March 31, 2010
So yes, the food item in the above photograph looks nothing like an egg. It's not even egg shaped. But these tasty little cakes - so simple, but so good, flavoured with nutmeg and topped with butter, cinnamon and sugar - are the usually egg-shaped creation of Gesine Bullock-Prado. I ate one at Walton's Fancy and Staple, a wonderful bakery/cafe here in Austin owned by Gesine's famous sister Sandra, and I declared it the best cake I've ever eaten. That's only likely to be true of you if, like me, you prefer simple cakes, flavoured by only one or two star ingredients (in this case, nutmeg). Also if you like donuts with cinnamon and sugar, because that's what these taste like. They taste deep fried, but they aren't, and this is sort of miraculous.
After my 75 cent best cake ever at Walton's, I went home hoping to find a recipe to recreate the goodness, and found the very one used by the cafe. Not only is it available on Amazon.com, because Bullock Prado has allowed the first 12 pages of her cookbook Confections of a Closet Master Baker to be published online, but she has a video demonstration right here. How generous.
I looked and looked for egg-shaped molds to make these in, but finally decided just to use a mini muffin pan. They would be gorgeous - and very Easter themed - as eggs, but really what matters is how good they taste (preferably with hot, soothing beverages). Two important things: cream the butter and sugar together for a long time, or risk missing out on how extraordinarily good these cakes can be. And only fill your molds to halfway or less, or the cakes will overflow and spread.
Note that this recipe makes a vast amount of mini-muffin-sized cakes - probably something like 60. I planned to experiment with freezing some of them (before dipping them in sugar) and seeing how easily rejuvenated they were later, but kind friends came to my assistance and ate them all before that could happen.
Gesine Bullock-Prado, Confections of a Closet Master Baker
3 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups nonfat buttermilk
For dipping the eggs:
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (I used salted butter)
1 cup sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon mixed together in a small shallow bowl
Preheat the oven to 325°F / 160°C. Spray your molds with nonstick spray (I buttered mine).
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
In an electric mixer fitted with either the paddle or the whisk attachment, whip the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. This can take up to 10 minutes, depending on the temperature of your butter. As you're whipping away, stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure all the butter is incorporated into the sugar. Keep whipping and keep scraping.
Add the eggs one at a time, whipping after each one until the egg is fully incorporated into the batter. Scrape down the bowl every now and again as well. Add the vanilla.
Once all the eggs are incorporated, alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk, mixing slowly. After they are well incorporated but not overbeaten, take a ribber spatula and fold the batter a few times to make sure everything is evenly distributed and the batter is smooth.
Distribute the batter into your molds, filling each cavity a little less than halfway. Bake for about 15 minutes. Baking time varies depending on the size of your mold, so check for a very light golden brown color and make sure the cake springs back when you touch it. (15 minutes was just right for my mini muffin pan in my oven.)
Unmold your little cakes while they are still warm, dunk them quickly in the melted butter, then dredge them in the cinnamon and sugar.
March 7, 2010
I should say right away that real lamingtons don't look like these - they're cubes of sponge cake, sometimes with jam in the middle, coated in chocolate and sprinkled with coconut. Like this.* According to wikipedia, they're named for the 2nd Baron Lamington, Charles Cochrane-Baillie, who was Governor of Queensland from 1896-1901, and whose household at some point invented them, impromptu, at the very last minute before social disaster. Apparently Lord Lamington (who is famous for shooting a koala on his way home from meeting with conservationists about establishing a national park) hated them.
* Please read the accompanying article. It's like an Australian version of The Onion, only it's real.
I wanted to make lamingtons for the Australia Day party I held in January, but I had no intention of forming precious cubes and dipping one side and then the other, etc etc. Making cupcake versions is a brilliant idea (not mine; I stole it from the fabulous blog, Boyfriendly Cooking). I'm not sure that any of my American friends knew they were eating a little piece of Australian culinary history, but they seemed to like them anyway (especially the kids present, who helped me ice them, and who I may employ in that capacity for every cupcake I make from now on).
from Boyfriendly Cooking
1 1/4 cup all-purpose unbleached white flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dessicated coconut
3/4 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
Chocolate icing: 1 cup icing sugar
1 Tablespoon cocoa
more dessicated coconut for dunking
very hot water
Heat oven to 350F. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and coconut together. In a second bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture and milk alternately. Scrape the bowl and sides to make sure everything is mixed.
Fill muffin papers about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
To make chocolate icing: sift icing sugar and cocoa and mix together. Add hot water a teaspoonful at a time, or less, until you have the consistency you want. You don't want this icing to be too runny.
When cupcakes have cooled, spread the chocolate icing on the top and then dunk the cupcake top into a bowl of dessicated coconut. Repeat.
March 2, 2010
I've been an Australian expat for eight years now - with some much-needed months-long intervals at home - but this is the first year it's ever occurred to me to throw an Australia Day party. I think there must be something about Texas that inspired me. Also, this is the first time I've been the only international among a group of friends - my closest friends here are all American, and I love them very dearly, and I thought they needed to eat things like meat pies, sausage rolls, pavlova and lamingtons. I was also hugely impressed by their collective ability to produce decorative Australiana, which far outstripped my own. My favourite was the gorgeous map of my country, hand-drawn and beautifully painted, by a wonderful 6 year old friend.
So, back in January: the most kitsch Australia Day ever, but very delicious. I also served tiny hamburgers complete with beetroot (beets - an essential component of the Aussie burger), fairy bread (white bread with butter and sprinkles, which I cut into the shape of Australia, and which the abovementioned 6 year old was a big fan of), a green and gold salad, and a lime and coconut cheesecake with a macadamia crust (macadamias are native to Australia). And yes, there were prawns (shrimp) on the barby.
This is Australian Gourmet Traveller's recipe for mini meat pies - or party pies, as we call them - so they're all steak, shallots, garlic and red wine. The result is probably more French than Australian, but they're unbearably delicious, and you definitely don't need to wait for imperialist national holidays to serve them. The recipe suggests topping them with puff pastry, but I chose to make a double batch of shortcrust. Serve them with tomato sauce (ketchup) - AGT says "homemade or good quality", and I say Heinz or Fountain.
The filling takes some time to cook and cool, and is best made the day before you assemble the pies.
PS I know it's disgraceful of me to use props with Union Jack on them for an Australia Day post, but this gorgeous Emma Bridgewater plate was the closest thing I could find to an Australian flag.
Mini Meat Pies
from Australian Gourmet Traveller
2 tbsp olive oil
600g chuck steak, chopped into 2cm pieces
for dusting: seasoned plain flour
4 shallots, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
200ml dry red wine
200ml beef stock
1/4 cup (firmly packed) thyme leaves
1 egg, lightly beaten
for shortcrust pastry:
240g plain flour, sieved
180g cold unsalted butter, coarsely chopped
1 tsp salt
Heat oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Dust steak in flour, shake off excess, and cook in batches until golden, stirring occasionally (3-5 minutes). Remove from saucepan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add shallots and garlic to pan, saute until golden (3-5 minutes). Add red wine, reduce by half (3-4 minutes), then add stock and thyme. Reduce heat to low, add steak, cover and simmer until tender (2-2 1/2 hours). Uncover and cook until sauce is thick (30-40 minutes). Season to taste, set aside to cool, then refrigerate until cooled completely.
To make the pastry, process flour, butter and 1 tsp salt in a food processor until just combined. Add 80ml iced water, a little at a time, and pulse just until a dough forms. Form into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate to rest (1 hour).
Preheat oven to 200°C / 400°F. Roll pastry to 5mm thick and cut twelve 9cm-diameter rounds. Line a 12 x 60ml capacity muffin tray with pastry and refrigerate to rest (30 minutes). Meanwhile, cut twelve 7cm-diameter rounds of puff pastry and refrigerate until required. (Note that I made two batches of shortcrust and didn't top the pies with puff; this meant I could make 18 pies from the amount of filling I had.)
Divide pie mixture among pastry cases, fold in pastry edges, then brush with eggwash and top with pastry circles. Press edges together and refrigerate to rest (30 minutes). Brush with eggwash and then cook until golden and cooked through (15-20 minutes). (As you can see, I made a small hole in the top of each pie. The hole allows steam to escape, and I like the way it looks.)
* The AGT recipe says it makes 12; mine stretched to 18.