Tag Archives: Dessert

Chocolate 101!

Looking back over my previous posts, since the very beginning of this blog, I feel I have been admirably restrained. While alluding to my fondness – ahem, passion – for chocolate I have resisted the urge to include a mention of this fine foodstuff in every post. There are no rambling paragraphs about the sensual texture and seductive mouth-feel of great chocolate, the soothing psychological effects it has, the medical benefits of the anti-oxidants in good dark chocolate or the many and varied ways in which chocolate can be prepared and presented.

As I said – admirably restrained!

Chocolate is a product of the cacao bean, which originated in South America. The earliest indications of it being included in human diets go back as far as 1100 B.C. Cacao beans were used as currency throughout Meso-america and the consumption of chocolate was limited to the elite in Mayan and then Aztec culture. The Spanish discovered it during their aggressive romp through South America and took it home to Europe in the 16th century, where it became the fashionable drink of those upper classes. Cacao was laborious and time consuming to process into chocolate, thus it remained the almost exclusive pleasure of the wealthy until the industrial revolution brought about the development of mechanical grinders and processors. As a consequence of this, chocolate production became economically viable and soon it was available to just about anyone who wanted it!

Cacao production is now one of the world’s most important cash crops, with beans currently selling for well over $3,000 (USD) per tonne. Of course, cacao beans vary in quality and the exclusive chocolatiers of Europe and America guard their sources of prime beans jealously, using only the very best to produce chocolate of complex flavour and exquisite texture. Makers of mass-produced chocolate merchandise source cheaper beans grown largely on the Ivory Coast of Africa, but these beans come with a hidden cost. In order to keep their production costs down and maintain their position in a very competitive market, these growers will frequently use child labour on their farms. These, sometimes very young, children are often stolen from their families or sold into what is basically a form of slavery by extended family members. They are expected to work for long hours performing dangerous tasks and are given no access to education. Organisations have been set up to try to prevent the use of children in this way, but unscrupulous growers and buyers frequently find ways to circumvent the rules set in place.

So, the next time you are out shopping and decide to buy chocolate, I would suggest that you think about these hidden costs before you make a purchase based solely on the cost of the item. Higher quality chocolate has virtually no additives to make it more “chocolatey”, contains more anti-oxidants so is better for you, is more satisfying meaning that you are likely to eat less of it and tastes infinitely better. Worth paying a little more for, surely!!

The following recipe is one that has become a great favourite in our house. Watching the television one evening, I saw Nigella make these. They were so seductively lovely and easy to make that I scribbled down the recipe and raced into the kitchen. Brilliant for a dinner party, they can be prepared in five minutes and put aside until you are ready to pop them into the oven – equally, the kids can knock them up for a quick, indulgent dessert. The original recipe made four puddings, but I often eke it out to make five with no-one feeling short changed. I use Lindt 70% chocolate to make these and serve with a dollop of very thick cream.

125 gm butter
125 gm dark chocolate
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
3 tbsp plain flour

Grease 4 or 5 ramekins. Preheat oven to 210C.

Melt chocolate and butter carefully together in microwave. I usually put it in at about 80% for 1 minute which melts the butter, then stir until all the chocolate is melted.
Beat eggs and sugar together well, add the flour and whisk it in.
Add chocolate and butter and stir to blend well.
Pour into prepared ramekins, put in oven and cook for 10-11 minutes.


Italian tarts

I seem to be slipping into an “Italian” phase at the moment.

This happens to me periodically and has several different triggers.  Sometimes it is  the result of a book that I have read, especially a new Italian cookbook, or a particularly beguiling movie I have recently seen.  It was at it’s worst when I returned home from a trip to Italy and Paris that I took with the Cupcake Queen 18 months ago.  I was totally seduced by Italy and, once I had recovered from the jet-lag and was able to drive without forgetting where I was going, headed straight for a wonderful Italian grocery store in the north-eastern suburbs of Adelaide.  I left laden down with smallgoods, cheese, pasta, mustard fruits and all sorts of bits and pieces in jars, that I had previously only seen in the markets of Florence, and our meals had a distinctly Italian flavour about them for weeks!  We are fortunate to have here in Adelaide some wonderful chefs who come from an Italian tradition and, after I have attended their cooking demonstrations, their influence stays with me, informing my food for days or weeks – depending on how vocal the thankless teenagers become in their requests for “plain” food!  The trigger for this present bout of  what I call “ethnicity envy”  are the current editions of a couple of well known food magazines, who have both published their annual “Italian” issues, prompting in me and the Cupcake Queen  a wave of nostalgia for that memorable trip.   The QC has had especially wistful memories of a small bakery in Rome where she developed a deep and abiding fondness for their jam crostata – with good reason.  Their pastry was perfectly tender with just a hint of lemon, covered with dark berry jam – brilliant!

Now, I’m about to digress a bit here, but hang with me – you’ll see where I’m going very soon.

If you have read my “About Me” page, you will know I feel that my upbringing was marred by cooking that left quite a bit to be desired.  It seems that this remark stirred up some defensive feelings in one or two of my (much older – memories failing?) cousins who insist that I am mistaken.  They pointed out that my Grandmother was quite elderly when we went to live with her and past her culinary prime.  I mentioned this to my mother the other day who raised her eyebrows and agreed with me totally.  Her parents were publicans all their lives and Grandma never cooked unless she absolutely had to – fortunately for her (and her hotel guests) she generally had a cook in her employ, thus averting the need for her to extend herself in the kitchen.   I have some fond memories of some of her food, but the jam tart that so impressed me as a child was made with a commercial pastry mix (Just Add Water!!), not to be compared with the delightful almond and lemon scented pastry of that Roman bakery.

This recipe for Crostata uses the Italian short pastry  – pasta frolla – flavoured with lemon rind, although vanilla can be substituted for the lemon or added to it.  As a beginning point for the pastry I used a recipe from a magazine, tweaking it very minimally.  I used some beautiful OO flour that I had waiting for just the right recipe – and this is it!  We were both very happy with the result – all we needed was Rome to make it perfect.


180 gms OO flour
60 gms icing sugar
60 gms almond meal
Rind of 1 lemon, finely grated
100 gms unsalted butter
1 egg, plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten

200 gms best quality jam

Grease 24 cm tart pan. Preheat oven to 170C.

Place all pastry ingredients in processor and pulse until JUST coming together. Do not over-work the pastry.
Lightly pat into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Roll pastry out to fit the base of tart pan, approx 5mm thick and cut pastry off cuts into strips.

Cover pastry base with an even layer of jam, right to the edges. Arrange strips on top in a lattice. Brush strips with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 170C for about 30-35 minutes.
Printable recipeJAM CROSTATA.

Gingering up the last of the figs

Life can be tough up here on the hill and, if we had to rely on our small domestic orchard for supplies of fruit, things would have been very grim indeed this year.

When we first moved here I was tickled to bits to be the proud owner of this orchard of apricots, plums, apples, figs, nectarines, quinces and peaches. I had romantic visions of myself frolicking through the trees – possibly wearing a large bonnet and carrying a wicker basket – plucking nature’s bounty from my trees, then heading into the kitchen to begin bottling my own preserves and making jams for the local shows. In anticipation of this I scoured the classified ads in the paper and found a second-hand Vacola preserving unit with jars. I rushed home with them, washed all the jars and sat back and waited for the fruit to ripen. Sadly, I was not the only one waiting for the fruit to ripen.

As soon as the fruit looked as though it was on the way to being edible the birds swooped. Our first season they cleaned off all the peaches and nectarines, most of the plums, more than half of the apples and all but one apricot! We like to think that we are not dummies, so next season we bought nets and then went to a great deal of trouble to get them over the trees. The birds were one step ahead of us and got under the nets, or through the holes that we had made dragging them over the boughs. The result was slightly better – we managed to get some of the fruit that year – but we wondered if it was worth it.

The netting business was tedious so we quickly gave up on most of the fruit trees. We worked out that it was all about timing and have subsequently entered into an unspoken agreement with the birds. If we are quick we can have some plums and apples, they don’t like the quinces and we can share the figs. Things seemed to go a bit haywire this year, though, as all of the plums and apples were stripped from the trees while still rock hard and green. All we are left with is figs and quinces. I don’t bother to make fig jam as no-one here, except the husband who is on a diet, will eat it. I have one or two nice fig salad recipes, but when my friend Liz mentioned this dish I knew that I had to try it out and I begged her to pass it on.

This seriously delicious method for keeping figs couldn’t be simpler. The end product is dark, sticky and luscious and one of the nicest ways that I have ever eaten figs. I served them with ice cream, but cream or thick, Greek yoghurt would be just as nice. The recipe that Liz sent me said that powdered ginger could be used, but I used fresh stem ginger. I dried my own figs in a dehydrator, but bought ones can be used. I have also doctored the quantities just a little.


500 gms dried figs
1 & 1/2 cup of water
1 lemon, cut in slices
6 slices of fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
3/4 cup brown sugar

Wash figs and clip off stem.
Put in crock-pot with remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on Low 6-8
hours, high 3-4 hours. place figs and syrup in glass bowl and chill in

How easy is that!!?

Money can’t buy love …. but chocolate might!!

According to Wikipedia, Theobroma is a genus of small, understory trees native to South America. The name,Theobroma, translates to “food of the gods” and one of the 20 species is Theobroma Cacao – do you see where I’m going with this?
I always knew it – chocolate is truly heavenly!

In some ancient South American cultures chocolate was so highly valued that it was used as currency and was ritually used in ceremonies. It was a valuable trade commodity and the Aztecs required citizens to pay their tributes in cacao seeds. After the conquistadors had finished their overwhelming romp through the South Americas and took some home, it was firmly established as a status symbol, only afforded by the elite of Spanish society. In those days it was taken as a beverage and jealously guarded – in fact the Spanish kept it to themselves for decades, adding spices and sugar to sweeten the bitter brew. Eventually the secret got out and it became a symbol of wealth and power throughout Europe until developments in the processing of the beans during the Industrial Revolution made it affordably available to general society.

Chocolate plays an important role in our household. Ever watchful of my young children’s diet, I limited their access to this deliciousness, meaning that when I presented them with a chocolate flavoured treat their love for me overflowed! Of course, now that they are older, it is impossible to really have much control over what they eat out of the home, but a batch of freshly made chocolate brownies is still a pretty sure-fire way to encourage affection from affectedly ‘cool’ teenagers.

There are almost as many recipes for brownies as there are stars in the sky, but to end up with a great product, top quality ingredients are the only way to go and I always add a little salt as it seems to accentuate the chocolate flavour. Brownies can be plain and simple for school lunch boxes or, with the addition of a berry coulis or a rich ganache topping, adult and sophisticated. Imported cocoa is much richer and darker than the run-of-the-mill supermarket shelf product and is worth the extra expense if you want to tart up the brownies to use them for a special dessert. The most important thing to remember with brownies is not to overcook – they really should be just a little moist or squidgy.

I have two recipes here – the first is one that I have used for many years as a lunch box filler. It can be made with or without nuts or added choc chips and makes a large – 13″x9″ – pan. I have given the simple preparation method and, alternatively, the method for Thermomix users.


1 cup plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla paste
1 cup oil (I use canola or grapeseed as it has no strong taste)
4 eggs
1/4 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 160C. Grease a 13″x9″ baking pan and line with baking paper.
Beat all ingredients together on low speed, scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth.
For Thermomix – mix all ingredients at speed 6 for 30 seconds.
Pour into pan and bake for 30 minutes – no longer. When cool cut into squares.

This second recipe results in a much darker, richer brownie and would make a gorgeous dessert, served with whipped cream. The following method is for use with a Thermomix, but should be easily adapted if you don’t own one.

150 gm butter
250 gms caster sugar
80 gms cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
2 eggs
60 gms plain flour
3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 160C and grease and line a 20cmx20cm baking pan.
Place butter in Thermomix, melt 50C/speed 1 for 3-4 minutes.
Add sugar, cocoa, salt, vanilla, blend 30 seconds/ speed 4.
Running at speed 4, add eggs, one at a time, through hole in lid and mix 30 seconds.
Add nuts, reverse 15 seconds/ speed 2.
Pour into pan and smooth top. Mixture will be very thick.
Bake 25 minutes – or until a toothpick comes out almost clean.

Just Dessert

I have a fairly serious sweet tooth. When dining out I have been known to forgo a main course, instead having two entree’s, to ensure sufficient digestive space for the “pud”. My real passion is chocolate and I can (and most certainly will, at a later date) drone on about the health giving benefits and restorative powers of that magical little bean. As I have previously mentioned, I firmly believe that almost anything is improved with a little/big bit of chocolate but there are certainly occasions where something fresh and light is more appropriate and, with Julie in mind, this following recipe most definitely fits that bill.

My inspiration for this dessert was the Egyptian-born cookbook writer, Claudia Roden. I first discovered her when I was mis-spending my youth, living in various share houses. I was not very long out of home at that stage, with bad food memories and very basic cooking skills, when my housemate announced that he had invited a fairly well known visiting band home for dinner the following evening. At that time the housemate – who was not the household cook – was doing a midnight-dawn shift as a disc jockey at a local radio station and, having just interviewed the boys, discovered that they were at a loose end and tired of take-aways. These were not particularly sophisticated times so when he called me to share the joy and request my co-operation I was happy to oblige, secure in the knowledge that I could turn out a very respectable roast dinner. It was not until he called me back fifteen minutes later with the news that two of the band members were vegetarians that a feeling of cold dread gripped my heart and I realised that I could well be way out of my comfort zone.
I bolted to the largest book store that I could find, feverishly searching the shelves for a vegetarian cookbook that I felt would not overly challenge my inadequate culinary skills when Claudia Roden’s “A Book of Middle Eastern Food” found it’s way into my hands, and a quick flick through it reassured me that I may just be able to avert total gastronomic disaster. I have no memory of what I prepared for the vegetarians that evening, but I do remember that the meal and the evening was, fortunately, a success.

For me, this was a wonderful introduction to an unknown cuisine. The recipes in the book were accompanied by personal anecdotes and memories of the dishes or brief accounts of the origins or rituals surrounding them and it became a favourite standby on my cookbook shelf. Claudia Roden has gone on to become one of the most inspirational and authoritative writers on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, with subsequent publications comprehensively covering Jewish, Moroccan, Turkish, Lebanese and Italian food, many winning various writing awards. The seminal – and face-saving – “Book of Middle Eastern Food” was re-created and enlarged by her and published as “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food” in 2000.

This is a deliciously fragrant dessert to serve after an otherwise substantial meal. It can be as sweet as you like and goes equally well with a good dollop of either thick cream or refreshing yoghurt.
Ras el Hanout is a blend of Moroccan spices and can be bought or blended yourself. I have done both and can recommend the blend sold by “Herbies” at http://www.herbies.com.au/


2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
Zest of 2 oranges
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ras el hanout spice mix
1 teaspoon rose water
8 oranges

Peel oranges, removing all pith. Slice thickly and arrange in shallow dish.
Place orange juice, sugar, zest and Ras el Hanout in saucepan and bring to boil stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil for about 5-10 minutes to reduce and thicken the syrup.
Remove from heat, add rose water, set aside to cool, then pour syrup over orange slices.
Serve cold.

White Chocolate Cheesecake

23 Jan, 2010

Yesterday I woke up with a sudden desire to bake a white chocolate cheesecake. I have no idea why this should happen – I’m not even all that fond of white chocolate and seldom cook cheesecake, but the idea wouldn’t go away. I trawled through my cookbooks until I found something basic to work with and then set about adapting it for my favourite kitchen gadget – the Thermomix.
This recipe came from “5 of the Best” by Valli Little, an ABC delicious. cookbook and was originally for 2 10cm x 4cm springform pans. Valli suggests serving with berries, mangoes and passionfruit pulp, but next time I make it I will swirl some dark chocolate ganache through it – I have been a slave to good quality dark chocolate for most of my life and find that it improves almost anything!!
My smallest springform was 18cm x 9cm so I extended the cooking time vaguely – this could do with some fine tuning as mine was a little over-done.

For the crust –
30 gm butter
110 gm Granita biscuits
– melt butter at 70C/speed 1 for 1 minute, add biscuits, crush and mix speed 5/5 seconds
Press into prepared pan and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

75 gm white choc bits
250 gm cream cheese
110 gm caster sugar
1 egg
60 ml thin cream
– grate chocolate speed 8/5 seconds, add rest of ingredients and whizz speed 5/15 seconds.
Pour over refrigerated crust and bake in 160C preheated oven for 35 minutes. Turn off oven and allow to cool, then refrigerate until firm.