Friday, 29 June 2007

Chocolate Macaroons

the utter gorgeousness of just one mouthful of these...reveals the rank inadequacy of language - Nigella Lawson

And that's probably true, because out of this recipe, which should have made at least 18-20 macaroons, I managed to get 10. Just one bite is all you'll get!

When Bells and I were discussing what we planned to make on the weekend, she mentioned she was going to try the pistachio macaroons, which sound fabulous. But to sound a note of warning, I had to mention the disaster that was my experience with Chocolate Macaroons - pretty much same recipe but different nuts.

The verdict:
Unusual or substituted ingredients: Not really. The recipe calls for ground almonds. I've no idea if you can buy ground almonds (I expect you can, I just couldn't see them in the supermarket) and assuming they are different to almond meal (which I think they must be, as Nigella uses almond meal elsewhere in HTBADG), I just bought whole almonds, and ground them in the food processor - that sounds right doesn't it?!
Special utensils or cookware: The macaroon mix is supposed to be piped onto the baking tray. So I got out my fab-o tupperware icing ball and used that. I needn't have bothered. The painstakingly piped macaroon mix just blurbed into a dollop sized blob on the tray. So don't worry about the piping, just use a spoon.

Sauciness: Nigella suggests using baking paper lined trays. As I always do with biscuits, I use my tupperware silicone sheets (have I mentioned how much I love Tupperware??!!). Well, that was a mistake. These little suckers were so saucy they stuck to the sheet. So for round two, I thought, well, maybe Nigella's right, maybe I should use baking paper. Heh. Big mistake. Stuck even worse.

Of the 20 macaroon rounds on the sheet, I could use none of them. None. See the white rounds on the bottom of each one. That's the baking paper. Completely stuck. Thanks a bunch, Nigella!
Repeatability: I am not going to bother. I do accept that maybe I did something wrong with this recipe - maybe I should have just used almond meal. Maybe I used the wrong baking paper. I did think I might give the pistachio version a try, but I'll leave that to Bells.
Overall pleasure level: This was a rare Nigella failure. I did get 10 usuable macaroons, and they did taste pretty good sandwiched with the chocolate patissiere stuff (which is basically cream, chocolate and a little bit of butter), but a failure all the same. So it's a 4.

Stayed tuned for the next exciting episode of Macaroon. Will Bells shell eleventybillion pistachios by hand? Or will she buy them pre-shelled? Will she pipe or just dollop? And how many pistachios will she eat before putting them into the mix? And the real cliff-hanger - will they end up in the bin?

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Finnish Rye Bread

It's dense, dark and aromatic in an extraordinarily comforting way - Nigella Lawson

My love of bread making is well documented here. It's safe to say I'm quite passionate about it. So when I announced last night I would make Finnish Rye Bread, Sean, who is in tune with such things, noted that being the winter solstice, something dense and harking from one of the northern-most parts of the world seemed somehow fitting.

The Verdict
I chose to use the cool-rise method that Nigella mentions in the opening paragraphs in the Bread and Yeast chapter. That is, make the dough, put it in the fridge over night and let it rise while you sleep.

Unusual or substituted ingredients - Oddly enough I had both rye flour and dark muscovado sugar in the pantry. What can I say - I cook a lot of Nigella recipes and she calls for these sorts of things. So i substituted nothing.

Before going into the fridge for the night.

Special Cookware or utensils - Nigella says you can use a dough hook attachment for the kneading. I say 'don't be daft!' I knead by hand and can't imagine a time when I won't.

Repeatability - Try and stop me. This bread was amazing. The problem will be NOT making it every weekend to the point of getting sick of it. I'd do the cool rise again too. It does make it a little hard to give it the second knead in the morning but it warmed up in the sun that pours in our kitchen window soon enough.

The bread before it went in the oven - in glorious early morning light.

Sauciness - Oh yes. Making bread is my new favourite thing - has been for six months now so I guess it's not so new. But I am not tired of it. I'd make it more if it I didn't work. I'd do a lot more in life if I didn't work but that's another story.

Overall Pleasure level - Sean and I were in complete agreement. This was the best bread I've ever made. It's dense without being too heavy or too chewy. And it's marvellous dunked into soup on the second day.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Night and Day Cupcakes

This, like the cream cheese brownies, uses my favourite combination of densely sweet and smoothly sharp - Nigella Lawson
What a change from oat cakes hey! Back to the tried and true chocolate cupcakes (well, clearly not these particular ones, I've never tried them before, but you know what I mean). I do like a cupcake - a single serve size of moderate amount, portable, and very easy to eat. The problem is, how do you stop at one!

The verdict
Unusual or substituted ingredients - nothing particularly unusual, except perhaps for the cream cheese icing, which you wouldn't ordinarily expect on a chocolate cupcake. But as Nigella says, it adds a nice dimension to the sweetness of the chocolate (particularly given the loads of icing sugar added to the cream cheese, which sweetens it quite a bit).
I'm not sure if it is proper cooking etiquette to do this, but I pretty much always cube my butter and soften it in the microwave - otherwise it is never soft enough to blend properly (I always forget to take it out of the fridge hours before I'm going to be cooking!) - am I the only one who does this?

Special cookware or utensils - none, except a food processor - this is a very easy recipe, pretty much bung it all in the magimix and whiz until blended. Ok, it's a little more complicated than that, but not much! As always, Nigella suggests using a muffin tin. She must have very small muffin tins. I used a patty cake tin and got the recommended 12 cupcakes, plus two muffin sized ones. If I'd used a muffin tin, I think I would only have got 8 altogether - not enough for a work morning tea, which is what these were for!
Repeatability - I would definitely make these again - nice light cupcakes, not too rich or heavily chocolate but luscious enough with the cream cheese icing to feel special.
Sauciness - mmmm, I enjoyed scraping the food processor bowl clean on these babies! (who doesn't, when they cook cakes?!). With the icing, I made only half the recommended amount, which was plenty for all of these cupcakes, unless you like your icing an inch thick!

Nigella recommended decorating with a chocolate coated coffee bean, or shaved dark chocolate. Not having any coffee beans on hand, and not feeling like I could be bothered with shaving dark chocolate, I was pretty happy to leave these as is. And I think they worked perfectly just so!

Overall pleasure level - both the cooking and the eating was good on these. I'm giving them an 8.5!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Oat Cakes

There's something very satisfying about making such good, plain fare as oatcakes - as if you're doing something sober and basic and not entertaining yourself with fripperies - Nigella Lawson

I've been away this weekend and at 4pm this afternoon thought, 'Bugger! I haven't made anything for the blog!' And I know that RoseRed's been away so she probably hasn't either.

So I sat down to find the easiest, quickest thing to make in the book, other than Snickerdoodles, which I've made ad nauseum since I first made them.

A-ha! Oatcakes! An easy solution to the problem. Four ingredients, no fussing. Perfect.

Not exactly. Sean's first comment on taking a bite was, 'so what are they for exactly?' It went downhill from there.

The Verdict

I have to say, not even Nigella sounded very excited about these in her pre-recipe blurb. Ususally she goes on at length about the wonder of her chosen recipes. I have to wonder why she included them.

Unusual or Substituted Ingredients - I just happened to have some almost out of date medium ground oatmeal in the pantry. No idea why. I've never used the stuff. Other than that, no special ingredients. Bi-carb, oats, salt and butter (although you are given the option of using lard, and Nigella urges you to try it. Sorry Nigella, this was a last minute decision. I don't carry lard in the house as a rule!)

Special Utensils or Cookware - None at all.

Repeatability - I don't think so. Unless someone can tell me in the comments how these go just fabulously with this or that. They taste, I'm afraid, like pressed cardboard. They're Scottish, I believe. I'm not aware of any Scottish cuisine that's set the world on fire. Apologies to any Scots reading.

Sauciness - zero. Again, I have to say they taste like pressed cardboard. Nigella says making them is sobering. I'll say this for them - tasting these things is a reminder that we can all have moments in the kitchen where we look at what we've done and think, 'how on earth did this ever seem like a good idea?'

Overall Pleasure Level - Taking the shot below was the greatest pleasure I derived from this recipe. I had to do something with them. Cooked, they look just like that photo above of the cakes just before I put them in the oven. I'm giving these 2 out 10. They weren't a failure. They were just pointless. Am happy to stand corrected if someone can tell me there is a way to make these edible by pairing them with something else.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Snow Topped Spice Cake

Photo courtesy of Sean - he thought the bundt tin deserved a portrait. He was right.

This cake - fruitless, light but aromatic - is the perfect replacement for the standard Christmas cake
- Nigella Lawson

I made this for our Christmas in June celebrations last weekend. I think it was the standout part of the meal.

The Verdict

Unusual or substituted ingredients None really. Just the usual Nigella favourites like Dark Muscovado sugar and a range of spices that are fairly common like cloves and all-spice. What's special about the cake though is the mixing in of 6 large eggwhites right before it's ready to bake. It makes the mixture look like honeycomb and creates an amazing lightness in the final product. For the first time ever, I'd like to add, I defrosted eggwhites I'd frozen (according to adivce from Nigella I'd picked up somewhere along the way. Who knew I'd actually ever remember to use them?)

Special Untesils or Cookware Oh yes. A whopping great big and expensive bundt tin! I've always wanted one and so must confess it was part of the reason for choosing this cake. Nigella didn't use one with a funnel and in the end I went with one, despite my reservations. RoseRed and the woman at the specialty shop assured me, at the last minute, that it would be ok. It was.

Repeatability Oh yes. I'd make this again in a heartbeat, Christmas or not. In fact, I'll be making it again next month when my sister comes to visit, since she had to miss out on this meal for reasons beyond her control. Not only that, but when you spend a fortune on a cake tin, you want to use it as much as possible.

Another portrait by Sean.

Sauciness This cake is divine. It's rich, but not too rich, and luciously decadent. It also looks wonderfully impressive, I think.

It slipped almost effortlessly out of the tin - here it is, above, freshly tipped out and then photographed by Sean, who thought this cake was a great opportunity for cute photography. I was worried the corrugations in the tin wouldn't translate to the cake. But they did, even the little diamond shapes on the top that you can sort of see above. It was a delight in every sense - oh except for the extra long lunch break I spent trying to find the tin. But you get that. We must suffer for our art at some point, I suppose.

Overall pleasure level Look at how it scrubbed up! Even me, with my very, very mediocre cake decorating skills, managed make it look quite passable. I added the holly for Christmas but might fill it with berries or something some time. I absolutely loved this cake. Best I've had in recent memory - and it's got some stiff competition, let me tell you.


Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Sour Cream Icing

For some reason, this is the only chocolate cake my daughter likes ... the sour cream provides a wonderful mouth-filling smoothness - Nigella Lawson
Oh, another attack of the hyperbole, Nigella. I thought this cake (or at least, my version of it) tasted too much like packet cake (maybe that's why your daughter likes it!!). The cake was just a little dry (quite surprising for a cake with sour cream) and the icing was too icing-sugar sweet, for my tastes anyway. But fortunately, it is still quite edible (hey, it's chocolate cake after all!) and our friends' 3 year old daughter quite liked it. Especially the icing!

The verdict
Unusual or substituted ingredients: Only unusual in that it uses sour cream. Oh, and golden syrup in the icing (I love golden syrup).
The recipe also calls for golden caster sugar. I think I've seen that here but I couldn't find any on the weekend, so I used regular caster sugar. Maybe that does make a difference?
Special utensils or cookware: None - very easy to make in the KitchenAid. Called for 20cm tins - as you know, I only have 22cm tins. So it just meant the cakes came out a little thin. Oh yeah, and they stuck like a b*tch, even though I buttered and lined the tins. So, should there be a next time with this cake, I'd butter and flour and line the tins. Or possibly use spring form tins. One or the other. You can't tell from the photo below, but the top cake (the upside down one) lost it's bottom. Fortunately, I could get it out of the tin in one piece and "stick" it back into place (badly).

Repeatability: Probably not. I like my chocolate cakes richer than this - more like the dense chocolate loaf. But it's an easy cake to make, perfectly acceptable and a little lighter - probably a good choice for kids, especially smaller kids.
This was the top cake (just after I placed it on top of the bottom cake). Lucky for thick icing which hides the cracks underneath!

Sauciness: Don't lick the bowl from the sour-cream mix. Do lick the bowl from the icing. I think that's all that needs to be said! (Really, it's probably only me that needed that advice in the first place!)
Look, I even got the splayds out for this one!

Overall pleasure level: I hate to say this, for a chocolate recipe, but this is only a 5 for me. Although I do have to admit, it did taste better the second day!

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Christmas Decorations

Of all the Christmas rituals up for adoption, making these is probably the most satisfying - Nigella Lawson

These are very satisfying biscuits to make. I spent a happy Friday afternoon off work making these for our Christmas in June celebrations. They were great fun.

The Verdict

Unusual or substituted ingredients - As Nigella often does, she uses Dark Muscovado sugar. I remember when I first started cooking her recipes about 6 years ago, Muscovado sugar was something you only found in speciality shops. Now, you can get it any supermarket. As RoseRed does, I often substitute it with regular brown sugar, but this was a special event so I went the whole hog and got some. It's so dense and sticky. I love it.

Also, as per Nigella's advice at the front of the recipe, I cut down on the 1-2 tsp of ground pepper. She advises that if children will be eating these, you can leave it out, which I did. I might try them some time with the pepper, but given a 3 year old was supposed to be eating them, I thought it best not to include it.

Special Utensils or Cookware - It just so happened that I had some Christmas shaped cookie cutters that a friend gave me last Christmas. So I didn't have to buy anything special for these.
Repeatability - For sure. I would like to make these every Christmas and probably will. I'll also make the holes in them bigger next time. They're designed to be Christmas tree decorations, but the holes I put in them closed up a bit during baking so they wouldn't really be big enough for the kind of string you'd want to use for hanging them on a tree.

Sauciness - They're delightfully satisfying, as Nigella promises. They deliver completely. There's nothing like a tray full of these pretty little things with their silver balls and crisp, snow white icing.

Even lined up for baking they look perfectly adorable.

Overall pleasure level - Like I said, I'll be adding these to my Christmas repertoire. They're wonderful. I'm giving them a 9.5 out of 10.

I'll leave you with this one photo. I spent the afternoon trying to figure what on earth this was? A penguin? Nope. It's Santa. Now I can see it, it's obvious. But for at least a couple of hours, I just wasn't sure.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Granny Boyd's Biscuits

dark, smoky and melting - Nigella Lawson

Because, you know, you can never have too much chocolate, I present you with Granny Boyd's Biscuits. Deeeelicious on their own, or with a cup of tea. Or, as Nigella suggests, with ice-cream (she certainly has a thing for the biscuits and ice-cream trick!)
(I know my teapot is nude. I need to make a cosy...)

The verdict
Unusual or substituted ingredients: None - these are quite possibly the easiest biscuits you can make - a stick of butter, castor sugar, self-raising flour and just a leeetle bit of cocoa - whenever I make biscuits with cocoa, I am always surprised at how dark the mixture goes with so little cocoa. I use Dutch cocoa in my baking, but you could certainly get away with the more economical common garden variety!
Special utensils or bakeware: None. The most hi-tech this recipe gets is to suggest squishing them with the back of a fork once you've rolled the mix into walnut sized balls!

When I was a child helping my mother make biscuits, squishing the backs of the butter snaps with a fork was always my job. And let's face, while I don't have the butter snap recipe, I suspect these are exactly the same, except for the addition of the cocoa - which does take them above the realm of the ordinary biscuit!
Repeatability: I would make these again - an easy chocolate biscuit recipe. Next time I might put in a touch of peppermint essence - oooh home made mint slice biscuits!

Sauciness: I think I may have slightly overcooked my biscuits - it is so hard to tell when they are done, because they are so dark (none of that "cook until golden brown" stuff for these babies) as they turned out just a tad crumbly for my liking. I think the saucy comes in if you serve with ice-cream!

Overall pleasure level: Due to the crumbliness, I have to mark these down a little - so a 7. They keep well, are delicious warm (aren't all biscuits!) and are very versatile! And for the observant - you'll note this biscuit served as the model:

Monday, 4 June 2007


I don't understand why people don't make brownies all the time - Nigella Lawson

Perhaps it's because your version asks for 500g (or 17 ounces) of caster sugar, Nigella! No one in their right mind would eat that much sugar too often, would they? I mean, some of us might LIKE to, but would we do it?

I'm not an experienced Brownie maker, so this was only my second foray into their chocolatey goodness. My first foray was with the exact same recipe. So it must be a good one, except for that not so small amount of sugar issue...

The Verdict

Unusual or substituted ingredients:
None. Nigella says the walnuts are optional. I added them but I didn't chop them so they were really big. I think I'd chop them next time.

Also, as already mentioned, there is way more sugar than needed in this recipe. 500g/17 ounces, when you consider there's already nearly 400g of sweet cooking chocolate in it, is just absurd. There was no way I was doing that.

Special Utensils or Cookware: None at all. This is the best kind of recipe. Open your cupboard. You're bound to find everything you need already, if you already bake.

Repeatability: No problem. I'll do these again any time. I'm particularly keen to try Nigella's suggested variations, like adding other kinds of nuts, or substituting half the nuts with dried cherries, or white chocolate chips, or shredded coconut. I like the sound of all of those!

I think 2 huge blocks of chocolate and a bunch of nuts and then stacking a big pile of them up on your best Villeroy and Boch blue glass plate with candles makes for a decadent and beautiful treat. Thumbs up from me.

Overall pleasure level: I'm giving them a 7. I do like them a lot and will continue to experiment.

Lest any of you worry about how Sean and I are going to get through that enormous stack, rest assured most of them are gone, but not into our tummies. No, I sent loads of them to work with Sean so that a bunch of public servants could have a calorie fix at morning tea. I believe they went down a treat.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Victoria Sponge

a Victoria sponge filled with cream, fruit and maybe a little good jam, does work. It's a reminder that, when the ingredients are good and the cake tenderly fresh, this is one of the dreamiest combinations in the world - Nigella Lawson

I've had this cake on my "to make" list for some time, but have always been scared. My only previous experience with sponge cake resulted in a sunken, hard, almost green (don't know how that happened!) inedible cake. Of course, that was about 20 years ago...
The ABC documentary about the CWA ("Not all tea and scones") along with the recent story in the Sydney Morning Herald about sponge cakes, reminded me of my plans to make this cake. And scared me a bit too. It was only when I was making it last weekend while Mum was staying, that I realised that a Victoria sponge and a traditional sponge are quite different! A Victoria sponge is made with butter (almost a whole stick!) and is not quite as light and airy as a traditional sponge (trivia fact: it is called Victoria sponge as apparently it was Queen Victoria's favourite cake!). So really, this cake is a lot easier to get right than a traditional sponge, which I will try again soon. (Also a true Victoria sponge doesn't have cream and fruit on top, only in the middle, with a dusting of icing sugar on the top. But that doesn't sound very practical to me - all the cream would ooze out of the middle when you cut it - very messy and a waste of perfectly good cream!)

The verdict
Unusual or substitued ingredients: None. This is a very straightforward cake recipe. Everyone always advises to use the freshest eggs you can for a good sponge - we bought some recently from a roadside market so I figured these would be far fresher than supermarket eggs.
Special utensils or cookware: Nigella makes her cake batter in a food processor (shock! horror!). She also gives instructions for traditional method, which I used, being a bit of stickler for tradition (when it suits me, anyway!). It is very easy to make either way. You also need 2 sandwich tins. Nigella recommends 21cm diameter tins. I could only find 22cm diameter tins. That was ok, just the cakes were perhaps slightly more flat than they should have been, but still fine.
Repeatability: I would definitely make this again, particularly if I was having people over for afternoon tea - who doesn't feel more like a domestic goddess than when they are serving up a sponge cake with jam and cream! And it keeps fairly well (unlike a traditional sponge) so eats well the next day (in the unlikely event there are leftovers!). Nigella also gives lots of variations on the recipe, so you can mix it up and avoid boredom!

Sauciness: Well, you can't get much more "apple pie and icecream" than this (except for, I guess, apple pie and icecream!). But then again, anything with a bit of jam and a dollop of cream is just a little saucy! And as for dishes, not bad, not bad at all. Pretty much made in one bowl, then two tins (out of which the cakes came very cleanly - hurrah for greasing, flouring and lining the tins well! There is nothing more satisfying (and potentially scary) in cooking than turning a cake out of a tin. If it sticks, you just want to run away screaming!)
Overall pleasure level: This is a 9. Very very happy with the way this cake turned out. Go on, try it, you'll find it far less scary than you might have thought!

Friday, 1 June 2007

Banana muffins

Any sort of muffin is easy and quick for a child to make ... small children seem to have an inordinate passion for mashing bananas - Nigella Lawson

As do adults, I'd say! If you are looking for an easy item for your weekend breakfast or brunch, these fit the bill quite well. Simple ingredients, easy to make, fairly healthy, and (for those of you with kids) easy enough for the kids to help with.
The verdict
Unusual or substituted ingredients: Nope - all straightforward pantry items, plus a couple of (preferably overripe) bananas. (This was not a recipe I made after the Queensland cyclone which pushed the price of bananas up to $15-$16/kilo!!)
Special utensils or cookware: Just a regular muffin tin (not a huge muffin tin though!). I also use paper muffin cases, so I don't have to worry about greasing the muffin holes.Repeatability: Yes, eminently repeatable - in fact, I've probably made these at least 8-10 times, sometimes when we want something a bit special for breakfast (well, special when compared to say, toast!) or if we have people over for morning tea, as we did last Sunday, when I made this batch. Not the most attractive looking mixture I have to say, but don't let that put you off!
Sauciness: The sweetness in the muffins comes from the bananas, but also from 2 "oozingly heaped" tablespoons of honey (you won't be surprised to find they are Nigella's words!!). The honey though also makes the muffins a little sticky - most times I've made this recipe, the paper case has not come away cleanly from the muffin (like they usually do with cupcakes), but that's ok, a bit of time peeling the paper off just enhances the anticipation of the eating!

Overall pleasure level: For a simple breakfast, these are delicious! I'd say a 7. They are quite good for you - no sugar, only a little butter, just honey, bananas, flour and a bit of vanilla (and probably baking powder too). And while I've never made them with kids, I can see that they would be the type of recipe kids would enjoy making.