Sunday, 16 December 2007

Christmas Cupcakes

These beauties also make a very good alternative to mince pies - Nigella Lawson

The verdict: I'll second the alternative to mince pies view, not being a fan of them myself. These are hands down much better , in my view.

Unusual or substituted ingredients: These are almost a gingerbread cake - mixed spice, sour cream, coffee, chocolate - they're not really kiddie cupcakes. I made these for a grown up afternoon tea and they went down very well.

The cake in the center is Nigella's Spice Cake from Feast. It was RoseRed who was visiting at the time who came up with the idea to arrange them all on one plate and to use the left over white icing to ice the spice cake. Inspired!

I used Orchard White Icing instead of mixing up royal icing and I didn't use cranberries and green icing leaves as Nigella did. I used red and green glace cherries cut up by RoseRed!

Special utensils or cookware: I bought some special cupcake papers for these but other than that, nothing special.

Repeatability: These will be pulled out every Christmas until, well until forever. I intend to make them every year.

Sauciness: Oh they're delighful. I always think of decorated cakes as being a bit more for kids but I felt like RoseRed and I made these into a work of art!

Overall pleasure level: 10 out of 10. Perfect! If anyone wants to make these for Christmas, let me know. I'll hand out the recipe.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Snickers and Peanut Butter Muffins

These muffins have a special charm: I think the ingredients speak for themselves - Nigella Lawson

These muffins are just another example of what my sister calls "Nigella's insane levels of indulgence" - Bells

And both Nigella and Bells' sister are right - the ingredients definitely say to me "this is insanely indulgent, but just a little bit special". How could it not be with a recipe that contains these:
The verdict:
Unusual or substituted ingredients: Hey, did anyone know that 6 tablespoons of peanut butter is over half a jar?? I didn't, until I made these! And while some may call peanut butter and 3 snickers bars unusual, the only substitution I made was regular caster sugar for golden caster sugar.
Special utensils or cookware: Standard utensils and cookware all the way. I have to say, it is hard to get an exact measure of a tablespoon of peanut butter (it's just so sticky!) and so I guestimated my tablespoons. I probably ended up putting a bit too much in, which made the muffins a little dry or crumbly, but they were still quite edible!

Repeatability: These were good, but won't be the first on the list to make again, I have to say! Sauciness: Well, come on, how could they not be, with 3 chopped snickers bars!! The caramel and chocolate goes all goey and yum, but the slight saltiness of the peanut butter ensures they aren't too sickly sweet.
Overall pleasure level: Hmmm, this is a hard one. I think 6.5 for these. So very very wrong but so very very right!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Nigellan Flatbread

Look, the name is meant to be a bit of a joke.....Nigella Lawson

The verdict: I've long wanted to make these partly because I think the name is amusing (she's referring to the black seeds, called Nigella Seeds) and partly because I love the idea of making such a take away staple. I've only ever had flat breads from Indian restaurants and while I love them, I fancied the idea of making my own. But don't worry, I won't be making these each time we get Indian takeaway. That would just be silly.

Unusual or substituted ingredients: Being a bread making veteran now, I have a well stocked cupboard for such things, but you'll need to get some instant yeast and Nigella seeds. I found them easily a long time ago (remember the Poppy seed incident?) They're a kind of onion seed, I believe.

Special utensils or cookware: None. Just bowls and baking trays!

Repeatability: I will do these again. And again. And again. They were astoundingly easy because you don't let the dough rise as long as regular bread (an hour at most) and they only take 8 mins in the oven. I made them for a dinner party and as they cooked, I whipped them out and wrapped them all layered in foil to keep them warm in a very low oven. I served them with fresh dips.

Sauciness: I think my guests were incredibly impressed. 'You made these? Seriously?' Talk about a feel good cooking experience!

Overall pleasure level: See above. Huge feel good result. As Nigella herself would say, maximum pleasure for minimum effort. 10/10

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Baklava Muffins

...these taste so good: gooey, crunchy, soft and filling; sticky buns for the slapdash cook - Nigella Lawson

The verdict:

I must have been feeling very slapdash the day I made these because everything just felt right.

Unusual or substituted ingredients: The recipe asked for demerera sugar but I was all out so I just used plain raw sugar.

The wonder of these muffins is that you make a mixture of chopped walnuts, demerera or raw sugar and cinnamon which will later make a kind of filling. I struggled not to eat too much of this mixture myself.

Special utensils or cookware: Just a muffin pan and muffin papers. Sadly, I ran out of all the muffin papers I needed. Who knew you would ever run out of muffin papers when they come in a pack of 200?

After you've made the plain muffin mixture, you half fill a cup, add the filling (Yum!) then add more mixture. Finally, top it off with a sprinkling of the remaining filling.

And yes, I did have some filling left. I hadn't eaten ALL of it.

Then bake.

Repeatability: I can see myself making these many, many times.

Sauciness: Given that baklava is one my personal favourite middle eastern desserts, I think it's pure genius to replicate the idea in muffins. And the true, saucy joy? You pour honey over them at the end of the baking, while they're still warm! Finger licking sticky goodness.

Overall pleasure level: 9 out of 10 for me. Near perfection. I should have got a photo of the inside of them, where the nuts and sugar make a river of sweet, crunchy delight that shows up when you bite into them. Wonderful.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Mini Pavlovas

It's a palaver, but worth it: they look so pretty people can't stop themselves - Nigella Lawson

One word for these: YUM! And it's not really a palaver, it's actually fairly easy to make these!!
The verdict:
Unusual or substituted ingredients: Only if 8 egg whites is considered unusual. Now all I need to do is find a recipe which uses 8 egg yolks! Special utensils or cookware: A large oven would be helpful - with enough room for 3 baking trays - or at the very least, 2 large baking trays - this recipe makes 18 mini pavlovas (or 16 in my case, but I could have easily made them slightly smaller!) As always, the KitchenAid made the mixing a whole lot easier!
Repeatability: Pavlova has always been a favourite dessert of mine (to bake as well as to eat!). I thought the recipe I always used (from A Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander, in case you were wondering) was a total winner - but I have to say, I am a big fan of the mini pavlova. I think because you get more crust?
Sauciness: Oh yeah, these were a huge hit! I served them up just with the whipped cream, plus raspberries, blueberries and banana slices on the side, so that our guests could choose their own adventure in terms of toppings!
Overall pleasure level: Even though these aren't chocolate, I do think I have to give them a 10. And because the recipe makes so many, they are like a gift that keeps on giving. Dessert on Saturday night, Sunday lunch and then tonight as well. Mmm mmmmm.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Burnt-butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes

It's difficult to explain the wonderful resonant taste that burnt butter has, but think of it as a kind of mouth-filling nuttiness - Nigella Lawson

I've always been intrigued by the name of this recipe - it sounds kind of nice (mmm brown sugar) but odd (hmmm, burnt butter?). Looking around for something relatively quick and easy for a girls gathering I thought I'd give these a try. Somewhat ironically, I also burnt the cupcakes, just a little was a mistake, honest!

The verdict:
Unusual or substituted ingredients: Golden caster sugar and golden icing sugar are hard to come by and certainly don't live in my pantry on a regular basis. So good old regular caster sugar and regular icing sugar did the trick.
Special utensils or cookware: None! These are made in a food processor - so easy! Although they aren't quite as quick as I thought, in that the burnt butter bit takes a while as you are supposed to wait until the butter re-solidifies after "burning" it. I'm not sure how long that is supposed to take but I imagine hours! So I put it in the fridge for a while and used it runny. I'm not sure it made any difference to the outcome!
Repeatability: Yeah, these were good - if I had enough time I would definitely make them again - I'd clarify the butter in the morning and make them in the afternoon - very easy!
You melt and stir the butter until it is a deep gold colour - this is the difference between regular butter and the now-burnt butter. Leaving it to cool also allows a bit of sediment to settle to the bottom.
Sauciness: These really do have a resonant, nutty taste - the only flavour comes from the burnt butter, the brown sugar and a little bit of vanilla. Oh, and the tons of icing which Nigella has you make - as usual, I made less than recommended and still had some leftover. Nigella directed the icing be smeared messily - so that's what I did!
Overall pleasure level: I'd give these a 7 - a good adult cupcake, not too rich but just a little bit complex in the eating.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

My Mother-in-Law's Madeira Cake

It's just one of those plain cakes you can't see the point of, until you start slicing and eating it - Nigella Lawson

The verdict: I've made this cake numerous times, prior to this blog. I made it again recently when I felt like making something simple and comforting. Read on though and you'll learn about the rather amusing mistake I made.

Unusual or substituted ingredients: The recipe is for a plain, lightly lemon flavoured cake, which came from Nigella's mother-in-law. The plain one is excellent but I like the variation to make it into a lemon poppyseed cake.

Take a close look at the photo above. Not until I was starting to gather the photos for this post did I realise what I'd done.

Do they look like poppyseeds?

No. They're in fact NIGELLA SEEDS! What a scream. I am highly amused by this, not least of all because of the name. I asked Sean if he noticed something odd about the cake and when I explained I'd accidentally used Nigella Seeds (which, if you don't know them, are a kind of onion seed) he said he had not noticed at all. Truth be told, neither had I. We have eaten it drowned in a lemon sugar syrup though, which might have disguised the faint onion flavour a bit!

Special utensils or cookware: None. It's as straight forward as you can get.

Repeatability: I'll make this cake and its variations again and again and again.

Sauciness: It's not so much a saucy cake as a good, simple and very gratifying cake. That said, you can do as we did and up the stakes by making a lemon sugar syrup, heating up a slice of cake in the microwave, dousing it in syrup then adding a dollop of cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A winner, for sure.

Overall pleasure level: This cake is wonderful. The greatest pleasure for me is in the sugary, crispy surface you get by sprinkling caster sugar over the surface before you bake it. It splits the cake open and creates a delightful, light, crisp crust. This is an 8 out 10 for me. Nigella seeds and all. Although next time, I'll make sure it's poppyseeds I've got, not Nigella seeds!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Cream Cheese Brownies - challenge accepted!

umm, they worked for me... - Rose Red

I just had to cook them for twice the recommended time (40 minutes all up). I hope this doesn't mean I am an evil person...

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Cream Cheese Brownies

What's not to like? - Nigella Lawson

The verdict:
There's nothing to like about this recipe, except for one thing. The way the recipe is written is intriguing.

Nigella writes, in the instructions on how to melt the chocolate and butter, that you can leave it on the stove without heat for a while before it's finished melting because it will continue to 'deliquesce' if left. Gee, thanks Nigella. You help me enhance my vocabulary, even when your recipes suck.

There will be no photos for this post. What you'll get is essentially a rant. If anyone else has made these with success, speak up! So far, my test audience of one (George) agrees with me. Nigella let us down on this one.

Unusual or substituted ingredients: Cream cheese. I thought it sounded weird to put cream cheese cubes in the mixture, but I must have liked the idea at least a little or I wouldn't have ventured down this track. Basically you cut up fridge cold cream cheese and plonk the cubes into the part-poured mixture, before covering it over with the remaining mixture. It's supposed to be like a chocolate cheesecake.

Special utensils or cookware: None.

Repeatability: Never. I was making these for an afternoon tea at George's house and I had to turn up empty handed because they failed abysmally. Why did they fail? First of all, she says to cook them for 20 minutes. The mixture has hardly warmed up in that time. Forty minutes later I really had to get them out of the oven so I could let them cool before I went out and they still weren't set.

I let them cool totally and inside, they were still runny. The cream cheese was the problem, I think. Nigella says to use 200g of cheese but once I'd put about 50g worth of cubes in the mixture, there was no room left so I think it was overcrowded and seriously impeded the cooking process.

Sauciness: Zero. I was just angry. We threw the lot out.

Overall pleasure level: I got no pleasure from this recipe at all! I felt like less of a failure though when George declared it hadn't worked for her either.

If anyone else wants to have a go to give this recipe a chance in perhaps more competent hands, go right ahead. If you don't have the book, I'll send you the recipe. Let's get a challenge happening!

Oh and the reason there are no photos is that I was in rather a rush and forgot to take any during the making of them. By the time they were supposedly done, I was so disgusted I wanted to remove all evidence of them.

These get a big fat zero out of ten from me. Nice idea, pity about the result.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Coca-Cola Cake

It's really just a divinely tender-crumbed chocolate cake - and there's nothing wrong with that. And however odd you might think it, everyone loves it when I make it - Nigella Lawson

And she's right! It really is just a very moist, delicious chocolate cake - if you didn't know it had coke in it, you would never pick it!

I've been wanting to make this cake ever since I got the book. This weekend gave me the perfect opportunity - dessert for dinner with my brother and his family (all great lovers of coke!). And even a glass of the black gold leftover to enjoy while the cake is baking!The verdict:
Unusual or substituted ingredients:
Well, for a start, a can of coke. Not an unusual item to have in your house, but (in Australia at least) unusual to put in a cake. American readers, is this a US tradition or just what we non-Americans might think is popular fare?? I did use Coke Zero though, only because I happened to have a can of that.Also, buttermilk. Nigella says if you don't have buttermilk, which I didn't, you can use low-fat milk and some yoghurt. Since I hate yoghurt, I don't usually have any of that in my fridge either. My mum is visiting for a few weeks and likes it, so she has some. But it's passionfruit yoghurt. I didn't think it would work too well with a chocolate cake that also has coke in it. So I used low-fat milk and a squeeze of lemon juice, which is another alternative to buttermilk.

Finally, golden caster sugar. I knew I should have bought some last week at the deli. Not to worry, just used normal caster sugar.

Special utensils or cookware:
None, except that as this is a very runny cake mixture, Nigella recommends lining the springform tin with foil. Which I did. Even though I was not entirely confident I would be able to get the foil off, or that the foil would even do the intended job.
But it did - hurrah! I would recommend gettting extra wide foil, so you only need one piece for the whole cake tin. Otherwise, the mix slips under the join in the foil. Not to worry, cook's treat!
I would definitely make this cake again - very moist and chocolately. As usual though, Nigella's icing mix could be halved and you would probably still have leftover icing. She must spread it on soooo thick! Too sweet for me!

Mmmm, this is one good cake. But not much left to lick out of the bowl, since it is so runny! But not to worry, lots of leftover icing!!
Overall pleasure level:
Oh very good - not really a novelty cake at all! I'll give this a 9 out of 10!

Monday, 20 August 2007

Blueberry Muffins

That dry mass of aerated wodge in cellophane isn't the sort of muffin you want for your breakfast; these are - Nigella Lawson

The verdict:
In the above quote, Nigella is referring to her indifference to those big, puffy, commercially produced monsters you get in shops and lesser cafes. I'm not a fan of those either. I am always disappointed. I think that's why I didn't feel necessarily attracted to this recipe at first. I thought, meh, muffins, what's the big deal.

But then I changed my mind. Inexplicably. And it was a good thing.

Unusual or substituted ingredients: I've never made muffins before that have buttermilk in them. And I didn't this time either. Nigella gives you the choice of either 200ml of buttermilk or a combination of 100ml milk and 100g natural yoghurt.

When it came down to it, I could have either defrosted a 600ml carton of buttermilk or used up a close to use by date tub of natural yoghurt. No question. I thought i'd save the buttermilk version until I have a small amount of the stuff to use up some time.

I also used frozen blueberries instead of fresh. $7 a punnet? I think not. Especially when I would have needed two punnets.

I also added a sprinkling of coffee sugar crystals for that added sweet crunch on the top. See below. It worked really well!

Special utensils or cookware: None at all.

Repeatability: Oh definitely. You can be sure of that. The yoghurt/milk combination made these so light. Not in the fluffy, aerated way of their commercial counterparts, but in that oh so light, just floating out of the oven kind of way.

Sauciness: I think these are saucy. But I wouldn't have said so before. When your husband has three in quick succession, declaring them 'bloody fantastic', then you're on a winner.

An amusing aside; I was making these on Sunday morning and I asked Sean if he minded that I was making muffins for breakfast rather than something involving bacon like I might normally do. He said, 'You're just making them for the blog and hoping I'll just cope.'

Sprung! The truth is, he did cope. He'd have eaten the lot if I'd let him. But he would have had to fight me for them.

Overall pleasure level: See above anecdote. 10 out of 10. The perfect muffin!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Pizza Rustica

Pizza Rustica is not a pizza in the way that we've come to understand it, although anyone who has spent time in Italy might well have come across it - Nigella Lawson

The verdict:
I'd longed to make this pie since I got this book. It just looked so fulfilling, so densely packed with fabulously rich and decadent ingredients.

My father in law was visiting and thought I was nuts for taking photos of the process. He thought I was even more nuts when I told him I was putting the photos on the internet! Never mind.

Anyway, my Pizza Rustica was ever so slightly disappointing, but I think I figured out how to fix that for next time. I'll leave out the vast quantities of provolone cheese, and I'll serve it cold.

Unusual or substituted ingredients:
This pie is crammed full of ingredients I've not bought in a long time. Nigella explains that the ingredients are rustica if you're in Italy. Not so much for the rest of us. Slabs of mozzarella, smoked provolone, mortadella, proscuitto make for a fun trip to the deli. I used sausages that were called 'Traditional Italian' but were made by a local Canberra butcher. I knew they were good pork sausages, very peppery.

Special utensils or cookware:
None. Just the spring form tin - a real staple for Nigella.

Maybe we should have a section on 'special skills required' because skill with pastry is something I lack.

With this much cheese, butter and deli meat in it, I don't think I'll make this too often. It's jam packed with artery hardening goodness. And if I repeat it, I'll cut down on the provolone cheese. It was incredibly salty and i found that really detracted from the pie.

But it's a lot of fun to compile all the ingredients and then construct the pie - even though I treat pie crust construction like a patchwork quilt, filling in bits with additional scraps of pastry!

You just know, once you've made it this far, that you can't go wrong, really. It's going to come out beautiful. It's great, plump masterpiece, I think. It was as high and as full as I hoped it would be.

Overall pleasure level:
Apart from the irritating saltiness I mentioned earlier, I thought this was a magnificent pie. Nigella warns that it tastes better at room temperature, or cold, but we were impatient and ate it hot. The cheese just spilled out of it.

However, the next day, I had a slab of the pie for lunch at work and straight out of the fridge, I thought it was absolutely marvellous. I liked it so much better. Sometime in summer, I'm taking one of these with a bottle of something very good and cold on a picnic and I'm going to love it.