Sweet

Imbolc Delight

As the wheel slowly turns toward Spring in the southern hemisphere, many are getting ready to celebrate Imbolc on August 1st.

Imbolc is the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It brings the promise of Spring in the midst of cold Winter weather. Nights are still cold but the days are warming as nature begins to slowly awaken from a Winter slumber. It’s a beautiful time of year and one of my favourites.

One of the things I like to start thinking about at Imbolc is spring cleaning. This year I began with my pantry and found a bottle of rose syrup that I had forgotten I had. I decided to use some of it to make a rose syrup jelly (jello) that reminds me of Turkish delight. Rose syrup is a syrup made from rose water with sugar added. If you don’t have rose syrup you can use rose water but you may have to add extra sugar to get that sweet flavour of Turkish delight.

I added hibiscus tea to my jelly as I wanted to get a nice pink colour. I also find the tartness of hibiscus balances out the sweetness of the rose syrup. If you don’t have hibiscus tea, you can add food colouring or just enjoy the almost pink blush of the jelly.

Rose Syrup Jelly

Ingredients
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 titanium strength gelatine leaf*
1 tablespoon rose syrup
1 tablespoon hibiscus flower tea leaves
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Soak gelatine sheet in cold water for 5 minutes.
While the gelatine is soaking, place the water and sugar in a small saucepan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Squeeze out gelatine sheet and add to the saucepan.
Remove from heat.
Stir once or twice until the gelatine has melted.
Stir in the rose syrup and hibiscus tea.
Steep for 3-5 minutes.
Strain into a heatproof jug.
Allow to cool then pour into serving bowls or glasses.
Cover and refrigerate until set.
Serve with cream if desired.

*check the strength of your gelatine leaves and use as many as you need to set 1 cup of liquid.

The Halloween “Pom” Queen

Sunday the 30th of April is southern hemisphere Halloween! There are so many ways to celebrate this most auspicious of nights. This year I’ll be celebrating the seasonal coronation of Persephone as she once again embraces her role as the Queen of the Underworld.

Persephone spends Spring and Summer in the land of the living and Autumn and Winter in the land of the dead. During the Autumn Equinox, Persephone makes her descent into the Underworld. On Halloween, we celebrate the seasonal coronation of Persephone as she regains her crown and guides us through the remaining dark half of the year.

To celebrate Persephone’s Halloween Coronation, I’m making hot chocolate. Chocolate is linked to death – and not just by the dessert Death By Chocolate! Cacao has been used in celebrations and rituals symbolising both death and rebirth for millennia. You can even buy Ceremonial Grade Cacao if you’re really keen. I’m adding mint and pomegranate to my hot chocolate which also have links to death and rebirth, so they are perfect ingredients for a Halloween drink dedicated to Persephone.

Mint is a key herb herb used in funerary rites, and also an ingredient in kykeon, a fermented barley drink used in the Eleusinian Mysteries dedicated to Demeter and Persephone. Interestingly, Minthe is the name of a nymph who was the lover of Hades. Minthe said some unflattering things about Persephone and was trampled on by either Persephone, or her mother Demeter. The herb mint sprang from the earth where Minthe was squashed. That’s a pretty powerful allegory for death and rebirth!

Pomegranate is a red fruit filled with seeds that oozes blood red juice when opened. Not surprisingly they are a fruit abundant in symbology. During her first trip to the Underworld, Persephone eats some pomegranate seeds which tie her forever to the realm of the dead. For each seed she has eaten, she must spend a month in the Underworld. There is no consensus on how many seeds she ate. As her journey represents a seasonal cycle of light and darkness, six seems to be an appropriate number. Pomegranate seeds bring Persephone back to the Underworld and on Halloween she reclaims her throne as Queen of the Dead. It is this for reason I call her my Halloween Pom (Pomegranate) Queen.

Mint Hot Chocolate with Pomegranate Whipped Cream

Ingredients (1 serving)
for the whipped cream
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon powdered (icing) sugar
1 teaspoon fresh pomegranate juice
pomegranate seeds for decorating
mint leaves for decorating

for the hot chocolate
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
20g finely chopped dark chocolate buds
2 tablespoons (or to taste) peppermint cordial

Instructions
Whisk the cream until slightly thickened.
Add the powdered sugar and whisk until soft peaks form.
Stir in the pomegranate juice until fluffy and combined. Set aside while you make the hot chocolate.
Heat the milk until hot, but not boiling.
Whisk in the cocoa powder until combined.
Add the chocolate and whisk until melted and combined.
Add the peppermint cordial and whisk until combined.
Pour into a heat-proof mug.
Top with whipped cream.
Decorate with mint leaves and pomegranate seeds.

Lammas And The Year Of The Water Tiger

February 1st is Lammas (or Lughnasadh) in the southern hemisphere and Imbolc in the northern hemisphere. This year these festivals coincide with Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. As Chinese New Year begins on a New Moon, February 1st is shaping up to be a very powerful day.

Lammas is the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the First Summer Harvest and, in Australia, the first Pagan festival for the year. Baking bread, crafting and enjoying the produce of the first harvests are traditional ways of celebrating this festival.

In the Chinese zodiac, every New Year is ruled by a different animal that rotates through a twelve year cycle. This year is the Year of the Tiger. The tiger is the king of all the beasts and is associated with strength, confidence and bravery. Like all the animals in the zodiac, the tiger not only rules a year, but also a month (February 4th to March 5th), day (Saturday), and hour (3am to 4.59am).

To celebrate both Lammas and the Year of Tiger, I wanted to make tiger bread. Tiger bread, also known as Dutch crunch, tijgerbrood or tijgerbol, is a Dutch bread with a mottled crust. The crust is made by coating half-proofed bread dough with a rice flour paste. The resulting crackle crust is supposed to resemble the patterns of a tiger. However, after a three year old girl wrote to Sainsbury’s saying the pattern looked more like a giraffe than a tiger, the supermarket chain changed the name to giraffe bread. You be the judge!

(Photo from Wikipedia)

January has been a very hectic, but fun, month so I didn’t have time to make tiger bread. So to celebrate both Lammas and the Year of Tiger, I made Tiger Stripe Cupcakes instead. There are lots of ways to decorate cupcakes to look like tigers, but I went for two-toned chocolate and orange cupcakes piped with black and orange coloured cream cheese frosting.

Tiger Stripe Cupcakes

Special Equipment (optional)*
Two piping bags

Ingredients
for the cupcakes
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 cups plain flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder, sifted

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
black food colouring

for the orange cupcakes
1/2 teaspoon orange oil
orange food colouring

for the cream cheese frosting
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
125g (1/2 cup) cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered (icing) sugar

for the black cream cheese frosting
black food colouring

for the orange cream cheese frosting
orange food colouring

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Using a wooden spoon, fold in the flour and baking powder.
Divide the mixture into two half portions.
For the chocolate cupcakes, mix in the cocoa powder and enough black food colouring to achieve the desired black colour.
For the orange cupcakes, mix in the orange oil and enough orange food colouring to achieve the desired orange colour.
To create a stripe effect, dollop approximately half of the chocolate mix evenly into the bottom of the cupcake cases and wait until the mixture has spread to the sides of the cases.
Dollop approximately half of the orange mix evenly over the chocolate mix and wait until the mixture has spread to the sides.
Repeat with remaining chocolate mix and finish with the orange mix.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the cream cheese frosting by creaming together the butter and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer.
Gradually beat in the powdered sugar.
Beat until frosting reaches a piping consistency.
Divide the mixture into two half portions.
For the black frosting, mix in enough black food colouring to achieve the desired black colour.
For the orange frosting, mix in enough orange food colouring to achieve the desired orange colour.
Spoon black frosting in one piping bag and the orange in the other.
Pipe alternating black and orange stripes onto cupcakes.

*if you don’t have two piping bags just pipe one frosting first, leaving spaces to fill in with the other frosting and wash the bag between frostings. You can also leave the cakes unfrosted and serve a frosting on the side.

Happy Lunar New Year and Happy Lammas (or whatever Pagan Festival you are celebrating!) 🙂

Solstice Gingerbread

The Summer Solstice is almost here and this year it falls on Wednesday the 22nd of December. On this day, the Sun reaches its zenith, its highest point in the sky. The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. After the Summer Solstice, the days start to get shorter as we wind our way toward Lammas.

The Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere is mirrored by the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere. It also occurs near Xmas which in many ways is a Midwinter festival. To celebrate this hemispherical duality, I thought I would make a gingerbread cake which is perfect for the Winter Solstice. I’m also going to show you how to use this cake for a Summer Solstice treat!

The recipe I’m using is from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino. A Gothic Cookbook is being crowdsourced through Unbound so hopefully it gets fully funded because I want a copy! The book is beautifully illustrated by Lee Henry and features recipes inspired by classic and contemporary Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Rosemary’s Baby, Frankenstein and one of my favourites – Dracula. You might assume I’d be making a recipe inspired by Dracula, but the gingerbread cake recipe is actually inspired by Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

That Very Special Gingerbread
I followed the recipe below without making any of my customary tweaks. I was briefly tempted to try a different icing, but I’m glad I didn’t. The lemon icing was tart and refreshing and complimented the deep treacle flavour of the cake beautifully.
(You can use molasses or blackstrap molasses if you don’t have black treacle)

My partner and I tried our best to eat all the cake but it was looking like we would fail. I was planning to freeze the leftovers, but then realised I could use the leftover cake to make a quick and easy Summer Solstice treat – Gingerbread Ice Cream!

Gingerbread Ice Cream

Ingredients
Roughly chopped pieces of gingerbread cake, including the bits with icing
Good quality vanilla ice cream, softened slightly

Instructions
Mix the cake and ice cream together in a bowl.
Place in a container and freeze.
That’s it!
There are no measurements for the ingredients so you can make as much or as little as you want. You can also add as much cake to the ice cream as you like.

Happy Solstice!

After Easter Eggs

During the lead up to Easter, a recipe for a Cadbury Creme Egg “Scotch Egg” was doing the rounds and the reactions ranged from Yum? to Yuck! When a friend asked me what my take on this twisted treat would be, I put my thinking cap on and did a bit of research.

First step was to check the ingredients in the Creme Egg. Palm oil is an ingredient which was a concern because of its environmental impact, however, Australian Cadbury products are supposed to use palm oil sourced from sustainable producers which is great. The next ingredient that caught my attention was the red/orange food colouring 160c – aka paprika – yes paprika! I am allergic to paprika and all other chillies, so I couldn’t use that egg for my recipe. Undeterred, I decided to use Caramello easter eggs which I know don’t contain paprika. 🙂

My next step was to decide what coating I would use to wrap around my eggs. After some thought I went with a condensed milk and biscuit (cookie) crumb truffle mix. I couldn’t decide whether to add cacao powder into the mix so I made one batch with cacao powder and another one with milk powder. The milk powder mix is drier than the cacao mix which is really sticky, making it slightly challenging but heaps of fun to work with. I can’t decide which one I like best as they are both so tasty!

You can experiment with your own flavour combinations by mixing and matching different flavoured easter eggs such as Turkish delight or peppermint cream. You can also experiment with different toppings such as crushed cookies, sprinkles, grated chocolate, cocoa or cacao powder.

Easter Egg Truffles

Ingredients
125g shortbread cookies
25g cacao powder
25g milk powder
150ml sweetened condensed milk
12 mini caramel filled easter eggs
shredded coconut for topping

Instructions
Crush the shortbreads into fine crumbs in a food processor or by placing in a ziplock bag and smashing with a rolling pin.
Divide the shortbread crumbs evenly into two bowls.
Add cacao powder to one bowl and mix until combined.
Add milk powder to the other bowl and mix until combined.
Add half the condensed milk to the cacao powder mix and stir until combined.
Add the remaining condensed milk to the milk powder mix and stir until combined.
Place coconut in a bowl.
Remove wrapping from the easter eggs.
Place a tablespoon of milk powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg.
Roll in coconut. Repeat until 6 eggs are covered.
Place a tablespoon of cacao powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg.
Roll in coconut.
Repeat until remaining 6 eggs are covered.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
You can serve them straight from the fridge or bring to room temperature if you want a gooey centre.

A Taste of Rocky Roads

Earlier this year I attended a Rocky Road Workshop at Yarra Valley Chocolaterie. In the workshop we were presented with a table full of ingredients including a variety of spices, nuts, candies and dried fruits. Our first decision was what chocolate we wanted – dark, milk or white. I chose milk, as I find it doesn’t overpower the other ingredients. 

Once we received our tub of hot, melted chocolate, we were invited to throw in whatever ingredients we wanted and mix them in! I decided to go for an eclectic mix of some of my favourite things. 🙂 I added vanilla marshmallows, coconut, liquorice, honeycomb, peanut brittle, almonds and macadamia nuts. I had to work hard to get them all stirred in before the chocolate set. 

I rushed home so I could try my chocolatey concoction. I was really pleased with the result and enjoyed the liquorice, honeycomb and peanut brittle combination the most.

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I learned quite a few things at the workshop but the most exciting was the news that May is Rocky Road month at the chocolaterie. For each day of the month they create a new flavour of Rocky Road. You can visit every day and try the speciality of the day, or you can do what I did which is buy a set of 31 flavours in one large box. 

I had a huge smile on my face as I carried the roughly 5kg (11 pound) box of chocolates back to my car and, a number of weeks later, I’ve only just finished tasting them all. While I liked most of them my favourites are definitely Banoffee, Caramel Obsession, Fruity Floral Ruby, Mint Madness, Salty Pretzel, Tiramisu and Turkish Delight.

If you want to make your own Rocky Road you can check out my recipe here and play around with the ingredients. Let me know if you come up with any crazy and tasty concoctions! 🙂 

Blueberry Soup For The Uncertain Soul

This weekend is the celebration of Lammas or Lughnasadh in Australia. It is the midpoint between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is supposed to bring with it the promise of autumn, but with the temperature soaring, autumn seems so far away.

Bread is traditionally baked for Lammas but with such hot weather enveloping me, putting the oven on is the last thing I want to do. So instead of making bread, I thought I would make something that goes really well with bread – soup!

I know what you are thinking – hot soup on a hot day? Well this refreshing sweet blueberry soup can be served hot or cold. In Australia we can have a dramatic drop or rise in temperature in just one day so this soup is perfect for celebrating in uncertain weather.

While this soup isn’t traditionally served with bread, you can bring a bit of “loaf mass” spirit to the dish by pairing it with toast or a sandwich. For hot soup I serve it with a slice of buttered fruit toast or a dark bread. I serve cold soup with panettone, plain bread and butter, or jam sandwiches.

I’d love to know what breads you would serve with your blueberry soup!

Hot or Cold Blueberry Soup

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Ingredients
2 cups blueberries
2 cups water
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons cornflour
2 tablespoons water
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Bring the blueberries, water and honey to a boil in a saucepan.
Simmer for 10 minutes or until the blueberries are beginning to soften.
Mix the cornflour and water to make a smooth paste.
Add a spoon of hot soup to the paste and mix to combine.
Add the cornflour to the soup and stir until combined.
Continue stirring until the soup thickens.
Ladle into bowls or cups and serve warm, or chill in the refrigerator and serve cold.
Serve with a drizzle of cream if desired.

A Rosy Midsummer

The Summer Solstice occurs near xmas in Australia, so while I’m getting ready to celebrate the longest day of the year and the shortest night, most of the stores are selling produce geared towards a winter feast day. I don’t mind, as I always look forward to the range of new shortbreads that are only available during xmas.

One of the other winter treats I used to enjoy at Summer Solstice was a Persian fruitcake filled with plump fruits and crunchy nuts and delicately flavoured with rose water. It was one of the most delicious fruitcakes I had ever tried. Every xmas I eagerly waited for the fruitcake’s arrival at the store until one year it wasn’t there and it never returned. That was almost two decades ago.

A few months ago I went for a country drive to Malmsbury Bakery, famous for its homemade Dundee cake. I was keen to try to this Scottish fruitcake as it was rumoured to be a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth II is also reported to enjoy Dundee cake at teatime. A cake fit for royalty was something I just had to have!

The cake was quite large, but I was assured that once opened, it would keep for months in an airtight container. I wasn’t sure how long it would last but I was happy to take a chance. As I cut a generous slice I noticed how large and plump the glazed cherries were, which immediately brought back memories of my cherished Persian fruitcake. I took a bite and was rewarded with the flavour and texture of one of the best fruitcakes I had ever tasted. This was as good as the Persian fruitcake.

The cake lasted weeks and I enjoyed every slice. With only a few slices left I decided to make a bold experiment. Could I add a rose water element to a slice without ruining it? I had to try. At first I was going to sprinkle rose water over a slice but I decided to make a rose water icing instead. I simply mixed icing (powdered) sugar with rose water until it was thick enough to drizzle and then drizzled it over my slice of fruitcake. While it wasn’t my coveted Persian fruitcake, it was floral and delicious and brought back many happy memories of solstices past.

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In keeping with the xmas spirit I also dunked a few pieces of shortbread into the rose water icing and then let them set. Happily they were a delicious success as well.

Happy Solstice!

A Quartet Of Chocolates

Recently the culinary world was introduced to a pink chocolate called Ruby Chocolate. It was created by Barry Callebaut, a Belgian-Swiss company, and marketed as the “fourth chocolate” following dark, milk and white. It’s the first new variety of chocolate to be introduced in 80 years. The method of production remains a trade secret but industry suggests that the ruby cocoa beans are unfermented cocoa beans which can have a naturally pinkish colour. There are other things to know about the production method but I lost interest as all I wanted was to get my hands on some pink ruby chocolate!

When I finally got to try some ruby chocolate I was a little disappointed. It didn’t taste much like chocolate. To me it tasted like the yoghurt covered fruit balls I used to eat when I thought I was being healthy. Even though ruby chocolate contains cocoa solids like dark and milk chocolate, it just doesn’t have the taste or feel of chocolate. I didn’t dislike it, but I wouldn’t buy it again expect for creating recipes with a pink theme  – like a naturally pink chocolate frosting for a cupcake. 🙂

But wait there’s more!

Just in time for the holiday season, Barry Callebaut has introduced a new chocolate to the market called Gold Chocolate. While ruby was a new variety of chocolate, gold is a new flavour. The naturally gold coloured chocolate is made by adding caramelised milk and caramelised sugar to white chocolate. A touch of salt is also added. Naturally I couldn’t wait to try it.

San Churro Chocolateria have featured both ruby and gold chocolate on their menus. As a big fan of their churros, I decided to try gold chocolate as a dipping sauce. My platter of churros arrived with four dipping sauces, gold, ruby, dark and milk. I tried each chocolate sauce on its own before beginning a thoughtful dunking process. I began with gold, followed by ruby then milk then dark. The gold chocolate was reminiscent of salted caramel but not as sweet and with a distinct chocolate taste. It felt rich, creamy and decadent. The dipping sauce was garnished with little beads of gold chocolate and these gems were a true delight. I loved it! Surprisingly the ruby chocolate tasted great paired with the fried cinnamon magic that is a churro. The only thing that would have made this a perfect chocolate dipping experience is if there was a bowl of white chocolate. Then I could have enjoyed a pentagram of chocolates. 🙂 

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When Life Gives You Pineapples

I thought I had all the ingredients to make my version of a wolf bite cocktail, but I had forgotten to get pineapple juice. Rather than make another trip to the store, I opened a can of pineapple pieces and used the juice from the tin instead. Disaster averted, I made the cocktail and it was a tasty success.

Not wanting to waste the pineapple pieces, I tried to think of what to do with them. I had been craving fruit crumble all week so I thought I would try making a pineapple crumble. I was feeling lazy, so rather than rubbing butter into the crumble mix, I decided to melt it instead. The result – a sweet, golden crumble that is now one of my favourite treats!

Pineapple Crumble

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Ingredients
440g canned pineapple pieces, drained
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Spread the pineapple pieces into a small baking pan.
Mix together the flour, sugar, coconut and salt in a small bowl.
Add the vanilla extract to the melted butter.
Pour butter over the flour and mix until just combined.
Spoon the crumble mix over the pineapple.
Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the crumble is browned and the fruit is bubbling.
Serve with your favourite topping.