Waltzing Matilda

It has taken me, what it seems like, forever to make Pavlova.  And look I even have a tea towel from my Mom and Dad when they traveled to New Zealand in the 1990s.

Well my time came. My son took a job in Australia so I had to give it a try.

According to What’s Cooking America the Pavlova recipe started appearing after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926 and 1929. The airy dessert was created to honor the dancer who “soars as though on wings”.  There is disparity between Australia and New Zealand on who created the dessert first. They both claim it as their national dessert.

My friend Joy, whose two children have been to Australia as exchange students, has made Pavlova a lot. This is her Pavlova plate that is oven-safe and beautiful enough to serve from oven to table for presentation.

Joy made the Pavlova for Ben’s going away party. Then I made my Pavlova after the tea towel recipe

4 egg whites

Few grains of salt

3/4 C castor sugar (granulated sugar)

1/4 tsp vanilla essence

1 tsp vinegar

1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)

Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees Centigrade (300 degrees Farenheit). Brush the plate with melted butter and dust with cornstarch. Beat the egg whites to a foam with an electric mixer, add the salt.  Beat to a stiff foam, add 1 Tbsp of sugar at a time until form stiff peaks. Remove the beater then add the vinegar and cornstarch and blend together.

Spoon the meringue onto the plate forming a 9 inch circle.

Bake at 140 degrees C (275 degrees F) for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 120 degrees C (250 degrees F) and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven and allow to cool in the oven.

Serve with whipped cream atop then decorate with strawberries, kiwi, mango or any fruit of choice.

Patty’s Points:

1. I let the egg whites come to room temperature before whipping. I’m not sure why my whipped egg whites weren’t full and piled high. Baking caused it  to spread out on the plate. Egg whites are sensitive to heat and humidity; that could have been the reason.

2. Cooling the Pavlova while in the oven was a perfect technique as it allowed it to cool slowly and prevent the meringue from cracking.

3. Pavlova in an egg. Okay what? Joy told me about a product where all the ingredients for Pavlova are in an egg-shaped container. Of course we are talking about dried egg whites. I found a website review of Pavlova Magic by blogger foodycat.  Joy’s Pavlova in an egg version turned out well. It piled high on the plate for a pretty presentation.

4. The taste? It was good, but then again I’m a sucker for baked egg whites. I’m obsessed with macarons remember? I skipped the whipped cream with mine but it is a fabulous addition, also adding height.

Our son has started a new chapter in his life. He is waltzing Matilda, Aussie-speak for wandering happily. It’s also the unofficial Australian national anthem. This food blog wanders happily in cooking adventures. Happy trails in cooking all.

A Mother’s love: Alfajores.

I tasted my first Alfajore cookie a few years ago when my husband brought home a box from a business trip in Argentina. It was love at first bite, melt in your mouth deliciousness.

I saw a recipe for Alfajores last year from Relish May 2011. The article mentioned that these cookies are a traditional Mother’s Day cookie. Any mother who loves to bake will have no trouble making these cookies for their children because it is all about love. I’m an empty-nester so I shared these cookies with my husband who had no complaints.

Patty’s Points:

1) The half flour, half cornstarch combination was a first for me. It made the cookie melt in your mouth.

2) The dough was very tender, but rolling the dough in the cornstarch was easier to accomplish than I thought. I used a biscuit cutter to cut out the cookie. I used a metal spatula to lift the cookie disc off the cutting board so as to not damage it.

3) The boiling of the can of sweetened condensed milk was an interesting method to caramelize the sugars for the filling. If I use this method again I would place the can on some type on metal sieve or plate in the bottom of the pan. My pan had a film on the lining of my pan from the can and stained the bottom of my pan.

The cookie was melt in your mouth delicious, great with a cup of tea or coffee.

Now that I have accomplished the basic Alfajore recipe I am ready to move on to different flavors like from 6 Bittersweets website for Chocolate Nutella Alfajores. I absolutely love Nutella so looks like a great recipe to try next.

I also sent a Mother’s Day wish out to my children at my other blog site May 8,2012 posting at the patty beat . Check it out! Happy Mother’s Day.

Baklava: No Fear

In Alton Brown’s  Good Eats: Baklava episode he shows a food gallery of most feared foods to make:  Baked Alaska, Tarte Tatin and Baklava. I laughed when I saw this episode since Baklava was the recipe to tackle this month.

When I talk about the Fearless Cooking Club and the premise of tackling our cooking fears, I will hear someone say, “Oh that’s easy to make, why would you say that is hard?” It’s all about perspective, that’s why we have our cooking club. It’s easier to accomplish difficult tasks in a group, fear loves company. We have members of our club who call me the gourmet cook and I laugh. I am just stubborn and determined. All of our members have varying skills and we get along because we are all learn from each other.

Cindy was our hostess for April’s cooking and dining meeting and the theme was Greek cuisine. Cindy has made Pastitio which is a wonderful Greek comfort dish. So when I arrived I assumed that she had experience in making baklava. She announced that she was going to learn right along with us.

Phyllo dough, butter, sugar and nuts are the basis of baklava. The phyllo is the trickiest part of baklava. It is thin and tears easily, taking patience and technique and it dries out quickly.

1) Butter a 9×13 inch pan. Pull up the phyllo sheets and place two sheets into the pan like making a bed.

2) With a pastry brush “paint” the top sheet with melted butter.

3) Sprinkle 2-3 TBSP of chopped walnuts across the sheet. Then repeat the steps: 2 sheets of phyllo, melted butter and chopped nuts.

4) As you near the end of the layers keep 6 sheets to put on the very top of the pan. Cut the sheets in the serving sizes prior to baking.

5) Bake at 350 degree F oven for 45-50 minutes until golden brown. After you pull it out of the oven have a pre-mixed combination of 1C granulated sugar, 1C water, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1/2 C honey that was heated over a stove-top until it becomes a golden syrup.

Patty’s Points

1) Phyllo dough is found in the freezer section of the store. Put it in the refrigerator overnight for it to thaw. Alton Brown suggests you pick the box in the back of the freezer section as it is the freshest.

2) Phyllo dough can dry out quickly so when you are ready to use it, focus on the task of completing the assembly of the baklava. A damp towel or a water spray bottle can be use to keep is moist if necessary. We tried a towel but it was too damp and the first phyllo dough adhered to the towel so we skipped that and just worked quickly.

3) Have all the ingredients ready before assembly. Have a really sharp knife for cutting the phyllo dough shapes. We actually pulled out a ruler to measure the size of our cuts and triangles.

4) The phyllo sheets sucked up every bit of that syrup mixture and made the baklava very moist. Cindy bought some baklava from a local Greek restaurant and we thought ours was better 🙂 Just think, two triangles of baklava cost $4.00 so our entire pan was worth $72.00!

The rest of our Greek menu was Pastitio, Moussaka, Spanakopita, Sliced lamb, Pita bread, Greek salad, Loukoumathes (honey puffs) and of course Baklava. We received copies of the recipes to all the dishes which were delicious and delectable.

After some ouzo and wine we learned of Cindy’s first trip to Greece and traveling adventures as a young new college graduate. She decided to go to Europe because she got several driving ticket violations and couldn’t drive for three months. She was a free spirit and much bolder than I at that age.

OPA! Greek for party down which we did!

I can’t believe I made macarons

I first read about the macaron in the December 12, 2011 edition of Time Magazine. The macaron was being sold at a NYC French bakery with lines around the block. It claimed that it was going to overtake cupcakes in popularity. Since that article, I have read and watched numerous macaron blog posts and videos all over the internet.

There are many interesting takes on the history of macarons. The Serious Eats introduction to and history of macaroons is an interesting take on this 500-year-old delicacy and confectionary treat. They are extremely popular in France but originated in Italy.

So in my fearless quest to make to macarons I had to do my research. In Denver D Bar Desserts is one of a few bakeries that make macarons. So I checked it out. Petite, tasty little treats that would be good with a cup of tea or a glass of champagne.

The most comprehensive blog on macarons I found was Food Nouveau. She had step-by-step directions, along with a several of her own posts on trouble-shooting tips.  Four ingredients of almond flour (meal), powdered sugar, granulated sugar, and egg whites. How hard could it be? Six batches later culminated with the Fearless Cooking Club (FCC) members meeting to celebrate all things macaron and Valentines Day.

Macaron ingredients

210 g powdered sugar

125 g almond meal/flour

3 large egg whites

30 g granulated sugar

So with so few of ingredients I learned that this adventure was all about cooking techniques. It’s like playing a sport, you have to have the basic techniques.

Technique #1 -Prepping the dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients are measured in grams, which are important to know when preparing. I actually pre-measured the almond flour and sugars in advance and bagged them to be ready for the next batch to trial.

The powdered sugar and almond flour must be placed in a food processor to bring the ingredients together. Following that the combined ingredients are then sifted to a fine state of powder.

Technique #2 – All about the egg whites

Egg whites must be separated from their shell partner, the yolk, and placed in a sealed container, refrigerated 1-5 days in advance of using them. Before whipping them, they must be brought to room temperature for a couple of hours.  Then place your egg whites in a very cold steel bowl and whip them until frothy. Add the granulated sugar in three stages to the egg whites until they are stiff peaks, which takes about 3-4 minutes. Some recipes I saw indicated that the egg whites should also be measured in grams. I didn’t choose to get that technical, but it is recommended that you use large eggs.

Technique #3 – Folding in the ingredients

If you want pastel-pretty macarons, then this is the time to do it. Many sites say to use only powdered food coloring, which I didn’t have access to, so I used Wilton gel food coloring. I folding in the food coloring so as to not deflate the whites.

Once combined, I then added very small amounts of the almond-powder sugar mixture at a time. I accomplished this in 5-6 portions, again, folding the ingredients until each portion is combined.

Technique #4 – Piping out the macarons

All the mixture went into a piping bag with a 1/2 inch wide tip to pipe out onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Food Nouveau had downloadable templates to place under my parchment paper so I had a guideline for uniformity. That was pretty awesome. Make sure to slide out the template before baking!

Pick up and drop or bang the cookie sheet to get out the air bubbles and let them rest for 20 minutes.

Technique #5 – Baking

Set the oven at 275-300 degrees. This is where practice will tell you the right temperature. Place the cookie sheet into the oven on top of another cookie sheet so as not to burn them.  Bake them for 14-18 minutes, again another point of practicing. I turned my cookie sheet half-way through the baking time for uniformity. I’ll have to read more on macarons whether that is a good idea or not.

So that was the technique, but what did I really think once it was all over and done with? I made six batches of macarons this week. A labor of learning it was.

  • Two of the six batches were tossed in the trash; completely wrong texture.
  • The circumference of the cookie probably determines the adjustment of the time and temperature in the oven.
  • Sifting was tough. I had a very fine sifter which was great for consistency but it took a good 30 minutes to sift the entire mixture.
  • I made chocolate, lemon-yellow and the pink macarons. We had a variety of fillings from Nutella, cherry jam, and lemon curd. But the favorite was the one Sarah brought which was salted carmel!

Now that I have officially made macarons I have an appreciation for pastry chefs. Attention to detail is the key. They were good but I need more practice and a few tips to fully perfect them. But I really think going to France and appreciating them first hand would be a better place to start.

Soup Swap Party

The Fearless Cooking Club gathered yesterday today to celebrate January as National Soup Month and January 21, 2012 as National Soup Swap Day. If you want details on how to organize your own soup swap, check out my fellow blogger Soup Chick‘s website.

The Fearless Cooking Club members are more about socializing than having rules to follow, so it was a long afternoon soiree of enjoying each other’s company and partaking in different types of stews and soups. The spouses and a few additional couples were invited making a houseful of 14 people celebrating all things soup. Char and her husband  Dwayne were spectacular hosts and their home was the perfect setting for this occasion.

Our rules were that each club member made two batches of soup: one was pre-made and packed in 1-pint containers ready for freezing and sharing; the other batch was brought in a crock and ready to serve. Each member went home with four pints of soup.

I absolutely love soup, but in preparing for this cooking club adventure I realized I never had a favorite one to share. I surveyed Soup Chick’s blog and tested three recipes before deciding on which one to bring. I am known in the group for alway trying something new, hence the name as Fearless Cook. It took some research and cooking trials for me to find a recipe to share with a group of people. I tried a Spicy Ground Beef and Bean Soup with Cabbage and Spinach from Kalyn’s Kitchen that was awesome and a Apple Pie Soup from Soup Chick. I eventually chose to make African Chicken Peanut Stew. It was fabulous so I think I have found a signature soup recipe for me. It was kind of a cross between a traditional stew and a Thai type dish. I served it with rice and cilantro. It was a pretty hearty stew at that, one serving was pretty filling.

The soup choices were:

Italian Wedding Soup with sausage and kale

Walkabout Split Pea and Ham

Bruce’s Beef Stew

African Chicken Peanut Stew

Black Forest Potato Soup

As you can see it was quite a variety of soups and stews.

A soiree it was. Wine, bread, crackers, and lots of water to cleanse our palates. After all the tasting, we had coffee and light desserts to cap off the afternoon. My freezer has four kinds of soups to get my husband I and through the busy week of work. Bon appetite!

The Gift Cake

I was given this book several years ago by a dear friend, Esther’s Gift. This holiday book is part of the Mitford book series by Jan Karon, set in England. This short story is about Esther who makes Orange Marmalade Cake for her friends as gifts for Christmas. Our music group, is having a party today to celebrate the Epiphany, when the Three Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus. My gift to my friends is to make this awesome cake and celebrate the end of the Christmas season.

Esther’s Orange Marmalade Layer Cake

serves 10-12 people

For the Cake:

3 C cake flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 C softened, unsalted butter

2 C granulated sugar

3 eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten

1 TBSP grated orange zest

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extracted

1 C buttermilk

For the Orange Syrup:

1 C freshly squeezed orange juice

1/2 C sugar

For the Filling:

1- 12 ounce jar of orange marmalade

For the Frosting:

3/4 C well-chilled heavy cream

3 TBSP sugar

3/4 well-chilled sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper, shaking out the excess.

2. In a bowel, sift the flour, soda and salt.

3. In another bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth, Add the sugar, a little at a time, beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, orange zest, and vanilla. Beat the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk until well combined.

4. Evenly divide the batter between the pans, smooth, rap each pan on the counter to expel any air pockets or bubbles then place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or use a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to racks and cool in the pans for 20 minutes.

Make the Orange Syrup:

5. In a bowl, stir together the orange juice and sugar until sugar is dissolved

6. With a toothpick poke holes 1/2 inch intervals in the cake layers. Spoon the syrup over each layer, allowing th syrup to be completely absorbed. Let the layers cool completely.

Make the filling:

7. In a small saucepan, set over moderate heat the marmalade until just melted. Let cool 5 minutes.

Make the Frosting:

8. In a bowl, whisk the heavy cream with the sugar until foam firm peaks. Add the sour cream, a little at a time and whisk until mixture is spreading consistency.

Assemble the Cake:

9. Arrange, one of the layers on a cake plate and peel off the parchment paper. Spread the 2/3 of the marmalade over the top spreading it evenly. Invert the remaining the layer onto the top of the first layer, peel of the paper and spoon the remaining marmalade into the center of it, leavening a 1 and 1/2 inch border around the edge. Frost the sides and the top border with the frosting, leaving the marmalade on the top of the cake exposed. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.

Patty’s Points:

1. Putting the cake together was the most challenging part of the recipe. The whipped cream was fabulous, but I needed to be doubled. After I made the second batch, I realized that the whipped cream wasn’t as cold as it could be and it didn’t whip as stiffly.

2. The marmalade was applied after the whipped cream and worked out better.

3. What a fun cake to make and the batter was divine! I can hardly wait to taste the final product in a few hours.

Happy end of Christmas!