Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lemon Meringue Cake

It was Chocolate Crackles birthday and I volunteered to make his cake. I had seen something that I had been wanting to try and that would satisfy Chocolate Crackle 's preference for things non-chocolate; a lemon meringue cake found on the amazing and evil Martha Stewart website. Now, if you want a cake with WOW factor, then this is your cake.

There are three components - the cake, the lemon curd and the meringue. The cake part to this recipe is a beautiful moist lemon cake which would be lovely on its own. But the real hero is the curd - Oh.My.God. It took every iota of will power not to stick my spoon in and eat the whole lot before it made it anywhere near the cake. So, so good! And while there are a few parts to it, it is not as daunting as you may think.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Step 1: The Cake
230g unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (or use salted butter and leave this out)
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and flour two 23cm/9-inch round cake tins.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to combine after each addition. Then beat in the vanilla and the lemon zest.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until just combined.

Divide cake batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the tins.

Step 2: The Lemon Curd
NB: This makes about a cup of curd, so you can up the quantities (proportionately of course) if you need/want to make more - ie if you want extra layers or to gobble spoonfuls.

4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

Prepare a bath of iced/very cold water ( I filled my small sink with cold water and it worked fine). Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Add the lemon juice, butter and lemon zest. Place over a pot of simmering water and cook, whisking occasionally, until thick - this should take around 15 minutes. Transfer the bowl to the cold water bath and let it stand, stirring occasionally, until cool. The curd will thicken up during this time. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd (like a cartouche, but made from cling wrap). Transfer to refrigerator until completely cold, or you can make it in advance and leave it overnight.

Step 3: The Meringue
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
1.5 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine the sugar, egg whites, and lemon juice in the bowl of an electric mixer set over simmering water. Whisk until sugar is dissolved.

Transfer bowl to the mixer stand and beat the egg white mix on medium speed for 10 minutes. Increase to high speed and beat until stiff glossy peaks form.

A word, if I may, regarding the meringue. I cheated OK? I wanted to save a bit of time and I made a French style meringue, which is more what you'd use for pavs and baked pie toppings. The actual recipe uses a Swiss style meringue made over heat which is more stable and helps it to hold its texture longer. I found my meringue dissolved over time, a bit like bubbles in the bubble bath, which is why it doesn't look as fluffy and luscious as the picture on Martha's site.

While it still tasted great, I learnt a new lesson about the science of cooking: for meringue that won't be baked used either Swiss or Italian style for better stability and ultimately, better presentation.

Red applied a spot-weld type effect to the cake

Step 4: The Assembly:
Remove cakes from their tins and trim the tops so they are nice and even. Eat off-cuts for quality control purposes*. Then slice each cake in half. Alternate layers of cake with a topping of lemon curd, finishing with a cake layer. Refrigerate the cake for 1-2 hours

Once its had a chance to 'set', take it out and then smooth on a layer of meringue all over, and then slather on the rest of the meringue. To complete the cake, you will then need to brown the meringue with a blow torch.


* Optional :)

Next - Cookies and Cream Cheesecake of the non-baked variety.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Cupcake Bakery

Whizzing back to my den after a quick shoe-shopping trip in the CBD with Kaz, I was very pleasantly surprised to see The Cupcake Bakery veritably leap into my path on my way into Town Hall Station. I had heard of this establishment, but thought the only CBD location was at The Ivy and had no idea one was to be found in the bowels of the QVB/Galleries/Town Hall station rabbit warren. I had also twice spotted girls clutching The Cupcake Bakery bags on the train in the past week. My interested had been piqued. This was destiny. I had no choice but to step up to the counter.

I of course simply could not go past the red velvet cupcake, I was keen to try someone else’s red velvet so I could get some kind of comparison to my own (as that is the only other time I’ve ever tried it). I was momentarily tempted by a lemon meringue cupcake, but the red velvet won out. As for Red, his flavour preferences are simple: chilli or coffee. I spotted a chocolate chilli cupcake – topical as he had attempted to make his own at home during the week using a White Wings mix with chilli flakes added – ack! But then saw a much more enticing looking tiramisu. The tiramisu was in the ‘deluxe’ section, costing $4.50 but my Red Velvet was a standard flavour costing $3.50. Other flavours included vanilla, vanilla-choc, vanilla–strawberry, choc-choc, choc-peppermint, banana and carrot. Deluxe included strawberry swirl cheesecake, hummingbird, custard tumble and lemon meringue. I noticed they have a coffee and cupcake special for $5, and they sell maxi-cupcakes for $55 (standard) and $75 (deluxe). These are made using the Wilton 3D cupcake pan by the way – try Peters of Kensington for $39 each if you want to make your own.

The subjects, looking nervous no?

So the tiramisu was packed in a mini-cake box (a-ha, so that’s where the extra $1 goes) and mine into a paper bag. After a suitable grace period post-dinner I could wait no longer, so out came the red velvet cupcake primed for consumption.

The cupcakes were very nice, moist and tasty. The red velvet was taste-wise somewhat reminiscent of my own attempt; chocolatey without being chocolate – in fact it smelt more of chocolate than it tasted. Texture wise it was different from mine, so I suspect this was butter based whereas mine was shortening based. Overall, I preferred mine (all modesty aside of course), but this was nice and my only real gripe would be they are a bit light on the icing – which incidentally was cream cheese.

Hmm Red Velvet cake.

The tiramisu was also nice. We cut it in half and it would seem they cut into the top, insert some coffee concoction and pop the 'plug' back in. The description on the web states it’s a coffee flavoured cake with marscapone icing and dusted with chocolate. I would say its a vanilla cake with a coffee 'injection', coffee flavoured marscapone icing dusted with chocolate. Yummy all the same, but what is with these cupcake shops and not making the cake as advertised?

You can see what I mean about the coffee filling here, and also the coffee cream icing

Size wise they are slightly smaller than Sparkles and if you are an icing fan then Sparkles has almost as much icing as cupcake, but the quality of the actual cake at The Cupcake Bakery is two thumbs up from me. I'll be back!

The Cupcake Bakery
Shop 2-4
Lower Ground 2
QVB, Sydney

Also at 320B George St and 428 Oxford Street Paddington.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mudgee Magic - Part the Second

OK, so upon driving back into town we went firstly to Mudgee Gourmet. This is a little shop now located in the glorious old Mudgee Railway Station building. It stocks a range of locally made jams, jellies, chutneys, sauces, oils and....well, you get the idea. I was keen to visit here to get another jar of The Grape Alternative's Traminer and Mint Jelly (I had purchased some on a previous Mudgee trip). This time I also grabbed a Shiraz and Lemon Thyme Jelly also ($13 per jar). These jellies are delicious and would be just as much at home on a cheese platter as accompanying your next roast dinner. There is also a wonderful local art and craft co-op at the railway station too - I have added to my cobalt blue pottery collection on both visits here :).

And finally we tracked down the Mudgee Brewing Company, as I understand it it's a relatively new enterprise housed in a lovely old building on the main street (Church Street). Whilst none of us are beer drinkers, Kaz had to purchase some of the beers for a work colleague and also grabbed a six pack of Porter for her dark-beer-loving husband, so the rest of us thought it might be a good place to get the 'other halves' a token present for keeping the home fires burning while we galavanted around wineries for a weekend. I ummed and ahhhed about getting some for Red, finally getting him a 6 pack with 3 Spring Ale (a wheat beer I believe) and 3 Pale Ales. At $20 for a six pack I thought this was pretty good value for a boutique brewery. Red has tried one of each and given the Pale Ale the two thumbs up.

Then it was back to our cottage and a night of tragic 80's DVDs. I had briefly mentioned the Lindt Bunny earlier, a 1kg monstrosity that Doodah brought with her. While our minds were boggling at how we would consume such a beast (but boy, were we willing to give it a try) I hit on the idea of melting it down. Huzzah! And then Kaz had the brilliant idea of making hot chocolates with the melted bunny. Double huzzah!! So a night of pure liquid Lindt indulgence followed.

The next morning after packing ourselves back into the Tarago, we had two more stops to make on our way out of town.

Firstly we wanted to visit the High Valley Wine and Cheese Company. We all love our cheese and were very much looking forward to a bit of tasting and maybe some purchases. But (and you knew this was coming) we happened to time our arrival just as a minibus full of,er, older Australians pulled up. By the time we got inside they had crowded out the wine tasting counter and also the cheese tasting counter. When any of us tried to squeeze past we were met with tsks and mumblings about being pushy and rude. Perhaps if they stepped right up to the counter instead of standing right in the middle of the only thoroughfare we wouldn't have had to be so pushy and rude (not that we were). Anyway, I digress. Some of us did make it to the front of the wine counter only to be soundly ignored. Kaz made it to the front of the cheese tasting counter (she's wiley that one) only to be looked square in the eye and then soundly ignored.

Having worked in tourism marketing all of my career, I simply cannot understand places like this; why do they not set themselves up for groups better? I have had this experience at more than one cellar door - for some reason if you happen to arrive at the same time as a large group you get ignored. Its disappointing as our money is valid currency too. In this case I know ALL of us would have been keen to buy some cheese, instead we bought nothing and left disgruntled and disappointed. I surely hope that bus load made up for our lost sales.

Luckily we left on a high after a visit to Clearview Estate, our interest piqued by the promise of their sparkling shiraz (a favourite amongst our group) and also a liquer shiraz. Only a couple of us tasted, but we were quite impressed with the sparkling shiraz (yes Mum, there's a bottle put away for Christmas) and I also bought a bottle of their rose, a more typical and refreshing example of a rose compared to the different but still yummy Pieter van Gent.'s

And with that we were off and over the mountains and back to Sydney, husbands and children. Mudgee is a great place for a long weekend away, with lots of wineries and 'foodie' oriented places to visit - they also have quite a few markets at differing times of the month so check dates etc if you are planning a visit . It was relatively quiet at this time of year, but I liked it that way. Mudgee holds a wine festival every year in September which would be worth checking out.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mudgee Magic - Part the First

Two weekends ago I had the privilege of going on a Girl's Weekend Away with my closest girlfriends Kaz, LouLou, M1, Ali and Doodah, all of whom are also part of my beloved circle of guinea pigs (ie those who are un/lucky enough for me to try my experimental cooking out on). Our chosen destination was Mudgee, selected for its proximity to Sydney, because the travelling route is via the Blue Mountains and because of its growing reputation as a food and wine destination.

We hired a Tarago (very sexy I know) so we could all travel together and as LouLou is preggers with #2, we'd be able to conduct a self-drive winery tour over the weekend.

We departed Sydney by 11am and arrived at our lunch pit stop, Leura, around 12.30pm greeted by beautifully crisp mountain air (ie it was freezing). A brief amble up the road and we made our way into Leura Gourmet for lunch. This place is great, it has a large deli counter with all sorts of goodies such as cheeses, meats and salads for takeaway purchase, plus a large range of local produce as well - the rocky road and nougat caught our attention. Lunch was delicious and hearty. I had the lasagne, which had a very rich-looking and tasty pomodoro sauce. LouLou had the eggplant parmigiana which also featured the tomato sauce, Kaz let me try her corn fritters, very tasty and served with a yoghurt sauce and salad, M1 and Ali could be heard groaning their way through their steak sandwiches and Doodah was more than happy with her pumpkin soup. Meals average the $17-20 mark - a tad more than you'd expect to pay in your average Sydney cafe, but this is the Mountains, the food was obvoiously made in-house and the servings were generous. The amazing view from the back of the cafe through the floor to ceiling window is worth the few extra dollars alone. The only thing that really let this place down was the indifference of the wait staff. Perfectly efficient, but purely perfunctionary. After coffees and hot chocolate (I selflessly tried the chili and cinnamon hot chocolate - gives a nice bit of heat on the back of your tongue and I loved the cinnamon flavour in with the hot choc) we hit the streets for a bit of a browse. After an obligatory purchase from the lolly shop, and grabbing a cherry crumble from Bakehouse on Wentworth for later, it was back in the Tarago and off to Mudgee.

Our accommodation for the weekend was Protea Farm, specifically the Grevillea Cottage. We were all more than happy with this choice - open plan living area with kitchen/living room/dining table, three queen sized bedrooms (beds very comfortable incidentally) and two bathrooms. A lovely woodfire to keep us all warm (and for toasting marshmallows), pay tv and a DVD player. All the comforts of home really.

Saturday dawned and over breakfast we marked out our plan of attack. It went something like this:

The Olive Nest: one of a few olive and oil producers in the Mudgee region. They produce extra virgin olive oil and lime, lemon and garlic infused varieties. You can also get jars of olives, dressings and tapenades. I picked up a bottle of the lemon infused oil ($35 for 500ml) and black olive tapenade ($13 from memory) which I prefer over green as I love the saltiness however their green tapenade is one of the nicest I've tasted. You can also taste 1838 wines here.

Pieter van Gent: Entering through big wooden double doors you walk on a dirt floor past massive casks to get to the tasting counter. The girls behind the desk were just lovely and the wines were quite impressive, particularly the 'sticky' and dessert styles. PvG are probably best known for their Mudgee White Port, which a few of us bought to take home. I also bought a couple of bottles of their gorgeous 'Flowers of Florence' rose, quite unlike any other I've had with a surprising butterscotch-like taste. Yum!

Frog Rock: You've probably heard of this winery as it is available through bottle shops in 'the big smoke'. A nice cellar door with some food tastings as well as wine.

Blue Wren: This was our lunch stop, a large space housed in a big blue shed kept nice and warm with wood fires. The meals were priced in the $18-$25 range, food was hearty and servings were generous. We all shared some tasty garlic bread and then I opted for the pork and sage sausages with a potato, fennel and parsley salad and caramelised onion. The sausages were on the smaller side, but were tasty and accompanied by a generous amount of the salad which was just creamy enough and although I am not a huge fennel fan it provded a nice crunchy contrast against the soft potatoes and sausage. It was definitely a comforting and filling meal. The other popular dish at our table was a lemon roasted chicken which came with a chickpea salad. The chicken was served with the wing bone in, which sparked some lively table discussion about whether it should have been called a breast of chicken or a supreme of chicken. We washed all this down with a bottle of Blue Wren's Semillion Sauvignon Blanc which was one of the nicer whites we tried on the day.

After lunch time was ticking away and as the cellar doors and shops close at 4pm we had two stops to squeeze in before heading back to our cottage and a night of DVDs and consuming an alarmingly large Lindt bunny...

But I'll continue that in a separate post before this becomes War and Peace....