australia day lamington pie

pie

It’s hard to believe it’s already the fourth day of February, 2016. The official last month of Summer and its long halcyon days. I’ve taken it upon myself to milk the very last drops from this season’s dwindling balmy nights, mostly by sitting near the back door as grassy breezes waft by. I’m drinking chilled Summer white, grilling fresh romaine and eating ripe stone fruit with juice dripping down my chin.

As I type, it’s nearing midday. I’m sitting on the couch in a t-shirt, barefoot, my skin tinged pink from yesterday’s sun-drenched day in the park. Yes, I know sunburn is bad. It definitely wasn’t intentional; to the contrary, I’m one who wears multiple layers of sunscreen and gravitates to every patch of impervious shade. I just have extremely low sun resistance, assumedly due to my English heritage and a distinct lack of adaptation during the 25+ years that I’ve lived in this hot climate (thank goodness that natural selection is rather antiquated amongst humans these days).

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eggshells

Enough about me and my feeble freckled complexion (slip, slop, slap, you young ‘uns out there). Back to the end of Summer and its lingering sweetness. It’s actually nice to meet February, it already feels like a positive month full of fortunate (some might say serendipitous) events. It’ll be Valentines Day in a week (any of you harping on about commercialism, I don’t wanna hear it. #helplessromantic), Aaron‘s birthday right after and a celebration party for my mama bear the following weekend (she’s five years clear of breast cancer this year, yussss).

Matt and I are also finally meeting Graz next week after many months (actually, years by now, argh) of waxing lyrical about burgers, hot sauce, ribs and other barbecue food. At a joint that serves burgers, hot sauce, ribs and other barbecue food (of course). I can’t wait. It’s the next best thing to actually realising the glory of the hallowed ‘burger off’ challenge that we’ve been planning for a few years now (read one of Graz’s posts about it here). Next time, when I actually own a backyard, we’ll be doing it Graz and Matt. Start trembling.

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Anyway, the main crux of this post isn’t upcoming February wonderment. I want to take you back to the last week of January, during which roughly 23 million Australians celebrated something called Australia Day (I do realise and pay respect to the fact that there are mixed feelings attached to the celebration of our ‘national day’. Whilst I am not choosing to address political sentiment here, this message explains the current political standpoint).

For the majority of the population, ‘Aussie Day’ is characterised by time in the water (whether that be beach, bucket or pool), some sort of barbecue, beer, poorly executed face paint and the Hottest 100. Some also push the boat out with… well, a boat (usually in the shape of an inflatable thong).

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We were definitely no different: we ate snags, we drank beers, we sang songs and soaked in the pool ’til our skin was soft and wrinkly. Some of us visited the Skyworks, as per Perth tradition.

But our barbecue was followed by Lamington Pie.

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side

For those who don’t know, a lamington is a classic Australian dessert characterised by sponge cake (usually a square or rectangle) dipped in chocolate icing. The dipped cake is then rolled in dessicated coconut, occasionally sliced and sandwiched with jam and cream.

My idea to make a ‘pie’ version of a lamington this year was largely spontaneous, driven by a few types of coconut in the cupboard. In hindsight, I would’ve topped this pie with vanilla whipped cream rather than Italian meringue if I had some on hand (both for ease of construction and to channel a more ‘traditional lamington’ flavour). However, the meringue was equally delicious and stable for transportation in the January heat.

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If you’d like to replicate this pie, I’ve provided the ingredients and method for both Italian meringue and whipped cream below. As aforementioned, both versions have their advantages, though tasters of the meringue version (aka my friends at the Aussie Day party) stated that it was a little more like a ‘Bounty Pie’ than the traditional lamington cakes we scoffed as children.

If you try either version, please let me know your thoughts – particularly if you were a bake-sale lamington eater during your school days. I found that the soft chocolate layer reminded me of sticky lamington icing, particularly good against homemade strawberry jam, buttery pastry and a spoonful of cream.

To all my Aussie readers and friends, happy belated Australia day. May the last month of Summer be especially sweet.

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Lamington Pie

Heavily adapted from Emma Knowles’ Chocolate Coconut Meringue PieGourmet Traveller magazine.

Sweet shortcrust pastry:

  • 250g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour
  • 60g pure icing sugar
  • 160g cold butter, cubed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • splash of ice water
  • lightly beaten egg, extra (for egg wash)

Chocolate layer:

  • 120g desiccated coconut
  • 200g good quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup cacao powder, sifted
  • 1-2 tbsp coconut nectar, to taste
  • 300 ml pouring cream (I actually used half and half sour cream and regular cream)
  • egg yolks
  • good pinch of salt
  • 3-4 tbsp strawberry or raspberry jam

 Italian meringue (or substitute whipped cream option, below *):

  • 220g (1 cup) white caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125mL) water
  • egg whites
  • splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar

To serve: 

  • shaved coconut, toasted (optional) 

Sweet pastry: Sift the icing sugar, flour and a pinch of salt into a medium sized bowl. Add in the cubed, cold butter and rub in until the mixture reaches a ‘sandy’ consistency. Add in the egg yolk and a splash of cold water, then mix (with your hand or a spoon) until the dough starts to ‘come together’. Turn out onto a floured work surface, bring together with the heel of your hand and knead until smooth. Form the dough into a flattened disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour to rest.

dough

After your pastry is rested, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface to 2mm thickness. Carefully transfer into a  4cm-deep, 24cm-diameter tart tin, pressing to fit. Trim off any stray edges and refrigerate for 1 hour (in the meantime, prepare your chocolate filling).

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) and remove your tart case from the refrigerator. Line with baking paper and weights (baking weights or some dried rice or beans). Bake for 6-8 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove the weights and paper, prick gently with a fork. Bake for a further 5 to 7 minutes or until the base is light golden and starting to dry. Gently brush the half-cooked case with egg wash, then bake again for 4-5 minutes or until dark golden. Set aside to cool.

Chocolate layer: Whilst blind baking your pastry case, toast the desiccated coconut on a lined oven tray until light golden (5-6 minutes). Set aside. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl and set aside. Bring cream to the boil in a medium saucepan over low heat, then pour onto the chocolate. Leave for 5 minutes or until the chocolate starts to melt, then mix through. Sift over the cacao and mix again.

Whisk eggs and 1 tbsp warm water in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water until pale and thick (if you can’t control the heat of your gas or electric hob well, I’d recommend turning it off once the water starts simmering – there should be enough residual heat to thicken the eggs). Gradually pour the mixture into your chocolate and cream mix, whisking until thick and well combined. Taste, then add in coconut nectar and sea salt to your preference (bear in mind that you’ll be folding through toasted coconut). Finally, fold through the toasted coconut. Set aside until your tart case is baked and cooled.

When your tart case is cold, spread the raspberry or strawberry jam across the base. Pour over the chocolate mixture, smooth the top with a spoon and refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours). Top with either Italian meringue or whipped cream (both options below).

Italian meringue: Stir the sugar and water together in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and cook, brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to remove sugar crystals, until syrup reaches 115 degrees C (240 degrees f) on a sugar thermometer (approximately 6-8 minutes).

Whisk the egg white, lemon juice or vinegar and a pinch of salt together with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Continue cooking syrup for another 3 minutes or until a sugar thermometer reads 121 degrees C (250 degrees f), then slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the egg white, whisking consistently until thick and glossy. Cool to room temperature, if necessary, then spoon over the refrigerated tart.  Toast the meringue with a blowtorch if desired, and/or top with toasted shaved coconut. Refrigerate until serving.

*Whipped cream option:

  • 2 cups cold thickened cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 whole vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

Add the cold thickened cream to the bowl of your electric mixer. Add in the vanilla extract and vanilla paste (or seeds), then whisk until stiff peaks form (about 4 to 5 minutes). Top the chocolate layer with the whipped cream and toasted coconut, if desired. Refrigerate until serving.

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A few shots from Australia Day Skyworks, City of Perth CBD:

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chocolate nut butter truffles

tray1It’s late afternoon on a very warm Saturday in Perth. I’m curled up on the couch in comfy slacks, tapping on blackened keys whilst being continuously nudged by the wet nose of Loki. He’s a little bit sick of my passion for writing this week. It’s detracted my attention from his quick brown paws and beckoning eyes on multiple occasions. He’s taken to alternate strategies for attention, like dropping things off the back of the couch onto my head, keyboard or the timber-clad kitchen floor. I become easily engrossed when I write, so… let’s just say I’ve learned certain things the hard way. Like the level of attention required when holding hot tea.

Anyway, the intention of this post was not to continue rambling about Loki (though he did visit the vet yesterday and I did trim his wispy grandpa beard). Rather, I just want to share in a sentimental fashion about life, the universe and everything that’s been significant over the past couple of weeks.

Including peanut butter, because… well, peanut butter. You get me, right?

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If you’re a regular reader of the Mess, you’d be aware that I’ve been in a bit of a funk over the past twelve months. Certain events led to maudlin thoughts and general pessimism which in turn informed some melancholic narratives. Well, enough is enough. It’s a new year and I’m done with subjugation and general inertia. There’s something beautiful happening in my consciousness which is inextricably linked to mindfulness and positivity.

Yep, I said it. Positivity as a cognitive strategy. I should probably have forewarned you of the cliched #inspo territory but it works, people, particularly when mixed with gratefulness and acceptance (that’s when the mindfulness comes in). I’m letting myself embrace each moment for its individual benefits, discomfort and impermanence. The cloud is finally lifting.

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In reflection, these realisations are rather comical, seeing as I’m a social worker by formal training. I’m used to dialogues of self care, impermanence and resilience on a daily basis. For other people, not me, akin to a plumber who never fixes his own dripping tap (due to post-work fatigue, lack of impetus, general excuses and probably a touch of laziness).

I’m therefore claiming this bojon period (thanks Alanna!) as a time to transition theory to practice. I’m excited. Life is good.

And you know what? So am I.

ing2mix dough

So, back to the recipe below. Let’s call them ‘little balls of happiness’ (‘nut butter’ somehow translates into ‘happy’ for me) to be shared with the best of friends. In past decades, I would have made these with just peanut butter and a pile of powdered sugar (as per the original peanut butter ball) however both age and wisdom have inspired the reinvention of this much-loved treat.

This incarnation contains just 100% natural nut butter, powdered peanut butter (see my notes below regarding PB2 nutrition vs. peanut flour), maple syrup and non-dairy dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt (the use of Bahen & Co cracked coffee bar also contributes the crunch of a bitter coffee bean here and there). Mixed nut butters also contribute added nutrition from calcium-rich tahini, omega-3 rich pure-state Super Spread and protein-rich peanut butter.

I was even going to go as far as using raw chocolate (such as the coating on my salted tahini date caramel slice) instead of melted dark chocolate but, well… it’s a little less stable in the summer heat.

And I’m intending on sharing these happy treats far and wide.

tray2Chocolate Nut Butter Truffles

Makes 28

Filling:

  • 1 cup 100% natural nut butter (I used a mixture of Mayver’s crunchy peanut butter, hulled tahini and Original Super Spread)
  • 2 tbsp dark roast peanut flour or powdered peanut butter* (I used PB2), plus a little extra if required
  • 3-4 tbsp pure maple syrup, to taste
  • pinch of sea salt flakes
  • water, if required (for correct consistency)

Coating:

  • 200g good-quality dark chocolate (I used 75g Bahen & Co cracked coffee for a touch of depth mixed with 125g plain 70% cocoa non-dairy dark chocolate)
  • flaked sea salt, to sprinkle (optional)

In a medium bowl, mix together the nut butters and maple syrup until well combined. Taste and add a little sea salt if desired. Sprinkle in the powdered peanut butter, then mix until you have a smooth ‘dough’. Here’s where you need to use your instincts: the mix should be soft and cohesive (see image below), not dry or crumbly (if you experience the latter then add a few drops of water and mix again). If your mix is too wet, oily and/or sticky, sprinkle in a little more powdered peanut butter and mix again.

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When the mix reaches the right consistency, roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and place onto a lined baking tray. Refrigerate or freeze for 15-20 minutes.

balls

Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl (preferably glass) over a pot of gently simmering water until smooth and glossy. Remove from the heat and place on a stable surface. Using two forks, drop each frozen ball of nut butter dough into the melted chocolate mixture, roll until evenly coated, then pick up, allowing excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl (I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to this process, however if you’d like perfectly glossy truffles invest in a truffle dipper or follow this Saveur tutorial). Carefully place back onto your cold lined baking tray. Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt (optional).

Carefully return the baking tray to the refrigerator until the truffles have set.

inside

pb2

*Powdered peanut butter (in this case, PB2) is basically peanut flour (peanuts that have been pressed/defatted to remove most of the oil content) with additional salt and sugar. It’s a processed, imported product with added refined sugar so it goes against three of my key principles of eating (whole foods, refined sugar free, locally produced and/or grown) but for some reason I was curious enough to purchase it.

It’s not terrible; it’s still relatively low in sugar (1.0g per 2 tbsp serving as opposed to average 3.0g for traditional peanut butter), has no trans fats (much better than Jif or Skippy, which contain hydrogenated soybean and palm oils – basically trans fats – and emulsifiers) and reports being non-GMO (see Bell Plantation’s FAQ’s).  It’s a little grainy and dry when mixed with water (as per the suggestion for reconstituted peanut butter) but works well as an agent to soak up natural nut oils (such as in the recipe above) and/or to mix into baked goods and sauces.

If you’ve got peanut flour on hand, I’d totally recommend using it as an alternative to the PB2 in this recipe. However, use of either powdered peanut butter or peanut flour will work similarly to create a dough-ish consistency with increased protein and peanut butter flavour. It’s useful to note that traditional buckeye candy and peanut butter truffles use a hell of a lot of powdered sugar to the same effect (somewhere between 2-3 cups per cup of peanut butter) so whether you use peanut flour or powdered peanut butter with the natural sweetener, you’re still winning.

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salted tahini date caramel slice

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It’s been a couple of years since I first discovered date caramel, initially as a filling for some sort of decadent raw truffle at a friend’s dinner party. Since that day, I’ve mostly thought about date caramel rather than making it, for the simple reason that… well, I’d probably eat the whole batch. Straight from the mixing bowl, with sticky fingers and a caramel-smudged grin.

It’s that delicious, particularly with the addition of smooth nut butter and crunchy sea salt flakes. Dangerously addictive.

mix

But despite the best of intentions, it’s been that kind of week. I’ve had frazzled nerves and an exhausted brain that hasn’t wanted to sleep. Trips to the gym didn’t work (it’s usually a massive stress reliever for me) and neither did the odd glass of wine. Finally, when I did achieve some semblance of normality, this happened.

Ah, heck. I think it’s time for cake.

nectarI don’t often desire cake. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that my sweet tooth left many years ago with my milk teeth and teenage demeanour. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a soft spot for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate (largely due to childhood associations and sentimentality) however, upon eating it’s tooth-achingly sweet. Despite the glass-and-a-half slogan, it’s also got little nutrition to speak of (you need to eat an entire 200g to get that calcium, darn it).

Give me a hunk of protein-rich cheese any day. Even better, some smoked roasted almonds.

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Anyway, I’m digressing (mmm, cheese): let’s talk cake.

On the occasions when I bake, I usually lean towards bitter cacao or a fruit-driven puddings made with rice malt or maple syrup. Yes, there’s an element of sugar, but additional nutrients result in a lower glycemic index and more benefits for my mind and body.

A good example of this is my previous recipe for sweet potato brownies with raw cacao and rice malt syrup. They’re completely delicious, refined sugar free and naturally nourishing with just the right amount of natural sweetness. However, it’s presently mid-summer. Even evenings are warm and sticky, so I’m gravitating towards refrigerator treats such as today’s recipe: salted tahini date caramel slice with glossy bitter cacao and a chewy oat and walnut base.

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As far as sweet treats go, this slice strikes a pretty good balance between deliciousness and nutrition. It’s full of dietary fibre, iron, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals from the dates alongside plant protein and good fats (monounsaturated, omega 3, good cholesterol) from the nuts, cacao and coconut oil.

It tastes deliciously rich without being overpoweringly sweet. Definitely a winner in my book.

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cacao

In terms of honest dialogue, this slice isn’t nutritionally perfect. I’m not going to shout ‘…it’s guilt free!‘ from the rooftop in my yoga gear. Both dates and coconut nectar contribute a reasonable dose of fructose* to this recipe which, in real terms, is just a form of sugar. And any sugar, in excess (whether that be in the form of fructose, sucrose, glucose, lactose or maltose) is still bad for your body and mind.

However, let’s talk about small amounts. A couple of tahini-stuffed dates, a Honeycrisp apple, a square or two of dark chocolate or a coconut banana smoothie. They’re okay, right? I definitely think so, unless you have a medical condition specifying otherwise (e.g. diabetes, fructose malabsorption; that’s an entirely different story).

For what it’s worth, I’m of the opinion that some natural sugar in the form of whole foods (such as dried or fresh fruits, carbohydrates and dairy products) is both acceptable and beneficial in a balanced, predominantly unrefined diet. The body needs fuel, particularly if you’re combining this diet with regular physical activity.

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So, where to next? I’m not about to tell you that ten pieces of this salted caramel thing are beneficial with one session of sweaty cardio, but if you want a small sweet treat, go for it. Eat. Eat with a sticky smile on your face.

Be thankful. Moderation is the key.

*If you want to read more about fructose, metabolism and energy, take a look here and here (or even better, consult a qualified dietitian or nutritionist on the issue). 

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Salted Tahini Date Caramel Slice

Makes approximately 18 squares

This slice is ridiculously easy to make. It involves a fair bit of food processing but otherwise contains no complexity. Don’t fret if your raw chocolate cracks after setting (this happens 99% of the time. Just heat your knife, breathe and try again). Just embrace the imperfections and how good that gosh-darn-salted-date-caramel tastes. 

Base:

  • 1 cup organic, raw rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw walnuts (or almonds, whichever you prefer)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates
  • a few drops of hot water, as required

Tahini date caramel:

  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates, about 11 dates
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp almond butter or tahini
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • fine sea salt, to taste (I added around 1/4 tsp)

Raw chocolate:

  • 6 tbsp raw cacao
  • 2 tsp carob powder
  • 4-6 tbsp coconut nectar or rice malt syrup (to taste, I add as little as possible, a slightly bitter chocolate layer works perfectly with the date caramel)
  • 1 cup melted coconut oil or cacao butter (my coconut oil was liquid at room temperature, being summer in Australia, but melt it on low heat in a saucepan first if necessary)

Blend the oats and nuts together in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add in the dates and a little pinch of salt, pulsing again until well mixed and cohesive. If your mix is looking a little dry, add in a few drops of hot water and process until the mixture comes together. Press into an 18x27cm greased and lined tin.

Soak dates in the hot water for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking water for later. Puree all the filling ingredients except the sea salt in a food processor, streaming in a little of the soaking water until you obtain a creamy consistency (add as little water as possible – too much and the filling won’t set properly. I added about 2 tbsp worth of soaking liquid). Add a little sea salt, pulse and taste, adjusting the level of ‘saltiness’ to your preference. Spread over the prepared base, then refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before preparing the raw chocolate topping.

Blend all of the raw chocolate ingredients together in a food processor, pulsing for at least 30 seconds to ensure the coconut oil is emulsified. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary. Remove slice from refrigerator and immediately pour over the chocolate mixture, tilting the tray to ensure even distribution (try not to touch the chocolate layer or you’ll probably end up with splotches of separated coconut oil rather than a smooth, glossy layer). Return to the refrigerator for 10 minutes to chill.

After 10 minutes, score the chocolate into 18 pieces (this will make it much easier to cut without cracks later). When the chocolate layer is completely set, cut through with a heated knife. Keep refrigerated or frozen (this is also amazing straight from the freezer!) in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

*Medjool dates are larger and softer than traditional dried dates, with a more complex caramel-y flavour. However, they’re also a bit more expensive than the regular packaged supermarket dates (which are usually the Empress or Deglet Noor varieties, click here for more info). If you’re trying to save cash, I’d recommend splashing out on Medjool dates for the salted caramel layer whilst using traditional dates for the oat and nut base. Please note: I soaked and drained all of the dates that I used in the recipe above (separate to and including those specified in the salted caramel layer) as mine were a little dry. However, if you have extra soft and moist dates, feel free to skip the soaking. Just ensure you have a little hot water on hand to stream into the food processor if your mixture/s aren’t the correct consistency.

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chocolate cherry cake with sour cream ganache

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I hardly ever eat sweet desserts these days. Mostly as my taste buds have changed as I’ve grown older (give me some aged cheddar over a doughnut any day) whilst I’ve also developed a growing awareness of how food intake (aka nutrition) affects the state of my body.

I’m not talking about avoiding fat and sugar altogether, but rather about making the most of these elements of my diet. I’m choosing good fats over bad ones and nutritionally dense, unprocessed (i.e. low glycaemic index) sugars over refined sugars that lead to a massive insulin dump.

But in saying that (whilst posting about cake), I don’t view baked goods as ‘the devil in disguise’. I still enjoy the process of baking and when there’s an occasion for a special-kind-of-cake, I jump at the opportunity to pour love (and butter and sugar) into an occasional baked treat for family and friends.

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Last Sunday was one of those days. Some friends of mine decided to have a spontaneous get-together the following night (togetherness is enough of a special occasion for me) and I was asked to bring some sort of dessert.

I decided to bake this cake from Gourmet Traveller, with a few personal substitutions: raspberries alongside cherries, sour cream ganache for an extra bit of ‘tang’ (use the same 1:1 ratio of cream to chocolate, with a splash of vanilla essence if desired), the deepest, darkest chocolate I could find and a splash of brandy instead of kirsch.

I crowned the cake with a handful of golden-roasted hazelnuts (for crunch) and a sprinkle of edible flowers (I used this purchase from The Essential Ingredient; they’re definitely an optional extra, adding nothing in terms of flavour or texture… but I love them anyway).

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I’m not going to regurgitate Brigitte Hafner’s recipe here as it’s perfectly written on the Gourmet Traveller site, but I did take a few photographs as the afternoon light was beautiful last Sunday. If you make this cake, I do hope you enjoy it amongst your very best friends.

Food always tastes better that way.

P.S If you’re still waiting for the joint ‘Mexican Table’ post with Inspired Food and Feed Your Soul, Perth, please take heart – we hope to publish our recipes and photos by the conclusion of this weekend. Thanks for your patience and interest in this merry band of amateur cooks x

coconut cacao and buckwheat granola

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This morning, I woke to the dull patter of gentle autumn rain. Rather comforting, in fact, after many weeks of radiant heat. After crawling out of bed (and unearthing myself from Loki’s pile of toys) I rubbed my eyes and shuffled towards the kitchen, where Aaron was stacking a uniform pile of Weetbix in his breakfast bowl. After applying some honey, he doused the structure (I don’t use this word lightly; Aaron is a precision Weetbix stacker) in dairy milk before habitually migrating to the couch.

Crunching followed, with an occasional clink of metal against glazed stoneware. This is Aaron’s ritual. Today the rain provided a steady backing track.

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For me, breakfast is a little less predictable. In regular rotation are raw buckwheat with maca, sliced banana and almond milk (my new favourite is cold-pressed local almond milk from The Pure Press), filling overnight oats (this is my favourite recipe) and avocado toast (ALWAYS with chilli flakes and lemon oil) however I occasionally mix things up with granola or fruit toast with lashings of butter.

I adore breakfast. I’m one of those weirdos who falls asleep thinking of breakfast the next morning. Last night was no different. I wanted granola stuffed with walnuts and deep, dark cacao.

We didn’t have any.

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So, back to this morning’s turn of events. I stumbled into the kitchen, deliriously hungry and leaden with sleep. The absence of granola resulted in crumbled Weetbix with maca, toasted walnuts and cacao nibs, all swimming in creamy almond milk.

Half an hour later, I made a batch of toasted buckwheat granola mixed with warm cinnamon, organic walnuts, chocolatey cacao, coconut oil and raw honey that I snaffled on a recent trip to Melbourne, Victoria.

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SO GOOD.

I think today calls for a second breakfast.

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Coconut Cacao Buckwheat Granola

Adapted from Sarah Britton’s recipe from My New Roots

  • 2 cups (400g) raw buckwheat**
  • 1/2 cup (50g) organic rolled oats
  • 1 cup (75g) golden flax flakes
  • 2 cups (80g) coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup (35g) coconut sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (125g) walnuts
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup honey (I used Guildford Gold) or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp organic natural vanilla extract
  • generous pinch of flaked sea salt (equivalent to 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt)
  • 1/2 cup organic cacao powder (fair trade, if you can find it)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper, then set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, buckwheat, coconut flakes, flax flakes and coconut sugar. Roughly chop or crumble the walnuts (you still want some reasonable size chunks) and add them to the mix.

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In a small saucepan over low-medium heat, melt the coconut oil. Add the honey or maple syrup, vanilla, salt and cocoa powder. Whisk to combine until smooth.

Pour the cacao mixture over the dry ingredients and stir to coat evenly. Spread the mixture evenly over your prepared tray and press firmly with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the granola starts to become golden and fragrant. Remove from the oven and flip over clumps with a spatula (don’t worry if your granola isn’t clumping yet, it will start to stick together as it later cools). Return to the oven and cook for another ten minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes until evenly toasted* and fragrant.

Store your granola in an airtight jar or container in a cool, dry spot for up to six months (ha – like it would last that long!). You can also freeze granola, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or a (airtight) freezer bag.

I like to eat this granola with almond milk or coconut yoghurt, piled high with fresh berries or sliced banana. It’s also AMAZING with a generous drizzle of thin peanut butter or tahini.

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Notes:

*The dark colour of the granola makes it hard to tell whether it’s cooked or not. Go by smell – you want a toasty, sweet smelling batch of granola (your nose should be able to tell you if it’s burning!). If you’re uncertain, taste one of the larger pieces of walnut or coconut (which will take the longest to toast). If it’s golden and toasty, the mix is done.

**You can find whole raw buckwheat (often referred to as buckwheat ‘groats’) at health food shops and good grocery stores. Raw buckwheat should appear very pale green rather than dark brown (the latter version is called ‘kasha’ which has been toasted; for this recipe you require the raw version of buckwheat as you’ll be toasting it yourself).

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sweet potato and cacao brownies

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Now, let me just start this post by saying that I am a huge skeptic when it comes to ‘healthy’  versions of sweet treats such as mashed bean brownies, applesauce muffins and the like. I won’t touch them with a bargepole. Mostly as they taste quite horrible and, more importantly, because I love, consume and see the benefits of quality cultured butter consumption (I’ve even started making my own using this tutorial from the gorgeous Heidi Sze via Tucker. OBSESSED).

Case in point: last Sunday morning, I decided to make a batch of chewy, crackly brownies to bring as a contribution to our nephew’s birthday dinner that evening. Whilst I was rustling around in the refrigerator for my batch-churned Pepe Saya, Aaron chimed in: “…can you make healthy ones?”.

I immediately screwed up my nose. Healthy ones? For a THIRTEEN YEAR OLD? Uh, no. That’s not gonna go down well. But then my eye caught a bag of golden sweet potatoes, peacefully languishing in the vegetable drawer. An idea came to mind; a nutrient-filled, coconut drenched, cacao dusted idea.

Sweet potato brownies.

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After a little bit of internet research, I soon discovered that this idea wasn’t exactly new; in fact, a few hundred thousand million (or more) people have been baking these beauties since at least 2013. Most versions attest to be paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free and the like, and indeed they are – however, as someone who is fortunate enough to have no dietary restrictions, I just thought that they sounded delicious.

After inventing my own recipe, I did a little taste test prior to packing a plate for the nephew’s birthday party (I was still filled with flourishing seeds of doubt). A sliver revealed a moist, fudgy, supremely chocolatey brownie with a very faint shadow of sweet potato (mostly masked by smooth aftertastes of mild coconut, cacao and vanilla). I fell immediately in love and, after sharing a sliver with a very enthusiastic Aaron, my waning hope was sweetly restored.

We skipped off to the birthday party (cue glowing smiles of happiness).

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plated

Now, in fear of habitually exceeding my blogger word allowance, I’ll cut out the niceties and head straight to the ‘kid verdict’ from our nephew’s birthday dinner. After the first few chews, these did not pass (I’m imagining Gandalf and the bridge of Khazad-dûm).

Possibly due to the vague aftertaste of coconut and sweet potato. Probably due to a childish unfamiliarity with healthy versions of sweet indulgences. Positively due to my enthusiastic cries of “They’re healthy!!” during the first few bites. Man, I’ve got a lot to learn about parenting.

I later returned to our vehicle with a superficial smile and an almost-full plate of sweet potato brownies. Despite Aaron’s reassurance (ah, bless that man) I was crushed, kicking myself for not using my tried and tested brownie recipe (one of my very first novice posts on WordPress, still a fail-safe favourite in our house and others). You live and you learn.

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Anyway, it’s now been four days since I tasted the lingering bitterness of healthy baking defeat. I guess it was to be expected, but the buoyancy of imbued hope lingered high over my sea of doubts.

I’m probably not going to attempt healthy baking for children again unless they’re my own (whom, in my idealized, not-yet-a-parent mind are going to be raised on wholefoods and rice malt syrup). Or unless I coat each said item in melted dairy milk chocolate. Hm.

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After my story of failure, you’re possibly wondering why this recipe still made it to blog-post stage. Well, Aaron and I adore these little beauties. We’ve been devouring delicious slivers over the past few days with hot coffee or as an after-dinner treat, with reassurance that they’re choc-full of goodness.

I used milk chocolate chips for the version that I took to our nephew’s house (predominantly due to the kid factor – silly me) however future batches will be made with the substitution of either crunchy cacao nibs or 70% cocoa dark chocolate – the bitterness will do wonders in off-setting the mild taste of sweet potato.

Nope, they’re no crackle-topped, butter-filled brownies. They don’t ooze with melted chocolate. But they’re a marvelous staple to have in the fridge when you just want a fudgy chocolate fix without the regret. Just don’t tell the children that they’re healthy.

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Sweet Potato and Cacao Brownies

Makes 16 – 20 squares

  • 500g peeled, cubed sweet potato (I used gold, however the milder white sweet potato would work well)
  • 2 free-range eggs, whisked
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup rice malt syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract*
  • 3 tbsp coconut flour*
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped bar chocolate or chocolate chips* (optional, I’d recommend 70% dark chocolate)
  • pinch of sea salt flakes

Line a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) brownie pan with baking paper, then set aside.

Place the cubed sweet potato into a medium saucepan with just enough water to cover. Boil until tender, then leave to cool in the cooking liquid.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).

Pulse the cooked sweet potato in a blender with 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid for 30 seconds or until just smooth (don’t over-process your sweet potatoes, you don’t want a gluggy mess).

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Transfer into a large bowl and add the coconut oil, rice malt syrup and vanilla extract.

Once thoroughly combined, add in the whisked egg and your dry ingredients – the coconut flour, cacao, baking powder, a pinch of sea salt and the chocolate chips.

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Mix well, then spoon into the prepared brownie pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool, dust with some reserved cacao and slice into however many squares you like. Eat straight from the fridge, at room temperature or slightly heated with some cold dairy or coconut cream.

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*Exchange the vanilla extract for hazelnut liqueur, sweet orange extract or a few drops of peppermint oil if you like. Substitute chocolate chips for a handful of cacao nibs to add crunch and extra nutrients. Substitute coconut flour for oat flour or buckwheat flour if you like; I’d probably just cut down a bit of the sweet potato cooking liquid due to the reduced absorbency of alternative flours.

P.S. I had a little collaborator attempting to eat the goods helping me with this brownie shoot. You might be able to spot him here:

lokifeet

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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icing

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.

cakedark

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.

nuts meal

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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chocolate hazelnut tart. and 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).

base

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.

cream

melt

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.

filling

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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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!)

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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.

double chocolate banana bread

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I’ve recently been in a rather lamentable blogging slump. The kind of slump that results in persistent lack of motivation to create, write and photograph, other than a quick snap via Instagram (I must both thank and berate Sam, Jemima and Matt for convincing me to join that bewitching time-waster. I think I’m in love).

Not that I haven’t cooked anything in the interim. I’ve been cooking daily, but more for nourishment than blogging purposes. We’ve eaten warming kale and chickpea stew in a spiced coconut broth, spelt-crusted quiche filled with walnut pesto, bitter greens and Meredith Dairy goats cheese, cumin roasted carrots with crushed toasted pepitas and a fragrant orange syrup cake with dollops of thick Greek yoghurt. Everything was delicious, but no notes were taken. No photographs were snapped. It was just one of those weeks.

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Now, I know for a fact that I’m not alone in the ‘slump experience’. I’ve read similar posts from blogging friends (particularly those with day jobs like myself) who have echoed the same sentiment. But shared experience doesn’t lessen my personal frustration, particularly when speaking of diminished enthusiasm and productivity. Let’s just hope the cloud passes soon.

bananasend sunskin

Now, back to today’s post for double chocolate banana bread. I’ll say from the outset that the recipe isn’t mine, it was the result of three ripe bananas and a visit to Deb’s beautiful blog, Smitten Kitchen.

After playing around with the idea of ‘healthying up’ the recipe with coconut oil, cacao powder, agave and different wheat-free flours, I decided to bake it almost exactly as-is: with pure butter, granulated sugar, white all-purpose flour and Dutch-process cocoa.

floursugarmix

The result is a beautifully rich, moist and intensely chocolatey loaf that serves beautifully as a dessert (a la mode, with ice cream) or an indulgent afternoon tea (toasted and spread with smooth, rich peanut butter or Mayver’s tahini honey spread. You can thank me later).

In the true sense of a word it’s more of a ‘cake’ than a healthy ‘banana bread’… but you know what? On this dreary, grey, demotivated day, I don’t care. A cup of tea and cake was the therapy I needed.

Some days, you just need cake.

bread

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

Barely adapted from this recipe by Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

  • 3 large, ripe bananas (equivalent to just over 1 cup of mashed banana)
  • 115g organic butter, melted
  • 145g dark molasses sugar (substitute any other brown sugar)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 125g (1 cup) plain flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa (don’t substitute unprocessed cocoa here, it will give you a different result)
  • 170g (about 1 cup) chopped 70% cocoa dark chocolate (use chocolate chips if you have them)

Heat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 9×5-inch loaf pan, then set it aside.

mash

Mash the bananas, then place into a large bowl. Whisk in the melted butter, brown sugar (as my molasses sugar was very lumpy, I sieved it first and added a little water to make a paste), egg and vanilla extract.

rawmix

Sift over the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder, then stir to combine. Add in the chocolate and mix well.

flourcocoacocoa mix

Pour the mixture into your prepared pan.

loafprebake

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it onto a cooling rack.

loaf

Serve warm or at room temperature (or preferably, toasted and spread with peanut butter or Mayver’s tahini honey spread. Yes, I’ve said it twice now. Need further convincing? See below).

bite bite2

This banana bread will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator, wrapped in foil or plastic wrap. It also freezes well for up to 2 months (make sure that you wrap it well to prevent freezer burn).

tahinibananas

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