autumn + poached quinces

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Last night, Aaron and I returned from five days in the south west countryside; namely Balingup and Margaret River. It was the most beautiful of weeks.

Despite having loose plans to do a bit of drawing, writing and design work, we spent the rest of our days doing… well, very little. We slept in, took Loki for walks, picked fresh herbs from the garden, cooked and drank wine in the dappled shade. Frosty nights were met with hand-knitted blankets, hot bread and long, steaming baths by candlelight (in a claw foot beauty, no less).

Can’t get much better than that.

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Anyway, as I was saying, we’re now back home. Despite booking a five night stay, the almost-week disappeared in a snap.

As I write, I’m back in my familiar position on our lounge room couch, fingers curled around a mug of steaming green tea. Loki reclines beside me, determinedly gnawing at a plastic bone. My computer touchpad clicks incrementally, interspersed by the sound of Aaron in the kitchen. He’s cooking noodles on our gas stovetop as I edit photographs of heaving chestnut trees and frosted windows. Not a bad deal, methinks.

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As I work, I dream. Mostly of fresh figs, plump and fragrant, sap dripping from split stalks onto my eager skin. Bush walks on cold mornings, the crunch of dry gum leaves, red dirt caking the soles of my shoes.

The week that was, and suddenly wasn’t; it’s a memory now. Halcyon days amongst the trees. Luckily, thanks to generous countryfolk, we haven’t returned from our travels empty handed.

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Over the past few days, we’ve come across a glut of fruit trees (pomegranate, quince, fig and the tiniest golden pears) and plenty of rambling woody herbs. As the house we rented had a beautifully equipped country kitchen, I had a field day with the local produce, grilling plenty of figs and cracking my own needle-spiked chestnuts to reveal their shiny brown interiors. I fried potatoes with rosemary, picked a walnut (unfortunately the feathered locals ate the rest) and roasted sweet pears with a drizzle of local honey.

But best of all, I found quince. A reclining, heaving tree of them, golden fruit draped from long, gnarled branches. With permission from our kindly host, I picked six knobbly globes (much to the curiosity of Loki, who sniffed each and every one), piling them into a wicker basket before returning to the kitchen.

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That afternoon, I made a light sugar syrup, heady with sweet citrus and star anise (inspired by the dreamy words of Heidi).

After a dinner of pesto chicken with feta and local pomegranate, Aaron and I snuggled on the couch to watch reruns of Scrubs, enveloped in a warm cloud of poaching quince.

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The following morning, we ate quince for breakfast, glistening atop old fashioned porridge. We covered the ruby gems with a blanket of cold, frothy cream and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts – autumn in a bowl.

Over the next few days, I ate a few more wedges with yoghurt, usually sitting on the timber deck amongst the trees. When it was finally time to pack for home, I tucked the rest of the ruby-hued fruit into the chiller bag against the milk, cheese and salted butter. It’s now sitting comfortably in our refrigerator, ready for warm country breakfasts over the next week.

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Although I tell myself that we’re going to savour the rest of the poached quince quite slowly and thoughtfully, to ‘keep it special’ and all that, I’m kind of kidding myself. In fact, as I finish this post, I’m craving another keen wedge covered in thick Greek yoghurt with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds…

All in all, I’m not ready for my country life to end (anyone else got a quince tree I can raid?).

Happy Autumn, folks x

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Poached Quinces

Adapted from this recipe by Heidi (which was adapted from the wonderful Stephanie Alexander’s book, The Cook’s Companion) and this recipe from Australian Gourmet Traveller

You will need a wide, lidded ovenproof pan (that actually fits into your oven; check it first!) for this recipe. 

  • 6 raw quince (~1.4kg, weighed whole and unpeeled)
  • 1.5 cups caster sugar
  • 7 cups water
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved
  • 1 cinnamon stick (quill)
  • 2 pieces of thinly peeled orange rind

Preheat your oven to 130 degrees C (266 degrees f).

Prepare the syrup: place the water and sugar into a wide ovenproof pan and bring to the boil over high heat. Simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat and add the vanilla bean, orange rind, star anise and cinnamon quill. Set aside.

Prepare the quince: peel the quince. With a sharp knife, cut the peeled fruit into quarters or sixths. Carefully cut out the cores, then gently place the fruit into the prepared sugar syrup. Cover with a cartouche (see image below) then return the pan to the heat. Bring to a simmer and then cover with the lid.

syrupcartoucheTransfer the pan into your preheated oven and cook until the quince are your desired tenderness and colour (long and slow is the game. I’d suggest 5-6 hours for a medium ruby colour, 7-9 hours for soft, fragrant, deep burgundy quince). To achieve the same result as me, cook for 9 hours and then leave the pan in the oven to cool completely overnight.

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For an autumnal breakfast, we served the poached quince with some toasted hazelnuts and cream atop old fashioned porridge. However, the ruby red poached fruit lends itself beautifully to an upside down cake, crumble or tarte tartin, particularly with a dollop of cream, custard or mascarpone.

The easiest way to eat poached quince is simply in a bowl with a big spoonful of Greek yoghurt (like I did this afternoon) accompanied by crushed roasted almonds, hazelnuts or toasted sunflower seeds. So, so good.

basketStorage: this quince will keep in the sugar syrup for up to one week in the refrigerator (stored in a canning jar or airtight container). If you desire to keep your quince for up to one month, I’d suggest going with a more concentrated sugar syrup (2 parts water to one part sugar; that would be 2.3 cups sugar for this recipe). Keep the syrup once all your quince are gone, reduce it down over heat and drizzle over vanilla ice-cream. Absolutely delicious.

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spiced apple and buttermilk cake

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If you haven’t already figured from Instagram, I’m… uh, kinda excited about this post. I’ve been waiting approximately two weeks to upload it and in the meantime, I’ve had joy bursting out of my ears.

Why? Well, it’s not just any old post about apple cake. It’s a celebration post; a deliciously heartfelt contribution to a virtual Bridal Shower hosted by my blogging friends Kayle, Stef and Stephanie.

You may already be familiar with the gorgeous bride-to-be – it’s the auburn haired, ever-smiling Stephie from Stephie Cooks (read more about how I met Stephie here). She and her fiance Alex are set to get hitched in a few short weeks (April 2015!) so we’re celebrating in the natural way that bloggers do: making food and photographing it. And then eating it, with Stephie and Alex in mind.

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The girls above spilled the beans on Stephie’s wedding theme a few weeks ago in preparation for this virtual shower. She and Alex are running with the idea of ‘rustic elegance’, complete with BBQ for dinner and pies for dessert!

In keeping with the ‘rustic’ idea, I decided to discard my initial plan to make individual tarts or decorated cupcakes in Stephie’s honour. Instead, I made one giant country apple cake, complete with chunks of fruit and lashings of double cream.

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A comment from Stephie’s mum Julie (@jkswope) on an Instagram post of mine further solidified my decision to use homegrown apples:

Make those little Apple pie cookies that Stephie made. They are so good!

Then, bring some to us. We’ll need them with the frantic wedding planning. #fourweeks 

Apple goodies for wedding planning? Okay Momma Swope… I’m onto it!

However, after searching Stephie’s blog for the apple pie cookies, I became sidetracked by this stunning apple cake from a few months ago. Caramel, apples and vanilla bean? Yum. I quickly decided to make my very own apple cake, packed full of organic apples from my own mother’s heaving apple tree. After it baked, I briefly considered the idea of sending it over to the United States but… well, that didn’t seem so sensible.

Yep, I ate it instead.

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So, before I stop blabbering and leave you with the recipe, I just have a few short words to share in regards to our amazing bride-to-be:

Stephie, you are brave and beautiful, hilariously creative, heartfelt and loyal. It’s been a privilege to be a friend across-the-seas for the past couple of years. I will be praying for strength, love and blessings to inhabit each step that you and Alex take as a married couple – on your wedding day and afterwards. I can’t wait to see your celebration photos, to drip tears of joy into my keyboard and to cheer you on in your endeavors to come (of which there will be many, I’m sure!).

One day, we will share cake together across a table. But for now, this recipe will have to do.

P.S. I know this is a Bridal Shower but Alex, you’re pretty awesome too. Peat whisky has made us friends for life.

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Spiced Apple and Buttermilk Cake

Adapted from A Pinch of Yum

Cake batter:

  • 1 cup raw caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses sugar (substitute dark brown sugar)
  • ⅓ cup virgin coconut oil
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp natural vanilla essence
  • 2½ cups plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 cups peeled. diced apples

Topping:

  • 1 apple, peeled and finely sliced to decorate
  • ½ cup raw caster sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp butter

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Grease and line a 20cm diameter round cake tin, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars, coconut oil, egg, buttermilk and vanilla essence. Sift in the baking powder and plain flour. Stir through the diced apples.

Pour the cake batter into your prepared cake tin. Mix together the caster sugar, cinnamon and butter for the topping. Gently layer over the reserved sliced apples in a circular pattern from the outside to the inside of the cake. Dot over the cinnamon butter mixture.

Gently transfer the cake into the preheated oven. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until risen and pale golden (a skewer inserted into the centre should come out with only a few moist crumbs attached).

Allow to cool in the tin before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar and accompanied by a thick dollop of double cream.

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Want to visit the rest of the Bridal Shower?

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Click on the links below:

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kanelbullar (swedish cinnamon buns)

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With each day that passes, I feel more and more blessed to be in Malmö, Sweden. Each morning, Aaron and I have woken to dappled light through curtains and the gentle sound of waves against the nearby pier.

Upon entering the kitchen, we’ve been met with a heaving table full of rye bread, cold cuts, various cheeses, jordgubbe marmelad (strawberry jam), fruit, butter and hot tea. The generosity of this spread has only been surpassed by the warmth of my Uncle and Aunt’s hospitality; they are truly the most beautiful of people and I feel blessed to call them family.

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Despite suffering from a persistent cold over the past week, I’ve seen quite a lot of the Southern part of Sweden (Skåne). We’ve eaten fried herring and gravadlax (cured salmon) by the seaside, climbed the rocks of Ales Stenar in Kåseberga and toured the town of Ystad (of Henning Mankell’s Wallander fame). We’ve also taken multiple trips down to Malmö harbor to sit, breathe and watch the sun set. 

Last week, we also become acquainted with a Swedish specialty, Kalles Kaviar and uh… the video series below pretty much reflects my tasting experience. Let’s just call it ‘Swedish Vegemite‘.

 

However, despite the negative Kalles experience, there are many Swedish foods that I’ve actually loved. Surprisingly, one is Mimosa Sallad (a mixture of fruit and mayonnaise, to be eaten with cold cuts and bread) which I’ve pretty much eaten every morning since I arrived. Yes, I dislike mayonnaise, but… it’s good. Go figure.

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Last Sunday, my Uncle and Aunt also treated me to a day of Swedish cooking lessons, beginning with Kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon buns) and ending with Köttbullar (Swedish meatballs).

After an afternoon of kneading, mixing, frying, chatting and drooling in a cinnamon-scented cloud, the entire family came over for a traditional Swedish dinner: piles of köttbullar, boiled potatoes, peas, brown gravy and lingon sylt (lingonberry jam) followed by hot coffee and warm kanelbullar.

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Aaron and I were in Swedish food heaven. So were the rest of the family, judging from the contented sounds and expressions around the table. By the end of the night, our table of seven adults and two children had devoured around thirty kanelbullar. It’s not our fault, they were baked whilst the köttbullar were frying, so… uh, we ate a few as an entree. And a few more with hot milk before going to bed.

Warm cinnamon buns can do that to you.

My Uncle and Aunt were both kind enough to share their recipes with me so that both you and I could reproduce traditional Swedish fare at home. Today I’m sharing my Uncle’s recipe for kanelbullar (which was passed to him from his friend Annette) so get ready to enter your own cinnamon scented cloud of sweet content…

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Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)

Makes 40

Please note: I had a little bit of trouble with metric conversions (as Swedish cooks tend to use ‘litres’ and ‘decilitres’ for measurement of dry ingredients) but hopefully the quantities below are correct; please let me know if you have any difficulties.

Dough:

  • 50g fresh yeast
  • 150g salted butter or margarine
  • 500ml milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 175g white caster sugar
  • 1.5kg plain flour

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the milk, salt and sugar into the butter, then heat until ‘finger warm’ (lukewarm). Transfer into a large bowl and crumble in the fresh yeast. Stir until completely dissolved.

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At this point you can either use your hands (old-fashioned kneading) or use a mixer with a dough hook attachment. If using a mixer, gradually add in the flour until the mixture forms a ball (there should be no visible flour left in the bowl). The dough should be smooth and non-sticky to touch. Cover with a clean tea-towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place to rest for 30 minutes.

If hand-kneading, turn the mixture out onto a clean, floured surface when the flour is thoroughly combined. Knead until the dough is smooth and non-sticky (my Finnish/Swedish aunty said that her mother used to ‘throw the dough on the table for the yeast to activate’). Return to the bowl, cover with a clean tea-towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

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Whilst the dough is resting, make your filling as follows.

ingredients

Filling:

  • 120g salted butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 1/2 tbsp vanilla sugar*
  • 100g white caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp powdered cinnamon
  • to glaze: 1 free-range egg, lightly whisked

Add all ingredients to a bowl and whisk by hand or with a whisk attachment until smooth, thick and creamy.

* If you can’t find vanilla sugar, just add in an extra tablespoon of caster sugar and about 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste.

filling

Set aside in a cool place (not the fridge, as it’ll be too difficult to spread later) until the dough is thoroughly rested.

To assemble:

Set out two flat oven trays. Place 20 paper patty pan cases onto each, then set aside.

Prepare the kanelbullar: after 30 minutes, your dough should have doubled in size. Turn it onto a floured surface and punch out the air. Cut the dough into four pieces for easy rolling, then roll the first piece into a large rectangle (about 5mm thick).

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Evenly spread 1/4 of the cinnamon filling over the dough with a butter knife or spatula.

Roll the dough away from you into a tight cylinder.

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Cut into ten pieces (about 3cm for each), then place each piece into a patty pan case (cut side up).

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Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.

Cover each tray of kanelbullar with a clean tea-towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place for another 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Half way through the second resting time, pre-heat your oven to 225 degrees C (435 degrees f). When the kanelbullar have rested, use a pastry brush to glaze each bun with beaten egg.

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Bake each tray for 8-10 minutes or until risen and light golden brown.

These buns are best eaten warm, straight out of the oven with a hot cup of coffee. They definitely won’t last long (the picture below is annoyingly out of focus as little fingers were moving too fast… but I love it anyway. My cousin’s five year old daughter managed to eat five kanelbullar on her own, with keen fingers and an excited grin. Impressive!).

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If you don’t consume these buns within two days, freeze them in an airtight container or bag for up to one month (just microwave each bun for a few seconds until warm and soft again).

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soft-baked cinnamon walnut cookies with dulce de leche

stack3A few weeks after my husband and I started dating, we attended a Christmas eve barbecue hosted by the parents of his best friend (and later, Best Man) Will. I was reasonably excited; mostly as I was about to meet Will’s beautiful parents, Nafa and Susan, who had swiftly adopted Aaron into their family after he and Will became best mates. Aaron has shared countless stories of this couple’s love, acceptance and generosity towards him, so it was a privilege to meet them as a ‘second set of in-laws’, so to speak.

I was also quite excited about the barbecue itself. Now, for those of you who are used to throwing a couple of snags on the barbie (‘sausages’ on the ‘barbecue’, for my non-Australian friends), let me explain: this was not just any barbecue. Will and his family are Argentinean migrants, and his father Nafa has become famous amongst our friends for his traditional, slow-cooked Asado (Argentinean-style, hot coal barbecue).

flowernutsAs soon as we arrived at the house, I understood what all the fuss was about. The smell of slow-roasted beef, sizzling pork ribs and chicken filled the air in a smoky, fragrant cloud. We were swiftly greeted with warm hugs, snacks and icy cold Coronas before tucking in to creamy potato salad, hot baked rolls, seasoned rice and mountains of charred meat laced with garlicky chimichurri. When we’d eaten our fill, the men started exchanging garlic-scented burps whilst the women sipped on maté and shared narratives of days gone by.

dulce1Towards the end of the evening, Susan and her daughter Miriam re-set the table with another spread: an assortment of teas, coffees, chocolates, fresh hot water, ‘first dessert’ and the requisite ‘second dessert’. Despite being full, I partook in fruit salad with ripe, fresh cherries, vanilla ice-cream and dulce de leche, a thick, glossy caramel that has since become a personal obsession of mine. Eaten straight from the jar, it somehow manages to taste both like thick condensed milk and deep, dark burnt sugar; when melted over ice-cream or pound cake, it transforms into the warmest, thickest and most delicious caramel sauce you can imagine.

walnutmontSince that night, Aaron and I have become loyal consumers of this Argentinean confection, usually over ice-cream but also in baked goods such as cheesecakes and more recently, soft-baked cookies. Up til now, I’ve been purchasing my supply from El Asador, a Perth company that locally manufactures their own chimichurri sauces, empanadas and homemade chorizo according to the family recipes of owner Max Pineiro.

However, despite the convenience I’ve recently been tempted to try and make my own caramel at home via David Lebovitz’s tutorial. Most other recipes for dulce de leche involve the hazardous step of boiling a can of condensed milk in water for hours. David’s method involves a baking tray with less pressure (consequentially removing the potential of an explosion… big yay for occupational health and safety).

fillingSo, after that prolonged introduction (sorry) today’s recipe is a variation of a soft-baked cookie recipe that I originally found on Sally’s Baking Addiction. I’ve enriched the basic cookie dough with fragrant cinnamon and toasted, crushed walnuts before stuffing each cookie with a spoonful of rich dulce de leche. The end result? Soft, chewy cookies with a fragrant, toasty walnut batter and a sweet caramel centre.

They’re some of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted, and I’m saying that entirely without bias (as to be honest, I’m harder on my own cooking than anyone elses!). Try one on its own, or crumble a couple (preferably straight from the oven) over cold vanilla ice-cream for a deliciously sweet and easy dessert.

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Soft-baked Cinnamon Walnut Cookies with Dulce de Leche

Makes 40 cookies

  • 170g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (165g) dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50g) white caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon + 1/4 tsp extra, for sprinkling
  • 2 cups (250g) plain white flour
  • 2 teaspoon cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • sea salt
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts, crushed + 2 tbsp extra, for sprinkling
  • 100g dulce de leche (substitute with cajeta or Nestlé Top n’ Fill)

Place the butter and sugars into a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer. Cream together until light and fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla, then continue to mix at medium speed until well combined.

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Sift in your flour, cornflour, baking soda, cinnamon and a large pinch of salt. Mix together with a spatula or wooden spoon, adding in your walnuts when the mixture starts to come together. The dough will be thick, moist and sticky. When well combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate your dough for at least 30 minutes, or until firm.

siftstirWhilst your mixture is chilling, line two medium-sized baking trays (or cookie sheets) with baking parchment. Check your dough – if it’s firm to the touch, it’s ready for shaping.

Scoop out 1 tbsp of dough from your mixture. Flatten it into a 0.5cm-thick pancake in your hands, then place 1/2 tsp of Dulce de Leche into the centre of the circle. Bring up the corners to enclose your caramel filling, then gently roll the dough into a ball. Place onto the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough and Dulce de Leche, placing each ball about 2cm apart on the baking tray or cookie sheet. When you’ve finished rolling all of your cookies, return the trays to the refrigerator to chill for 5-10 minutes.

stuffballsPreheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Take the cookies out of the refrigerator and flatten each ball slightly with your hands. Press a few bits of crumbled walnut into the top of each cookie and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place the cookies into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, swapping trays half way through the cooking process.

doneWhen ready, the cookies will be pale golden (not browned) and soft to the touch. They will firm up considerably upon cooling, so don’t worry if your finger sinks into the cookie surface when you touch it. Once you’ve removed the trays from the oven, leave the cookies to cool on their trays or cookie sheets for at least five minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

These cookies will keep fresh in an airtight container for up to one week. I’d suggest separating each layer with greaseproof paper to prevent sticking (as they’re quite soft, they’ll break if you try to separate them… and broken cookie = sad day).

crumbemptyAustralian Manufacturers of Dulce de Leche:

  • Mi Casa Fine Foods – based on the Gold Coast, Queensland
  • El Asador – based in Leederville, Western Australia
  • Crella – based in New South Wales. Product comes frozen.
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