
  • 1/3 cup fresh sage leaves
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper

To serve:

  • Roasted cherry tomatoes
  • Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese

Instructions

For the gnocchi:

Using a colander, mix together the grated zucchini and salt. Let it sit and drain for about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove and squeeze out as much liquid as possible, either using your hands or a cheesecloth.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the zucchini, ricotta, egg yolk and Parmesan cheese. Then, mix in enough flour to form a dough that is not too sticky to work with. Start with ½ cup of flour and keep adding a little at a time (only up to 1 cup total) until you have a nice workable dough.

Move the dough to a well-floured work surface and form dough into a ball. Roll the dough into 1-inch thick strings, and, using a pastry cutter, slice into 1-inch pieces. After you have all the pieces, feel free to also shape the gnocchi with your hands. You can then use the back of a fork to make lines on your gnocchi if desired.

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi

Bring a big pot of water to a boil, then, working with maybe 8-12 gnocchi at a time, gently drop the gnocchi into the water and cook until the gnocchi begins to float, remove from the water and repeat until all of your gnocchi is cooked.*

For the brown butter sage sauce:

Place the sliced butter into a skillet over medium-high heat and begin melting the butter, swirling the pan occasionally to help the butter cook evenly. Continue cooking the butter until it begins to brown, for about 4 minutes.

Once melted, the butter will foam up a bit. Add the fresh sage and continue to cook for a couple minutes more. You want the butter to be nicely browned and nutty but not burnt. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper and remove from the heat.

To serve:

Place some zucchini ricotta gnocchi onto a plate and top with the brown butter sage sauce. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, some roasted cherry tomatoes and the crispy sage (if desired). Serve immediately.

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi recipe adapted from Closet Cooking. *Check out this recipe to see Kevin’s tips and tricks!

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce by Hip Foodie Mom

Thanks again Alice! If you’re yet to do so, please click over and say hello to Alice via her blog Hip Foodie Mom, facebook, twitter and/or instagram!

Dark Chocolate and Orange Macarons

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

I can’t quite remember when I first discovered Milk & Cereal blog. It’s been at least one year, possibly two… but right from the start I became a dedicated follower. Besides creating gorgeous recipes, Ali is an inspiration in terms of generosity, humour, creativity and steadfast faith in God.

It’d be fair to say that we hit it off straight away, encouraging each other’s cooking exploits and even completing a foodie ‘care package swap’ between Western Australia and North Dakota in early 2014 (see a playlist Ali created for me here). I love her to bits and I feel blessed to be genuine friends (albeit those who are yet to meet!). It’s also huge fun to ‘do life’ with Ali and her husband Rob through Ali’s fun Instagram feed (yep, sometimes I love social media!).

Anyway, back to today’s post. Some months ago, when I mentioned that Aaron and I were embarking on a massive Europe trip, Ali was among those who generously offered to complete a guest recipe post. She casually threw in the word ‘macarons’ and I instantly became excited. Let’s just say that this thorough, easy-to-read macaron tutorial completely blew me away when it arrived in my inbox. Deliciously gooey, crisp-shelled, delicately ‘footed’ macaron perfection!

So without further ado, let me hand over to my dear friend Ali for THE macaron post you’ve been waiting for (I can’t wait to try her tips at home! Ah, I miss my kitchen!).


Salutations, dear readers of the Mess!

My name is Ali, and I’ve popped over from Milk & Cereal to bring you a recipe from a distant land. Well, I’m from a distant land (if you’re in Australia, that is, or really anywhere other than the U.S.), but I suppose this recipe originates in France or Italy.

Upon contemplating what kind of macarons to attempt for this post, I excitedly realized that autumn (i.e. Pumpkin season) is fast approaching in my neck of the woods. And don’t pumpkin macarons just sound like the best thing since the announcement of a Sharknado sequel?! Well, with that first realization came a second, more dreadful, realization: There’s no canned pumpkin in Aussieland. At least, not easily accessible to most. What a pity! Besides, you’re done with autumn Down Under anyway. So I threw that idea out the window (or rather, stored it on the shelf for the later use of we fortunate folk who have unlimited access to the “gourd-uous gold”).

As we Northerners enter into the cold and desolation of winter (Well, we’re technically entering into fall, but we likely won’t be graced with its presence for long before winter shows its face!), and you Southerners enter into the fresh rejuvenation of spring, I decided on a macaron recipe fitting for all seasons and any hemisphere: Dark Chocolate Orange. The slight piquancy of citrus is especially for those of you in or entering a season of warmth, and the chocolate is for anyone, because is there ever not a time for chocolate?

If any of you Aussies are just dying to experience this strange thing that is a North Dakota winter (as I’m sure you are), I invite you to come visit and experience it for yourself! Please note that by accepting this invitation, you agree to help shovel our driveway. You’ll love it; shoveling is a bundle of fun.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

If you can get your hands on some orange-flavored dark chocolate (like this tasty creation from Theo Chocolate), your ganache will be pleasantly enhanced. If not, have no fear! I assure you, your ganache will still stand up to the task regardless.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal Blog

Now, if you’ve never made macarons before and find them daunting (or have made them but have yet to get them to turn out properly), I’m here to help! Heaps of research and a few (or more) unsuccessful attempts brought me to eventual success. I’m not going to unload a bottomless pit of knowledge on you, but I will offer a few quick, key suggestions that helped me, and point you in the direction of the trusty sources from which I gathered information.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

Of all the factors and techniques to consider when making macarons, I found three to be the most important. First, measure your ingredients properly. You’ll see in the recipe below, I’ve listed the ingredients first in grams and second in customary units (I actually had to Google that just now to find out the name of the U.S. measurement system, which I’ve been using for 20 or so years.). So when I say to measure properly, I mean you should measure with a scale (and in grams) if at all possible. I ordered a little kitchen scale specifically for macarons (this one, which is fairly cheap and hasn’t given me trouble me yet, to be exact), and I’m glad I did! Macarons are touchy little minxes that require a great deal of precision; measuring properly with a scale will help eliminate your risk of failure.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

Second, mix/stir/whip your ingredients properly! If you watch Food Nouveau’s tutorial, you’ll get a visual of how the that all should look, but here’s the gist of it: Blend/process the dry ingredients minus granulated sugar, and then sift or run them through a sieve. Whip the egg whites, adding the granulated sugar gradually, until they reach stiff peaks. However, try not to whip them too much. Finally, fold the dry ingredients into the meringue (egg whites and sugar) carefully and in two or three separate additions. Now listen up, folks, ’cause here’s the most important note on the mixing: You’ve mixed enough when the batter passes the “ribbon test.” That means that when you lift up the spatula and let a ribbon of batter fall across the remaining batter in the bowl, said ribbon should sink in and disappear in 30 seconds. Try with all your might not to mix past this consistency! David Lebovitz offers a warning from Rob of Fauchon: “…the batter for perfect macarons needs to be folded just-so. One extra fold, and it’s all over. Not enough, and you won’t get that little foot.” But don’t let that scare you off. ;)

Third, bake your shells/biscuits properly. Sadly, this part is less straight-forward and may require a bit of trial and error, as all ovens and climates vary. Once you’ve got the correct temperature, tackle the baking time. I struggled with under-baking and kept ending up with macarons stuck to the parchment paper. I wasted copious batches this way! Macarons that are done should have a slight hollow sound when you tap the shell. They should have a thin crust if you crack the shell, but they should not be completely dry or crunchy. Most noticeably, they should also have feet! My first many batches barely had feet, probably as a result of over-mixing and under-baking.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons |  Milk & Cereal

I’m sorry; those few “quick” tips grew a little long-winded… If you made it all the way through, I do hope you found them helpful! To wrap up our class for the day, I give you the aforementioned trusty sources:

Food Nouveau has a fantastic (and concise) step-by-step recipe and video. Here’s a golden nugget of advice from her: “No recipe is universal, and the most important thing is to go slow. Try cautiously with your own instruments, ingredients and oven. You will have to try more than once before achieving perfection.” Don’t get yourself down if your first batch is a major flop!

Food Nouveau and Not So Humble Pie both have very extensive troubleshooting guides. You can even Google “macaron troubleshooting” to find yourself a nearly endless list of resources.

Lastly, the great David Lebovitz has a post on macaron instructions and recipes, and his post French Chocolate Macaron Recipe is loaded with his own insights of trials and errors.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

When I finally achieved a batch of macarons that appeared successful, I wasn’t even certain that they were, in fact, a success. To be honest, I’ve never eaten a bakery-made macaron, so I haven’t been able to compare mine to the “real thing.” Based on the photos I’d seen, I always imagined macarons being crunchy cookies. But according to my studies, the perfect macaron should have nicely-risen feet; a decent dome; a thin, crisp shell (with no hollow gap); and a soft, moist interior. So if that is true, I believe I have created a successful specimen. Would you agree? :D

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

Forgive me. I said I wasn’t going to unload a bottomless pit of knowledge on you, yet I nearly did so anyway. I imagine it’s about time to be getting on to the recipe!

Ganache Ingredients:
(This ganache recipe will make more than you need for the macarons, leaving extra for ice cream or eating by the spoonful, but feel free to halve it.)

  • 4 oz. (approx. 113 gr.) dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 c. (approx. 118 ml.) cream
  • 1/4 c. (approx. 32 gr.) powdered sugar (more or less, depending on how dark you like your chocolate)
  • 1/2 tsp. (approx. 5 ml.) vanilla extract
  • 4 drops orange essential oil

Biscuit/Cookie/Shell Ingredients:
(adapted from David Lebovitz)

  • 100 gr. (approx. 1 c.) powdered sugar
  • 50 gr. (approx. 1/2 c.) almond meal/flour
  • 30 gr. (approx. 3 1/2 Tbs.) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 egg whites, aged at room temperature*
  • 65 gr. (approx. 5 Tbs.) granulated sugar
  • 4-6 drops orange essential oil

* I have yet to determine how necessary it is to “age” the egg white for 6 hours, as some recipes say. Many experienced macaron-makers will tell you it is crucial, but a few others don’t seem to agree. The egg white in the macarons you see in these photos were left out over night, but I’ll leave that choice up to you! Planning ahead is hard sometimes, am I right?

Instructions:
(If you’re a first-timer to macarons, consider watching this short video tutorial. It’s incredibly helpful, but please bear in mind that the recipe in the video is not the same as the one in this post.)

  1. First, make the ganache. It takes longer to set up than it takes to make the macarons, so it can even be made the day before. Place the chocolate in a small bowl, then heat the cream to near boiling. I heat the cream in the microwave out of laziness, but the stovetop is fine. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate, and whisk until smooth. Then whisk in the powdered sugar, vanilla and orange oil. Refrigerate, covered, until set up and ready to use.
  2. Next preheat the oven to 300 F (or 150 C). As mentioned earlier, you may need to adjust this based on your oven and your climate. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Some prefer a Silpat to prevent spreading, but my macarons stuck to that.
  3. Measure out all your ingredients, then blend together the powdered sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder in a blender or food processor for a couple minutes until there are no lumps. Sift this mixture or run it through a sieve.
  4. Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, and preferably a stainless steel bowl, begin whipping the egg whites on medium high speed. Once the egg whites begin to rise and hold their shape, gradually beat in the granulated sugar. Whip until the meringue has stiff peaks, about two to three minutes.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the dry ingredients into the meringue in two or three separate batches. Fold until your batter passes the “ribbon test.” When you lift up the spatula and let a ribbon of batter fall across the batter in the bowl, the ribbon should sink in and disappear in 30 seconds. Really try to avoid mixing past this point!
  6. Fill a pastry bag with the batter, and pipe small circles (about 1 inch or 3 cm in diameter) onto the parchment paper, spaced 1 inch (3 cm) apart. Use a template if you need to. They should pipe out like slightly droopy Hershey kisses at first if you mixed to the proper consistency, but they will flatten in a moment. Rap the baking sheet on the counter top a few times to help them flatten and eliminate bubbles.
  7. This next step is optional: Let the piped macarons rest for 20 minutes to two hours before baking. David Lebovitz and Fauchon baker Rob both deem this step unnecessary. In my successful batches, those that rested while the first batch baked did rise a bit more, but the difference wasn’t enough for me to find the resting time necessary. You make the call.
  8. Finally, bake the macarons 14-18 minutes, until you hear a slight hollow sound when tapping the top, a thin shell and nice feet have formed, and before they become dry and crunchy. When I take them out of the oven, I gently lift up the parchment paper and mist the sheet with water, then set the parchment paper back down. The resultant steam helps the cookies to release more easily, but you may not find this necessary. Cool the shells completely before removing them.
  9. Pair up shells of matching size, slather on some ganache, and make a cookie sandwich! Flavors are best after the macarons sit for a day. Store in an airtight container for up to five days, or freeze. Recipe yields approximately 15 small macarons (assembled).

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

While my recent adventures are nowhere near as cool as Laura’s, I’ll leave you with a couple snippets just for the fun of it. :)

apple orchard

Rob and I didn’t really have any good and current photos of the two of us (aside from our three-year-old wedding photos), so we hired our highly talented friend to take our photos in a local apple orchard. It was great fun, and the photos are beautiful! Photo cred: Chantell Lauren Photography.

(That reminds me– I believe a “Happy Anniversary” to Laura and Aaron is in order! Or almost in order… Okay in a few months. But mark your calendars for November, people! Thanks Ali, you sweet thing… I cannot believe that you remembered our anniversary! Hugs!)

photo 1

Last weekend we went to Colorado to visit my mom. We all stayed at a neat old cabin in Breckenridge, and though the weather was cold and rainy much of the time, we did manage to get in a bit of hiking. Our bodies were missing the rich oxygen levels of North Dakota’s low altitude, but Rob and I sure do love the mountains! Unfortunately, our home state is flat as a pancake. :/ So we are most thankful for the opportunities we have to travel!

It’s been a pleasure being here at Laura’s Mess! Thanks for taking the time to peruse my ramblings. Now resume your regular scheduled programming. ;)

© Milk & Cereal. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or link back to this post for the recipe.

Big, Beautiful Berlin

kksunset2

It’s quite a daunting prospect to write a singular blog post on the rich, diverse food culture of Berlin. After staying in the city for almost two weeks, I still felt like I had only scratched the surface of what it means to be a ‘Berliner’, both in past and present sense.

As you may be aware, Berlin has a significant and dark history that was arguably punctuated by the construction and eventual dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The division between East and West Berlin has resulted in discernible differences across the city in terms of landscape, affluence, culture and population. As one could expect, this has also had impact upon the food.

adalbertstraße

As a newbie to this big, beautiful city, I was fortunate to have some help from a blogging friend to begin exploring some of the local hot spots including Neukölln, Mitte and Kreuzberg. The lovely Claudia from Food with a View spent one morning and one evening with Aaron and I (the second occasion with her partner Arne and our friend Paul) initially at Barcomi’s Deli and secondly at Prinzessinnengärten, an urban garden and café near Moritzplatz. Both experiences were beautiful opportunities to get to know one another whilst enjoying quality coffee, snacks and incredible homemade truffles from Claudia’s kitchen.

Claudia also gifted me with some stunning Amarena cherry and Amaretto liqueur preserve which I’m taking it home to Australia with me (thankfully Claudia has posted the recipe for when my jewel-like jar of deliciousness runs out!).

Thanks again Claudia for your generosity and kindness during our time in Berlin; it’s a blessing to count you as a true friend. If you haven’t yet discovered Food with a View, please head over to Claudia’s blog for beautiful photographs and drool-worthy vegetarian recipes in both Deutsch and English.

mebeer

Prior to arriving in Berlin, Claudia emailed me a comprehensive list of notes, links and tips that proved invaluable when trying to unearth the real foodie culture of Berlin. I’ve included some of the websites below, plus a few others that Aaron and I found useful (which I’d recommend browsing if you are planning your own Berlin trip in the future):

Berlin blogs (in English language or with an English option):

Exberliner

Where Berlin

Berlin Food Guide

CeeCee Berlin Newsletter

What Should I Eat for Breakfast Today – Eat Berlin

Now, on to my own personal notes: below you will find some of our favourite places for food and cuture, most of which were frequented more than once over our two weeks in Berlin. Please note, I’ve divided the notes by ‘geographical area’ (i.e. boroughs of Berlin) so that you can plan your future trip(s) accordingly.

Strap in and enjoy a ‘virtual visit’ to what has become one of my favourite cities in the world: big, beautiful Berlin.

A kindly warning before you start: this post is word and picture heavy. Sorry, we had about three million photographs and… well, I loved them all. **Note: associated pictures are BEFORE the name of each establishment.

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Neukölln

During our time in Berlin, Aaron and I continued to gravitate back to Neukölln despite visiting many other local destinations. The combination of grittiness, grunge and flourishing street art was a ‘perfect fit’ for our personalities. Neukölln has one of the highest percentages of immigrants in the city of Berlin and it shows in the vibrant food and street culture. Here are some of our favourite spots:

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Roamers Cafe and Booze – Pannierstraße 64 (near Hermanplatz station)

This lovely little café has a friendliness that was unmatched by many other destinations in Neukölln. It’s a great spot for good coffee, avocado toast (my favourite breakfast) and fresh juices (including melon and rosemary). They also serve booze which is, well, awesome, if you’re a bit like me. It’s an excuse to stay at this gem-of-a-place for hours on end.

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Berlin Burger International – Pannierstraße 5, open from 12pm to midnight

If you’re a fan of doorstopper burgers and beer, you will immediately fall in love with Berlin Burger International. This place is constantly busy for a very good reason. We visited twice during our two weeks in Berlin, initially for Chilli Cheese and Chicken burgers and secondly for Halloumi (a vegetarian option) and Four Cheese. Each burger was better than the last, piled high with fresh salads, bacon and sauce. Go there. You won’t regret it (I haven’t even mentioned the chips… oh my).

Café Myxa – Lenaustraße 22

This place rocks. It’s open til about 1am most nights for booze, breakfast, salads, quiches, great coffee… and free wifi, which always helps. We ventured to Myxa both for breakfast and late-night drinks; both occasions were met with great service and food. They’re also great supporters of local art and music, so check their website for occasional exhibitions and dreamy acoustic sets in the evenings.

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Art und Weise – Leinenstraße 48

This small bar is quite difficult to identify from the street (as it has no signage) however the venture is definitely worth it. Quality cocktails in an eclectic setting. As per Myxa, this place is a huge supporter of local artists so there’s usually an exhibition going on.

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Sowieso – Weisestraße 24

Our favourite Berlin bar (yes, I’m calling it). We returned to Sowieso three times within two weeks for quality cocktails (the cheapest on the street), board games, rocking music and… well, just to mix with the locals. It’s definitely not a touristy establishment. You can also sleep in the bath (if you so desire. No further information; you’ll just have to go there to see what I’m talking about!).

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Klunker Kranich – Karl Marx Straße 66, Neukölln Arcaden (rooftop bar, level 6 carpark)

This open air bar is a bit of a hidden gem. Located in the rooftop carpark of Neukölln’s biggest shopping mall, Klunker Kranich serve giant glasses of wine, quality cocktails and delicious local beers in an ‘urban garden’ setting with woodfired pizzas and couches a-plenty. There’s even a sandpit for the kids (or adults, depending upon what you fancy).

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KR/23 Liquor Company – Weserstraße 53

Also worth mentioning is the tiny shoebox office of the LQR Company. This group of passionate young Germans have long been known as importers of fine whisky and gin but, more recently, they’ve started making their own small-batch kräuterliquör (herb liqueur; think to Jägermeister but MUCH nicer) under the brand KR/23. As per the title, KR/23 contains 23 unique herbs, spices and botanicals, all of which are left to macerate in vodka for approximately 6 weeks before being filtered and bottled. It’s dangerously delicious… but unfortunately, they’re not presently taking online orders. You’ll just have to visit Florian (hello Florian!) yourself for a chat, sample and (yes, it’ll happen) purchase.

Freidrichshain-Kreuzberg

This neighbouring borough to Neukölln has a similar vibe and became our second-favourite part of Berlin city. Freiderichshain was a free-standing borough to Kreuzberg prior to 2001; it was formerly part of East Berlin and has become known for its ‘trendy’ restaurants and bars. Kreuzberg on the other hand has become known for its punk rock culture and large proportion of Turkish immigrants (which in turn has led to the availability of some incredibly authentic Turkish food). We loved everything.

Kaffebar – Graefestraße 8, Kreuzberg

This little café has hands-down the best panini’s in Berlin (that I tried, anyway). They make their own pesto and a great Eggs Benedict. Their coffee was my second favourite in the city (read on for my favourite below), creamy and delicious with just the right amount of bitterness. There are many delicious options for vegans, too.

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Bonanza Coffee Heroes – Oderbergerstraße 35, Kreuzberg

Best coffee in Berlin (according to me, anyway). This café has a very limited range of food or other beverages but the coffee alone is worth the hike.

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Markthalle Neun – Eisenbahnstraße 42/43, Kreuzberg

This place is amazing. It’s a varied venue but we visited purely for the Thursday 7pm food market which beats with incredible food, booze, eclectic people and general energy. Get there before 10pm for pulled pork sandwiches, Asian char siew rolls, handmade pies, delicious ice cream cookies, black bean, guacamole and jalapeno arepas with charred chorizo… need I say more? We went twice in two weeks. That’s testament enough.

Gipfeltreffen – Gorlitzerstraße 68, Kreuzberg

This beautiful cafe cum restaurant is right near the green expanse of Gorlitzer park. We visited on a sunny Summer day and sat outside in the balmy evening breeze; though in saying that, this little place provides delicious breakfast options that are worth the slightly higher price (than many other cafes in Kreuzberg). Pretty decent coffee, too.

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Prinzessinengärten – Prinzessenstraße (Moritzplatz), Kreuzberg

Prinzessinengärten started as a pilot project in the summer of 2009 at Moritzplatz in Berlin Kreuzberg, a site which had been a wasteland for over half a century. A group of dedicated volunteers cleared away rubbish, built transportable organic vegetable plots and reaped the first fruits of their labour. it’s now become a community garden (where people can participate in growing and harvesting processes) with a bar and organic cafe. Go along to meet some of the dedicated individuals who run the urban garden whilst eating beautiful, moist apple cake.

Aunt Benny Café (the Antlered Bunny) – Oderstraße 7, Freiderichshain

This cafe is a little off the Kreuzberg beaten track but the hike is worth it for incredible bagels and to-order mixes of cream cheese. They also serve stunning cakes, juices and great coffee. Do it.

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Neue Heimat – Revaler Straße 99, Freiderichshain

Neue Heimat is an awesome market space that offers a range of bars, food, music, art and design, brac-a-brac… everything you could hope for in a thumping event. We attended the Summer Market launch at the beginning of August… unfortunately this season ends on 27/08/2014 but I’d recommend checking their facebook page for events that pop up throughout the year.

Mitte

Mitte (translating to ‘middle’ or ‘centre’ in German) is Claudia’s favourite area in Berlin and I can definitely understand why. It’s vastly different to the gritty area of Neukölln, with clean, calm streets that are distinctly more quiet in the late hours. Mitte is the historical heart of Berlin, containing the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Wall Memorial. There are also many quality cafes, shopping areas and (most outstandingly) glorious sandwiches. Read on.

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Barcomi’s – Sophie Gips-Höfe, Sophienstraße 21 (near Weinmeisterstraße station)

This lovely New York Style deli has become a Berlin icon due to the fame of its creator, Cynthia Barcomi, who has now written several cookbooks. Aaron and I visited with Claudia (in part due to the fact that its hidden courtyard entry is quite difficult to find for a non-local) and sat in the beautiful outdoor courtyard whilst munching on bagels and a vegetarian plate (with dips, salads, cheeses and fruit salad). Barcomi’s also offers a range of New York style cheesecakes and slices that won’t disappoint.

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Mogg and Melzer – Auguststraße 11-13

This eatery has reached internet fame for a very good reason. Located inside a former Jewish school for girls, Mogg and Melzer specialize in New York style pastrami sandwiches, pulled pork and to-die for Reubens. Each sandwich is served with a pickled gherkin and a side of coleslaw. So, so good. I would travel back to Berlin just for the Reuben (seriously).

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Another couple of interesting (to me, anyway) facts about Berlin:

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1. Wasps. Throughout the warmer months, Berlin has a bit of a wasp problem. They’ll be crawling under the glass on pastry counters, they’ll plague you as you eat (particularly sweet things) and they’ll often crawl into sugar dispensers with spouts that are left on outside tables. As Claudia advised me, “Berlin wasps are easily provoked”, so… just accept it. Tips from the locals: 1) always check your beer bottle for wasps before taking a sip, 2) bang any sugar dispensers horizontally on a table to ensure any wasps fly out before directing it towards your coffee, 3) if they keep coming near your face, gently guide them away with a napkin or piece of paper. Most restaurants have anti-wasp devices (aka jars of honey or nectar, see below) near outside areas to distract wasps from their customers. Interesting.

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2. Smoking. For an Australian used to strict anti-smoking rules in public areas, Berlin’s acceptance of smoking is rather overwhelming. Whether it be shisha pipe, cigar or cigarette, you’ll probably find someone smoking within five metres of your person. I ended up getting headaches from passive smoking after a few hours… not very good. But it’s unavoidable. roamers pizza

3. There’s so much good food that you’ll forget where you ate it all. Like the pizza above; crisp speck with creme fraiche, chives and Spanish onion. So good. From a beer garden somewhere. SO GOOD. breadmantonsteinegarten

So that’s it. My little foodie tour of Berlin, written whilst sitting on the floor of my Uncle’s apartment in (currently dreary) Surrey, England. If you’re heading to Berlin sometime soon, I do hope that you’ll track down some of the delicious haunts that I’m already missing. At the very least, please have a beer for me. Okay?

Prost!

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