Category Archives: Baked Things

Savoury Polenta Cake

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This is a great recipe for Christmas entertaining. It’s as easy to make as a batch of muffins, and the batter can be baked in a cake tin and cut into squares for serving, or as little mini muffins. This recipe comes from my lovely friend Stephanie who first made it for me. It’s really versatile… you can use the basic batter (ie the ingredients below up to and including the eggs) and create any type of savoury cake you like by changing the ingredients that come after it.

  • 1.5 cups polenta
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup plain yoghurt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for the top
  • 2 eggs
  • Two tablespoons chopped fresh mixed herbs such as chives, parsley, basil and dill (use a single herb or a mixture of at least two).
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons black pitted olives, sliced
  • 1 cup mixed small diced vegetables, such as zucchini, capsicum, cherry tomatoes, corn kernels (I like to use one red and one green vegetable to get some nice colours going)

Preheat the oven to 180c.

Grease and flour a square medium size cake or brownie pan, or a 24 capacity mini muffin tin (if using the muffin tin I just grease with a little olive oil). Don’t worry too much about the size of the cake tin, as long as it’s not very large or small it will be fine.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, polenta and baking powder. Add the vegetables, olives, shallots and herbs and combine. In another bowl mix the eggs, milk, yoghurt, oil and cheese and beat with a fork until combined. Add to the other ingredients and mix gently to combine. You should have a batter of muffin-type consistency but if it’s dry, add a little extra milk. Don’t overmix.

Pour into the cake tin or muffin tin and sprinkle some extra parmesan cheese on the top.

Bake for 40-45 minutes for a full cake or 15-20 minutes for mini muffins. Test by inserting a spaghetti stick or skewer into the middle.

Allow to cool a little then turn out. If making the cake, cut into squares and top with anything that takes your fancy – I like a little basil leaf and halved cherry tomatoes. You could wrap each mini muffin in a sliver of prosciutto or just scatter with some chopped herbs.

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Mince Tart-orama!

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Seasons greetings, friends! While my commercial website (theabbotsfordkitchen.com) is undergoing an update and temporarily down I’m using my blog to let you all know about some news from me on the mince tart front.

First, I’m tickled pink to tell you that my mince tarts have made it onto Wendy Hargreave’s website – Five of the Best – in her Top 5 Mince Pies this year. Wendy is the former food editor for the Sunday Herald Sun and now has her own fantastic site devoted to the best of all things food that Melbourne has to offer. Thanks for the inclusion, Wendy, I’m so flattered!

My other news is that my mince tarts will be available at the swanky new Rathdowne Village Deli from early December, and possibly other locations – stay tuned.

And if you’re in Melbourne and you’d like to order directly from me, I’ll be taking limited orders so get in quick! Email me: rebecca@theabbotsfordkitchen.com.

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School Lunch Box Biscuits

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I try to come up with snacks for my son’s school lunch box that meet both his and my criteria. Ideally, the snacks are:

  • Wholesome/healthy/nutritious (mine)
  • Delicious (both)
  • Able to be carried outside in one hand and don’t require spoons, containers etc (his)
  • Able to be made in batches and frozen (mine)

After experimenting with muffins with no success (putting too many healthy ingredients into them makes them dense and unappetising) I came up with this biscuit and it’s a real winner.

It’s packed with healthy ingredients – oats, wholewheat flour, dried fruits and seeds – yet it is based on a traditional biscuit recipe so it’s as delicious as it is wholesome. The little bit of chocolate makes it very appealing, and importantly for schools, it is nut free.

My son has been taking this biscuit to school for his morning tea almost every day for a while now: he’s happy he’s got something yummy that he can easily walk around with and I’m happy that he’s getting some wholesome foods into him.

This batch makes about 8 decent, morning tea-size biscuits, but you could make them any size you like. I roll them into balls and freeze them individually, then pop one in the oven as I need.

A word on muscovado sugar: if you can get hold of this, it will improve your baking out of sight. It gives a mouthwatering, melting crumb. Look for it in good supermarkets, delis and grocery stores.

  • 120 g butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed light brown muscovado sugar, or light brown sugar if you can’t find muscovado sugar.
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup each of dried cranberries and sour cherries (you can substitute with other small dried fruits if you wish, such as blueberries, currants or sultanas)
  • 30 g dark chocolate chopped into small pieces (or use dark choc chips)

Preheat the oven to 180c

In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar for about a minute until it has turned pale and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined.

Combine all the remaining ingredients in another bowl and mix. Add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and combine to form the biscuit dough.

Line a baking tray with some baking paper, roll out into balls of whatever size you choose and place however many you need on the baking paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on how big they are, until golden and brown on top. Let them sit for a minute or two, then carefully slide biscuits onto a wire rack and allow to cool. They will fall apart if you try to pick them up too soon.

Wrap the remainder, uncooked, in cling wrap and freeze. When you need to use the frozen biscuit dough, you can put them straight from the freezer onto the baking tray and in the oven, but you will need a few extra minutes’ cooking time.

Venison and Juniper Berry Pies with Rosemary Crust

A mate of mine grumbled recently that I have too many vegetarian recipes on my blog. I’m unapologetic about this. I think most of us could do with eating less meat. And if you do eat meat, game meat is leaner and healthier. It’s not easy to come by, but most markets have a game section.

I’m lucky enough to have a farmers’ market on my doorstep, and I picked up some venison mince this morning. My mind was on food to take to the footy tonight, and I thought it would make a lovely pie. Juniper berries are a great accompaniment to game meat. If you can’t get hold of venison, use another game meat. Duck would be wonderful. You could cut corners by buying frozen shortcrust pastry at the supermarket.

I just can’t wait to have these pies with a glass of red at the footy tonight.

Makes approx 8 medium sized pies (bigger than a party pie, smaller than a footy pie)

Shortcrust pastry:

  • 2 and a half cups plain flour
  • 120 g cold, unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary salt (see below)
  • 1/3 cup ice cold water

Filling:

  • 600 g venison mince
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 inner celery stalk & inner yellow leaves, finely sliced
  • ½ teaspoon dried sage
  • 20 juniper berries, crushed in the pestle & mortar
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1.5 tablespoons cornflour, dissolved in 1 cup water
  • rosemary salt & pepper

Topping:

  • About 3 sheets frozen puff pastry
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

To make the rosemary salt:

Pound a small handful of fresh rosemary with some salt in the pestle & mortar until the salt has turned green. Sift and discard what’s left in the sieve.

To make the pastry:

Put the flour, butter and salt in a food processor and combine until a fine sandy texture. Add the egg and slowly drizzle in the water, until a ball starts to form.

Remove, form into a ball, and wrap in cling wrap. Flatten a little, and refrigerate.

To make the filling:

Saute the onion in olive oil until soft, add the celery, carrot, sage and juniper berries. Saute for about 5 minutes. Add the mince, and stir it around until brown. Add the wine and let it reduce for a minute. Add the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, cornflour & water, and season to taste with some of the rosemary salt and some pepper. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 c.

Remove the pastry from the fridge, and divide in two pieces. Roll out one piece on a clean floured surface, until about half a centimeter thick.

Place one of your pie dishes on the pastry and cut out around a centimeter around it. You want some to hang over so that when it shrinks there will still be enough pastry. Place in the pie dishes, pressing in to the corners. Repeat until finished.  Prick the bottoms with a fork a few times and bake for 10 minutes. (I find with small pie cases you don’t need to worry about covering with foil and weighing down with uncooked rice or pastry weights, but if you’re making a large pie, do this).

When they have cooled a little, trim any excess pastry from the edges. Spoon the filling into the pie cases.

Take your sheets of puff pastry out of the freezer and using a bowl just slightly bigger than the top of your pie, cut out the required amount of shapes.

Brush the “lids” with some egg around the edge so it will stick well to the pie bottom. Put in place, press down with your fingers onto the top of the pie crust and trim any excess.

Brush the tops with egg. Make a little pastry topping like a leaf, if you like. I happened to have a little reindeer cookie cutter from my Christmas baking, which was a happy discovery!

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is puffed and golden.

Iced Buns

I’m so gosh darn pleased with myself that I can now bake bread there’s just no stopping me. This is an adaptation of a recipe I saw on the website, Kidspot. It brought back childhood memories of a fluffy sultana bun with pink icing and coconut from the school tuck shop. Did anyone else have these at their school, or local cake shop for that matter?

A few months ago I would have come across a recipe like this and immediately moved on, but now, with baker confidence under my belt, I pounced.

While coconut was the traditional school bun topping, I saw these hundreds and thousands in the supermarket that were coloured naturally and knew I had to use them instead. I also use strawberry jam in the icing instead of strawberry essence that the recipe  called for, because I just can’t bear unnatural flavours. It does make for a more textured icing, so pass it through a sieve if this bothers you, or go for the strawberry essence by all means.

This recipe also happens to come just in time for school holidays. If you have kids around, these are a great way to spend a morning with children. They’ll love all the usual things about bread making – kneading, watching the dough rise, and helping roll out the buns – but these have the added appeal of painting on the glaze, spreading the icing, decorating the tops, and, of course, devouring with their friends at morning tea.

I encourage you to use strong bakers’ flour (or bread & pizza flour – same thing) which most supermarkets have. It will give you a lighter, fluffier bun than regular flour (although regular flour will be fine if you can’t find it.

  • 2 cups strong bakers’ flour (I used the Lighthouse brand and it gave a great result)
  •  1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 3 teaspoons yeast powder
  •   1 teaspoon salt
  •  3/4 cup warm milk – warmed to about baby bottle temperature, or just a bit more than tepid
  •  1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cups organic sultanas

Glaze

  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  •  1/3 cup water

Icing

  •  1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
  •  1 tablespoon butter, softened
  •  1 teaspoon strawberry jam
  •  3 drops pink food colouring, or squeeze grated beetroot if you want a natural colour

Heat the milk and add the yeast, stirring to mix in. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, salt and sugar and add the sultanas. Stir in the milk and yeast mixture, and the oil. Mix well. Flour a clean dry surface and knead for 10 minutes (or use a mixer with a dough hook if you have one, for the same length of time). Brush a clean bowl with oil and place the dough ball in. Cover with cling wrap and leave for about 2 hours in a warm place (in winter I put it on the rear dash of the car) until the mix about doubles in size.

When you think the dough has risen sufficiently (it doesn’t have to be exactly double, and if it’s been 2 hours that will be long enough) take it out and on a floured surface lightly knead it again to knock it back to the original size.

Lightly oil a baking tray or dish. Break the dough into 8 balls roughly the same size, then roll each into a log. Place them about 3cm apart on the tray. Cover with a damp cloth and again leave in a warm place to rise, until they are touching, about 30 minutes (longer is fine too).

When you’re just about ready to bake, heat the oven to 200°C. Bake the buns for 15 minutes. (If your oven is prone to burning from the bottom like mine is, drop the temperature just slightly, or put the buns on a higher rack). Take out the buns and put them on a wire rack to cool.

While the buns are cooling, prepare the glaze and icing. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan, boil, then reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.

Combine the icing sugar, butter, water, strawberry jam and colouring until a smooth paste.

When the buns are cooled a little, brush the glaze over the tops, let dry for a few minutes, then spread the icing over the top. You can just spread in a clean straight line, or you can drizzle the icing over like I did. Sprinkle with coconut, hundreds and thousands, or anything else that takes your fancy.

Now try not to scoff one immediately 🙂

Nice Buns

Until recently, I had never had any success with making bread, or pizza dough, or anything that is made with yeast. Every attempt ended in failure and frustration. And I just couldn’t get why it never worked for me – I always faithfully followed the recipe. Disillusioned, I gave up and put baking bread in the too hard basket, along with puff pastry and cryptic crosswords.

Despite my track record, last Easter I felt the urge to make hot cross buns. I can’t really explain why. Is there some kind of ancient allure about breadmaking that is impossible to ignore? Or is it just that baking bread is so powerfully evocative? The idea of filling your home with the smell of fresh baked bread, or pulling a tray of warm spicy buns out of the oven, does seem to equate to some kind of domestic nirvana.

I had to try again. But I was determined to avoid the disappointments of past baking, so I consulted a friend, Alex, a chef and something of an expert on yeast. Alex brews his own beer and blogs about it . I had a recipe from Gourmet Traveller, which I emailed to Alex. He emailed me back an edited recipe, with some  critical advice and alterations.

I followed Alex’s advice and the result: a triumph! Perfectly chewy and soft aromatic buns that were devoured and exalted by all who came into contact with them. I get emotional just thinking about them.

The most important thing I had to learn about making bread was patience. You can’t rush dough, and all up, making these will take you about 5 hours (although you’re not doing anything for most of it). It’s best to make them on a day when you’re home all day and have lots of other things to do around the house while you’re waiting for the dough to rise. Most recipes gloss over this important point, and I think that is where I’ve gone wrong in the past.

This is mine and Alex’s hot cross bun recipe, sans the cross.

A final word: baking buns is a fantastic activity to do with children. They love seeing the dough “grow”, the punching and kneading, rolling the little balls out, and painting on the glaze, so get them involved 🙂

  • 700 g plain flour
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 heaped teaspoon salt
  • 75 g dried orange peel
  • 150 g currants
  • zest of an orange
  • 300 ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • teaspoon of caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons powdered yeast
  • 100 g butter, chopped

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • water
  • sprinkling of allspice powder

Makes 16-20 buns

Step 1: Make the dough

Warm the milk to roughly baby bottle temperature, not any hotter, and add the  yeast and the teaspoon of sugar and let it stand for about ten minutes to rehydrate the yeast.

Sift the  flour into a large bowl, add the quarter cup of caster sugar, spices, currants, orange peel, orange zest and salt and combine.

Add egg to the milk mixture and whisk to combine. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, and mix well. Soften the butter and add to the mixture, using your hands to rub in.

Step 2: Knead

Turn the dough out onto a clean floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Alex says to test the dough you need to do a window pane test – which means stretching the dough without it tearing so you can almost see through it. Just use a small piece.

Step 3: First rise

Put the dough into a clean oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place somewhere warm for two hours. It should have about doubled in size.

Step 4: Make the balls

Next you “knock back” the dough: take your dough and place it again on a clean floured surface, and press or punch back down to remove any air bubbles. Get a large oiled baking tray or dish ready. Roll out about 20 even sized balls of dough. Roll the balls firmly between the palm of your hand to smooth out large creases. Place the balls next to each other in the tray.

Step 4: second rise

Cover the tray with a damp towel, and leave again in a warm place for about an hour. They will have expanded and should be touching each other.

Step 5: Bake & glaze 

Heat the oven to 220, cook for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 200 and cook for another 10 minutes.

While they are cooking, make the glaze by dissolving the sugar in a little warm water, and stirring in the allspice powder.

Brush over the buns while they are hot.

They are best eaten straight from the oven, cut in half, and spread with butter. 🙂

Freeze any that aren’t eaten on the day of baking.

Shrinkage

Elaine: Why does it shrink?

George: It just does.

George is right. It just does shrink. Every time. And there is no answer.

Shortcrust pastry shrinkage is one of my most frustrating kitchen fails. Every time I google the subject and try yet another tip, it never works.

I have been planning to invest in some bakeware because I want to make my own pies to take to the footy. I love the tradition of a pie on a Saturday afternoon at the footy, but I can’t bring myself to eat those rat coffins, as we used to call them at school. I want to make the fillings hearty and nutritious. But I have to get the pastry right first.

After years of looking for answers, I stumbled across this tutorial on Azelia’s Kitchen – an amazing blog by Portugese born cook, Azelia. Even if you’re not interested in shortcrust pastry, do check out her blog – it is full of fantastic recipes and beautiful photos.

Azelia’s tutorial is comprehensive, has step by step photos and answers all my questions. She is brilliant.

Now it’s time for me to show shortcrust pastry who its daddy is.

http://www.azeliaskitchen.net/blog/why-does-my-pastry-shrink-step-by-step-guide-to-shortcrust-pastry/

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