Sunday, 29 July 2007

Rhubarb Grunt

I hate rhubarb. You can do all of those recipes - RoseRed


A grunt is like a cobbler or a slump: at its most basic, fruit stewed in the oven with a scone-like topping - Nigella Lawson

Cobbler? Slump? Gosh there are some funny names for desserts out there. I had a hunch that the terms would be mystifying to the American readers. I wasn't even sure I knew what those vaguely old fashioned sounding words meant and I was raised by an English woman!

Wikipedia, however, tells me that these are terms that should be known to all of us if we are from English speaking countries.

Right. Got that? Just funny names for fruity, doughy desserts. On we go.

The Verdict

Unusual or substituted ingredients: Rhubarb. I've never cooked with it. I don't remember eating it since I was seven and living in Tasmania. Even then I have no real memory of how it tasted. On the basis of this dish, I'm going to grow it in my garden! I love the slightly acidic, tangy flavour of it.

The scone-y stuff on top wasn't very scone like, if you ask me. It's flour and cream. What a weird combination! Although I guess it had a certain heaviness that you might find in scones.

Special Utensils or cookware: None. I cooked it all in a square pyrex dish. Nigella suggests pyrex so you can see if the rhubarb is bubbling. It worked.

Repeatability: Sure. When I have a massive rhubarb plant in my garden, I'll add this to the myriad of ways I'll be looking for to get rid of it. I think, apart from the sugar and cream, it was probably quite a healthy dessert. OK, a sort of healthy dessert.....

Sauciness: Put it this way. I made this for my father in law and he loved it. I suspect it's of his era. So, it's a good, solid, old fashioned dessert. Not real saucy.

Overall pleasure level: Absolutely delightful, really. The brown sugar, butter, cream, doughy, crunchy top and bubblingly soft rhubarb combines to make a really satisfying winter dessert. Served it with ice cream. I imagine I'll make this one for many winters to come.


Thursday, 26 July 2007

The Essential White Loaf

I can't let Bells have all the breadmaking fun, can I? - Rose Red

Inspired by Bells' delight in making bread from scratch, and her excellent results, I finally decided to give it a go.Look at that - how good does that look!!

The verdict:

Unusual or substituted ingredients: Just your standard breadmaking stuff - flour, water, bit of butter and salt. And yeast. I'm not down with that fresh yeast business, so I use instant yeast, and (while I've never used fresh yeast) this seems to work perfectly fine, and it keeps in the fridge for ages. And no fussing with little sachets which may or may not give you the right amount. Just measure out what you need.Special utensils or cookware: None. Nigella suggests using a mixer with a dough hook (which I have) but I really wanted to do it by hand. And it's not hard! If I was really busy and making bread, I might use the mixer, but for a lazy weekend pleasure, there's really no need. Except for the kneading bit (heh!! sorry, couldn't help myself). Kneading is fun. I'm not sure if I noticed the point at which the dough is supposed to become smoother and so on, but it seemed to work out ok.As for leaving it to rise, well, that was the hard part - I just wanted to cook it and have bread - I started making it a little too late in the morning - although it ended up being just in time for lunch. The question I had was whether the dough had in fact increased by half it's size again at the end of the allotted time (plus a bit). But I couldn't wait any longer!Repeatability: I would definitely make bread again. This white bread is really so so easy. And so yummy.Sauciness: But yeah, not saucy. As Bells has previously noted, bread is earthy, not saucy. It is a little messy, in the mixing/kneading stage, but licking your bread-doughy-fingers is not quite the same as when you are cooking, say, some type of chocolate delight!Overall pleasure level: Oh, this is fabulous. Making it was a pleasure, eating it was a pleasure. And despite all Nigella's warnings that the bread won't get crusty in a standard domestic oven, this bread was perfectly golden and crusty on the outside, soft on the inside - yum! I think that makes it a 10!

Sunday, 22 July 2007


I know the idea of a long-drawn out tripartite baking process is not necessarily a welcome one, but presumably you do this because you want to, not because you are trying to find time-saving ways in the kitchen and kind of stumbled onto this by mistake - Nigella Lawson

The Verdict
Still on a bread kick, the decision was made to bake sourdough in tandem with fellow blogger, Tanya. She lives in hundeds of kilometres away in Brisbane, so it was long distance tandem baking. She just so happens so be a Nigella fan, too, so we chose the sourdough recipe from Domestic Goddess and set about making it on Wednesday last week. Yes, that's right - it's a recipe that takes days. Fortunately, much of the process is set-and-forget. And is it great? Oh yes it is. Even if Nigella says her version cheats a little.

Unusual or substituted Ingredients: I don't mess around with bread recipes. I do as I'm told so I didn't change anything, but she does give you the option of making rye or white sourdough. I chose rye. Above, that muddy looking sludge is what's known as the starter. That's flour, a pinch of yeast (that's apparently the cheating part - you're not supposed to do put that in traditionally), a hint of milk and warm water. For three days, that disgusting mixture bubbles and froths away. It's living. How cool is that? That's about the most unsual thing I've cooked since starting the project, I think.

Three days later you make a sponge.

That's where you take some of the starter (the rest gets kept as a sort of family pet for future use) and mix it with more flour and you leave that for about 18 hours. It's certainly a drawn out process!

Finally by Saturday afternoon, we got to the proper bread stage. Here's my loaf proving in the sun. It actually had a tea towel over it, but that doesn't make for as nice a photo.

Special Utensils or Cookware: None at all. As always, you could knead with a dough hook, but I like the hand method.

The dough, after punching it down

Repeatability: Well now that I have the tasty starer in the fridge (you have to feed it periodically to keep it alive) I will have no problem making sourdough whenever I feel like it. All I need is the 18 hours to grow the sponge.'s still going to be a time consuming effort, no matter which way you look at it. I don't care. This was GREAT! My husband and father in law thought so too.

Sauciness: I don't think of bread as particularly saucy. It's earthy. Not saucy. But not everything needs to be!

Overall pleasure rating: 10 out 10 for me. This was fabulous. I feel a huge sense of achievement for making my first sourdough and it was delicious. I served it with a big bowl of Moroccan Lamb Soup. Perfection!


Thursday, 19 July 2007

Chocolate Cheesecake

In theory, the cheesecake purist within me shudders at the idea of something so unorthodox - Nigella Lawson

The verdict
I don't consider myself a cheesecake purist so am unsure what is so wrong with the idea of a chocolate cheesecake. Feel free to enlighten me.

I made this to take to lunch with friends and their children and it went down a treat, unorthodoxy and all.

Unusual or Substituted Ingredients
Nigella says to make just a plain biscuit base for this cheesecake but I couldn't resist adding some baking cocoa to the biscuit mix before smooshing them down with the base of a glass. That's a trick I learned a while back. It's a good one.

Special Utensils or Cookware
You'll need a springform tin and a baking tray large enough to hold it. Once the cake is made, you put it in a bath, about 2-3cm up the side of the tin before cooking it for an hour.

It's worth noting that you're supposed to melt the chocolate and add it to the cheesecake mixture, stirring it through gently so you get a marbled effect.

Nope. Not in my house. I tried that. The chocolate, once it hit the cold mixture, sort of turned into flakes so no marbling occurred. I think next time I'd let the chocolate cool a lot more before I tried that.

Oh yes. This is a good one. Even though I would personally like a chooclate cheesecake that was richer (read: more chocolatey) the rich creaminess of this marvel is pretty bloody good. It's quite a wet cheesecake so it's kind of mousse-like in texture. I'l ddrag this one out for entertaining again and again, I imagine.

This is all that was left after four adults and two children (see below) polished it off.

I imagine if served with a greater concentration of chocolate, some chocolate dipped strawberries, appropriately placed whipped cream and you'd have one very saucy dessert on your hands.

Or, if you're a child, on your face. Meet Miranda and Sebastian. I think their faces say it all.


Monday, 16 July 2007


I've never met a child who didn't like meringues, and they're child's play to make, too - Nigella Lawson

Well, yes they are! Very very easy. And a great way to use up left-over egg white from this (or any other recipe calling for egg yolk/s only).

The verdict:
Unusual or substituted ingredients: This recipe is so simple that it only has two ingredients (or 3 if you want coloured meringues). Egg white and caster sugar - 60g of caster sugar per egg white. Can't get simpler than that!
While I mostly stuck with the white meringues, inspired by Nigella's description of using the back of a spoon to make "neat nippled small bosomed shapes", I decided to go the whole nine yards and make them pink as well, for added realism (or childish delight, more like!)
Special utensils or cookware: I used the kitchenaid to mix the whites and sugar - meaning this is truly a recipe you can make while doing something else (eg knitting!). Just put the mixer on to beat for about 5-10 minutes and go and multitask! A good way to tell when you've beaten your egg whites and sugar enough is to rub a little between your thumb and forefinger - if it feels gritty, beat some more. You will probably never get it entirely smooth, but the level of grittiness will reduce.Beat until it is a "gleaming, satiny mass".

Repeatability: If I have leftover egg whites I will definitely make these again - the other great thing about meringues is that they keep very well in an airtight container - and they taste good too! When I was making them, my husband asked me what I was going to do with them and I told him I was planning on taking them to work. After he'd eaten his first one, he wasn't so keen on me taking them out of the house!
Sauciness: "neat nippled small bosomed shapes" - need I say more??!!
Overall pleasure level: I hadn't had a meringue for ages before these - I'd forgotten that lovely chewy centre and crisp crust (heh, bet you can't say "crisp crust" ten times in a row!). These are really very good and fun to make to boot! - 8/10 for me!

Friday, 13 July 2007

Pain-au-chocolat Pudding

It looks beautiful and tastes divine - Nigella Lawson

Just for Bells' birthday - a lovely wintery choccy custardy pud. Mmmm mmmmmmmm.
The verdict:
Unusual or substituted ingredients: This is really a bread and butter pudding. However, unlike your standard B&B pudding, this uses pain-au-chocolates (chocolate croissants) rather than bread and sultanas. As I was buying the ingredients late on a Saturday afternoon in a rush (as I was making it for dinner at friend's that evening) I couldn't actually find 4 pain-au-chocolat, so I bought 3 (from 2 different places) and a plain croissant as well.
Other than that, nothing particularly unusual. Unless, that is, you count half a litre of milk and half a litre of double cream as unusual. That's a litre of pretty creamy dairy in there!! Oh and 4 egg yolks and 1 whole egg. Oh my. I think it's going to be creamy custard! And since I have 4 egg whites left over, my next Nigella recipe will give you a very easy way to use them up.
Special utensils or cookware: None - just a big bowl to hold the creamy custard as you are making it, before you pour over the previously sliced p-au-c that you've put in a casserole dish. Repeatability: This is a very easy dessert - I would definitely make it again. Sauciness: Well, you know with a litre of creamy stuff, this is quite saucy. And once you cook it all together, the chocolate from the p-au-c oozes out into the custard and gives it a delicate, not overwhelming, chocolate taste. Overall pleasure level: As Nigella says: "I can't tell you how comforting this is". It is truly a comfort food. A point or two off for looks (because, really, Nigella - it might look "beautiful" straight out of the oven, but there is no way to serve this to make it look even remotely attractive!
So for me, an 8.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Chocolate-Cherry Cupcakes

I love their dark, glossy elegance - Nigella Lawson

I needed chocolate on the weekend. I wasn't making anything from this book that didn't have chocolate in it somewhere, so obviously I turned to the chocolate chapter and i was not disappointed. These are delicious!

The Verdict

Unusual or substituted ingredients -
Nigella recommends morello cherry jam. We looked, admittedly not extensively, but we couldn't find any. Sean, having grown up in the cherry capital of Australia, knew that morello cherry jam would be more tart than sweet, so we tried to find something like it. We didn't really succeed (well, you can't if you don't get to taste it first) so when I found the jam I bought (it was French) was quite sweet, I just used less sugar).

Special Utensils or Cookware - none. This is getting repetitive. I'm going to do a fancy recipe soon just so I can say yes! I needed to scour Canberra for this or that. These are made in muffin sized pans and I have those. So nothing special.

Repeatability - Try and stop me. I'll make these again for sure. They are rich, dense, quite heavy (see photo below for how they sank - is this an indication of heaviness? Anyone know how to remedy this?)

Sauciness - Oh these are very saucy. Especially once you dress them with icing which is boiled cream and melted dark chocolate. It goes on quite thin, then starts to thicken. I reckon next time I'd wait for it to cool a little to allow for easier moulding. Adding the glace cherry on top was just the perfect finishing touch. I'm not even a huge fan of them, but you couldn't not include them and they really added something.

Overall pleasure level - I thought these not-so-little cakes were divine. After my previous failure with cakes including jam in the recipe list, I was skeptical, but never let it be said I don't go back for attempts at learning from past mistakes! These are just wonderful. I had to try and offload them at work though because 12 of these naughty delights was just going to do us in entirely. At work, they were both loved and reviled as being too, too naughty.

That icing really is the best. Make them today! When the cream and chocolate on top goes all chewy and dense, it really is the best. I'm giving them 9, but am not expecting RoseRed to make them any time soon since she professed her loathing of all things cherry.


Sunday, 8 July 2007

Fairy Cakes

I noticed that the people who really seemed to get excited by [fairy cakes] were the children's parents. I think that it's not until you hit 30 that nostalgia is even a remotely comforting option - Nigella Lawson

I do love a fairy cake - a sweet little ball of light airy nothingness that is gone in a couple of bites - the perfect afternoon tea pleasure for me. No need to worry about cutting slices or even a plate. And even better, they are good. Really good.

The verdict
Unusual or substituted ingredients: None - these are as simple as they come. Except for the Royal Icing Nigella constantly uses. What is it? Can you buy it in Australia? If so, is it called something else?? (ok, so I just looked it up on wikipedia - now I know what it is at least). So, not having access to Royal Icing, I just used a standard icing sugar, blob of butter and warm water icing mix, which, in my opinion, works perfectly for these cupcakes - Royal Icing, by the sound of it, would be quite heavy on top of these very light cakes.Special utensils or cookware: Nigella suggests whipping the mix up in the food processor - which I have to say is perfect - love this method - and just too easy. I used the cupcake tray rather than the muffin tray, and so got 4 extra cupcakes than Nigella suggests - I think these are a good size.Repeatability: Yes definitely - perfect for kids and so quick to make. If you've got kids, they would also have a lot of fun decorating these - the options are practically endless! For an elegant touch, use thick icing and sugar flowers, for kids use 100s & 1000s or lollies, and also easy to theme (Nigella uses this recipe as the basis for her halloween cupcakes).

Nigella suggests cutting the top off so you have a flat surface to decorate. This might work if you are using a very thick solid icing, but I think otherwise it might mean the icing soaks into the cake, which in my view would not be quite as nice. Oh yeah, and a waste of good cake (well, except that clearly I would have eaten all the tops...)Sauciness: More sweet and innocent than saucy - but Nigella obviously loves them - if you have seen the book, you will know the cover features a fairy cake (a very elegant white on white fairy cake, but a fairy cake nonetheless!).
Overall pleasure level: I love these. An 8.5 for me. Make them, you won't regret it!

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake

This isn't, strictly speaking, a plain cake since it has a form of icing, but I can't help feeling that its loafiness counts for a lot - Nigella Lawson

Looking for a fairly plain, but still special cake for lunch with friends at our house on Sunday, I decided I'd do this cake. And, boy, was it the right choice (they both had seconds - clearly the sign of a successful cake - you don't have seconds just to be polite!!)

The verdict
Unusual or substituted ingredients: None - can be easily made with pantry ingredients. Nigella also suggests a couple of variations - eg adding some limoncello to the syrup (which is just lemon juice and icing sugar), or using other citrus fruits like orange and lime, or pink grapefruit. Hmmmm, an orange syrup loaf cake would be go-ooood!
Special utensils or cookware: None - although this cake did give me the opportunity to use two new items recently purchased - most excitingly, my microplane (with fine blade for zesting citrus or grating ginger etc).
Oh my, I cannot rave about the microplane enough. I may have to buy one in every size!!! It is that good. Take a look at this zest:That is gooood zest. Much better than the grater I used to use. So much better!

And the other new purchase - a (what else) Tupperware loaf tin. Pretty. Red. Tupperware. What more could you want?
Sauciness: Lemon, by its nature, is not so much saucy as it is tart (not that there's anything wrong with that!). The use of icing sugar in the syrup sweetens it up sufficiently (although the look of the syrup as you heat it does, I have to say, leave a lot to be desired!
It's not a big cake though, so if you are feeding a crowd, you'll need to make more than one!
Repeatability: I would definitely make this one again - the perfect cake for lunchtime dessert, or afternoon tea. Not overwhelmingly flavoured, but a really good sense of lemon, and the syrup, which is poured over the cooked cake, gives a fabulous moistness, which also makes the cake keep really well (I ate the last piece last night, and it was just as good as the first piece!). Next time, I might try with oranges.
Overall pleasure level: This is a 9. A big ole yummy 9. Especially good with a dollop of double cream (ok, two dollops!).