May 2009


Blueberry buns single

When my partner and I were in Helsinki last year, we visited the vibrant markets at Market Square near the water (see below).  The market was full of vendors selling gloriously fresh fruit and vegetables.  We wandered around for a little while so I could take in all the piles of dazzling food on offer.  Rich colours and smells filled my every turn.

After some observation, I was puzzled by one interesting habit.  The Finns work with the metric system.  But at these markets, many items are measured in volume rather than weight.  It was quite an approach.

I greedily wanted to try all the berries I could get my hands on.  Particularly raspberries and blueberries that can cost close to $10 in Australia for practically a small handful.  I asked for “half a litre” of various berries and watched as the lady gently transferred each berry selection into a tin mug, then into a brown paper bag (the cups I saw were ¼, ½ and 1 litre sizes).  After paying, I actually felt like I got the best bargain in the world.  Even with the exchange for the Euro!  Then after tasting, I knew I got the best bargain in the world.  They were just divine.  I think they lasted less than ten minutes between us.

Separately, I noticed a number of people eating fresh peas.  They were huge.  I automatically thought they may be less tasty given the size, so knew I had to also test for myself.  They were amazing.  Sweet, firm and morish.  I ate each pea pod in quick succession.

So for my next Finnish baking month adventure, I wanted to incorporate some inspiration of Helsinki’s Market Square … or Kauppatori.

Once again, flicking through my Scandinavian baking bible by Beatrice Ojakangas, I found Mustikkapiiraat.  A blueberry filled bun.  It was quite an easy decision to make these as they included not only the obligatory berries, but also had a cardamom flavoured dough (well, the cardamom is apparently optional, but not in my eyes!).

They were easy to make and smelled wonderful coming out of the oven.  I almost clapped my hands in delight when I saw the gooey berry drizzle running down the side of a bun or two.  It was hard to wait for them too cool slightly so I could eat them.  I iced a few buns to devour straight away but also ended up freezing the remaining buns (un-iced) in packets of two to have as a quick breakfast treat.  Slightly re-warmed, they taste almost as good as straight out of the oven.  I like to tease my fellow co-workers who are snacking on the usual vegemite on toast, with my tasty alternative. 

Big blueberries

{ Blueberry Filled Buns }

* Ingredients *

Pastry:
1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water, 105-115F or 40-45C
½ cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ cup raisins
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup softened butter
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Filling:
1 pint or 450g fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch / cornflour
2 tablespoons sugar

Glaze:
1 slightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons milk

* Directions *

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water; add the milk.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Add the sugar, egg, cardamom, raisins, and salt.  Add the softened butter and 1 cup of the flour; beat until smooth and satiny.  Gradually add the remaining flour, mixing until dough is smooth and satiny, not quite stiff enough to knead.  Cover and let rise for 1 to 2 hours until doubled.  Meanwhile, combine the blueberries, cornstarch and sugar.  Preheat oven to 400F or 200C.  Dust the risen flour.  Shape into a ball, dusting with flour lightly, if necessary, to prevent stickiness.  Lightly oil a work surface.  Turn dough out onto the work surface and divide into 12 parts.  Cover a baking sheet with parchment or lightly grease it. Roll dough into smooth balls and place on the baking sheet with the smooth side up.  Let rise until puffy, 45 minutes to 1 hour.  With a floured glass, press an indentation into the centre of each round of dough, and a rounded edge on each ball.  Spoon filling into the centre of each bun.  Beat the egg and milk to make a glaze and brush edges of the pastries with the mixtures.  Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 12 buns.

Helsinkilarge

Helsinki, Market Square

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Cherry Strudel single

I probably should not share this, but I often talk to myself.  It can happen anytime.  Anywhere.  Once, I was talking to myself while getting out of my car in the driveway, and my partner (inside the house!), thought someone was with me.  I am not sure why I talk to myself on occasion, but I am fairly certain it has been a regular part of my life.

Making the strudel for the Daring Bakers challenge this month was no exception.

I have been reading about a few cherry dishes at some of my favourite blogs recently.  Even though we are quite a few months off fresh cherries here in Australia, I was keen to incorporate cherry into my strudel.  So as a substitute, I bought some preserved sour cherries.  With a small additional of breadcrumbs and sugar, this turned out to be a perfect filling.

I was disappointed with my pastry effort.  I had quite a few holes as I worked the pastry and attempted to make it paper-thin.  The actually dough was quite easy to make so will try again at some point.  Despite the hiccups with the pastry, however, I was really happy with the challenge this month.  Strudel pastry is not something I had made before.

When the strudel was baked, I needed to take a few photos.  It was a little chilly outside and overcast.  It has been practically raining non-stop here in Brisbane.  So when picking a plate, I reached for black.  It seemed to match the drizzle outside.  The dark cherry looked nice against the colour, so off I went.  I took a few photos and checked in the viewfinder.  My ‘talking to myself’ habit then kicked in.  I giggled and then said to the strudel – yes, an inanimate object! – “You are such a moody strudel!”  Oh, I tried that in my best Austrian accent, too.

I continued to punctuate the conversation with my strudel with a few other snappy lines.  And not one to let a joke die its natural death, I call out to my partner to include him in the banter, and declared, “my strudel is moody, ja?”  He walked away grinning, shaking his head.

We have enjoyed our moody strudel the last few nights, slightly warmed with a tiny serve of vanilla ice cream.  I do enjoy fruit desserts so want to definitely try this pastry again.  And hopefully I have not disappointed my lovely friend M. in Austria.  Hopefully it would past the test?  I would send a test piece to you in Vienna if I could!

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Cherry Strudel

{ Apple strudel }
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

* Ingredients *

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

* Directions *
1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

{ Strudel dough }
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

* Ingredients *

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

* Directions *

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can. Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it’s about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Aunt Hannas Cookies

When I brought dessert out at my house the other week, my mother remarked, “I really do not know where you got that baking thing from”.  She was talking specifically about my passion (read: obsession) for baking.  I often reflect on this.  I frequently read stories about people who were ‘baking and cooking inspired’ by the profession or interests of their parents and family.  A chef whose parents were in the restaurant business.  A chef who had a string of chefs in the family.  Or an elite cook who grew up around a mother that prepared elaborate meals and desserts.  People who had many wonderful food memories in their home growing up.

My interest in baking was not directly inspired by my parents.  On the outside looking in, we led quite unremarkable lives.  Quiet.  Reserved.  Conservative.  There was no sophisticated cooking, baking or entertaining.  There was no real exposure to the love and passion of food at home.  But there was one thing.  An unspoken drive to always strive for more.  Strive for something better.  Strive to be the best you could possibly be.  That is the inspiration from my family.  So even though I was not fortunate to grow up learning about baking at a young age, my parents encouraged me to keep learning.  Those who know me, know I constantly juggle multiple things in the quest to learn.  The reality is, a seemingly unremarkable family actually has produced (hopefully?) some fairly remarkable people – i.e. me and my sister.

I have never considered myself creative.  I always considered myself a numbers girl.  Give me some calculus or statistics and I am completely in my comfort zone.  I originally studied biochemistry at university, then switched to business and marketing.  More recently, I studied economics.  I feel like I cannot stop learning something new.  As my partner says to me, “you never want to miss out!”  And that is true.  I certainly do try to give many things a go.  But when it comes to anything creative, I have previously steered away from the challenge.  Reluctant to take it on believing I was not up to the task.  But now I think differently.

My mother is quite a crafty person (in more ways than one!) and even now in retirement she has multiple projects on the go.  Patchwork.  Cross-stitch.  Embroidery.  Knitting.  Sewing.  Needlepoint.  Seriously.  All at once.  Constantly.  Oh, and no shortcuts either in any of her projects.  She is a ball of energy and I do not know how she does it.  In fact, my sister and I have “craft day” with mum once a month to (belatedly) learn some of the tricks of the trade.  My mother was a young child in London during WW2, and also lived through the aftermath of momentous scarcity.  During that period, you were resourceful. You never threw anything out.  You fixed.  You created. I want to learn that, too.

I used to joke that my (older) sister, managed all the creative genes from our parents. She is an artist.  Period.  She draws, she paints, she designs.  In fact, you may believe I am quite subjective on the topic when I say she is one of the best illustrators in Australia.  (Actually, she is.)

They both inspire me greatly.

So the reality is I do find inspiration from my family, but not in the obvious ways.  And for me, baking is my way to offer something back.  To share.  To experience.  To give.  My life may not resemble how I grew up, but the connection is firmly there.  And that is a comforting feeling.  I thank my parents for instilling in me a healthy dose of curiosity and desire to always achieve more.

These cookies are for you.

{ Aunt Hanna’s Cookies } by Beatrice Ojakangas

These simple and quick cookies are a Finnish favourite at holiday time.  They are apparently very popular, and according to Beatrice, can be found in supermarkets across Finland all year round.  One taste, and I was a big fan.  They are light and buttery but not too rich.  The little bite size makes them perfect for a little treat during the day.  I also think they make lovely homemade gifts, too!

* Ingredients *

½ cup softened butter
½ cup sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup cream

* Directions *

Cover baking sheets with parchment and preheated almond oven to 350F or 180C.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until blended.  Mix the flour with the baking powder and add to the butter mixture a little at a time.  Blend in the cream until a stiff dough forms.  Chill if necessary.  Using 1 teaspoonful of dough at a time, roll into small balls.  Place on the prepared baking sheets.  Bake for 10 minutes or until very light golden and set.

Karelian Rice Pasties

I was lucky to visit Finland last year for a holiday.  It is a magnificant part of the world.  It is outdoorsy, rugged, scenic.  It is a country of contrast.  Extreme bitter terrain in winter.  Lush, fertile surroundings in summer.  It is small but vast.  It is quiet but friendly and warm.  Interestingly, I used to say my partner was full of contradictions.  Being Finnish, I suppose it is an intrinsic trait?

The Finnish landscape and scenery is quite arresting.  We travelled from Helsinki to Turku one day and past some beautiful countryside.  The photos below were taken wandering around Naantali.  For me, the wide open lake and the rich blooms greatly encapsulate southern Finland in the summer time.

These little rice pasties actually remind me of Finland.  For me, the rustic, earthiness make them quintessentially Finnish.  The pasties were actually requested by my partner to include in my Finnish baking month adventures.  He remembers them fondly.  Surprisingly, I never saw them when I was in Finland last year, but they must be popular because Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella also made a mention of them to me.  I am disappointed I did not come across them in my travels.  Admittedly, I think I was preoccupied not only with cardamom flavoured bread and buns, and all the fresh salmon on offer.  (I seriously think I ate salmon for every single meal during my time there.  It was sublime.)

I flicked through my trusty Scandinavian Baking book by Beatrice Ojakangas to find the recipe for these little rice pasties.  If they were popular, there was no question I would find them there.

The pastry was quite easy to make.  It literally mixed together by hand in less than 5 minutes.  The filling is the most time consuming part taking an hour to slowly simmer.  But I hit a snag.  I presume the rice needed to disintegrate, hence the 1 hour simmering time, but I have a bit of a problem.  I cook with gas and even my lowest setting produces a level of bubbling that could not constitute anything close to a simmer.  Never mind, I thought, I will cook it as well as I can.

After some quick assembly, these little pasties were made and baked.  Beatrice suggests serving with boiled eggs, which I actually do remember accompanying quite an amount of food in Finland.

So the verdict from my partner?  One star out of three.  Apparently the pastry was spot on (tick!), but overlapped the filling too much – should have been narrower (cross!), and the filling needed to be more cooked (cross!).  But despite that, they were still quickly consumed.  So all good in my eyes!

 NaantaliNaantali, Finland

 

{ Karelian Rice Pasties } by Beatrice Ojakangas

* Ingredients *

Pastry:
1 cup water
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup rye flour
1 cup all purpose flour

Filling:
1 cup water
3 cups milk
¾ cup rice

Glaze:
1 cup milk, heated to boiling
¼ cup butter

* Directions *

Mix together the water, salt, rye flour and all purpose flour to make a smooth dough.  If necessary, add more water.  Shape the dough into a r0pe about the thickness of your wrist.  Cut into 16 equal portions.  Shape the pieces into flat round cakes and roll out to make a very thin circle about 6 to 8 inches / 15 to 20 cm in diameter.  Set aside.  To prepare the rice filling, combine the water, milk and rice in a heavy saucepan.  Simmer for 1 hour or until rice has absorbed all the liquid.  Taste and add salt and butter.  Cover baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease them.  Preheat oven to 550F or 290C.  Fill the centre of each circle with the cooked rice and fold over about ¾ inches or 2cm of the edges, pinching to crimp the edges, and shape an oval or round pie.  Place pies on prepared baking sheets.  Mix the boiling milk and butter to make a glaze.  Brush the pieces with the mixture.  Bake for 7 to 10 minutes.  Brush again with the butter-milk mixture.  Baked until tinged with gold.  Remove from the oven and brush again with the butter-milk mixture.  Serve cooled.  Pasties will soften as they cool.

Cardamom macarons_single

With macarons completely occupying my mind due to my upcoming wedding, I was worried they may overshadow my Finnish baking adventures this month.  So inspired by all the creativity and ideas for my wedding macarons, I wondered if I could somehow combine something Finnish with a macaron.

I think I did.

The Finns are reported to be the largest coffee drinkers in the world.  So I knew coffee had to feature as a prominent flavour.  Cardamom is a very common spice used in Finnish (and Scandinavian) baking.  I love the flavours of both so was more than happy to trial the combination.  And let me just say, I am in macaron heaven.

I used the same Italian Merignue technique I have been using recently.  And I must admit, with about 6 weeks past since my last batch, it is amazing how quickly it all feels so new again.

But it fortunately all came together, and I can present, the “Suomalainen (aka Finnish!) macaron”.

{ Cardamom macarons }

* Ingredients *

100g egg whites
3g egg white powder
130g almond meal
125g icing sugar
Ground cardamom
For the syrup:
150g sugar and 50ml water

* Directions *

Process the almond meal and icing sugar together.  In a mixer, whip half the egg whites to soft peaks.  Meanwhile, in a saucepan bring the water and sugar for the syrup to 117C (or 242F) on a candy thermometer.  Once ready, slowly add the boiling syrup to the egg whites and continue to whip on medium speed until they thick and shiny and are completely cooled (about 10 minutes).  At the final changes of whipping the meringue, add the spice.  Mix the remaining egg whites to the sifted almond mixture and fold into the meringue in four parts.

Pipe macarons on lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with extra ground cardamom.  Double up your baking sheets if you do not have professional grade quality.  Let your macarons sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. Bake at 180C for 10-12 minutes.  Fill with ganache or filling of your choice.  Refrigerate to set.

{ Mocha Mousse } recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

* Ingredients *

6 oz / 180g dark chocolate
2 tablespoons espresso coffee powder
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup Sugar
1 1/2 cup heavy cream

* Directions *

Beat the cream until soft peaks form.  Set aside.  In the top of a double boiler, set over barely simmering water, melt the chocolates with the coffee.  In a bowl with an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until the mixture is thick and pale.  Heat the sugar with 1 tablespoon of water over a low heat until the sugar reaches 238F or 115C.  Slowly pour onto the egg yolks.  Then add in the chocolate mixture until just combined. Fold in the whipped cream, gently but thoroughly.

:: Update ::

dmblgit_green june 2009A big thank you to Marija of Palachinka for hosting the June 2009 Edition of DMBLGiT (Does My Blog Look Good in This?) event. Thank you also to the other judges this month for their time.

My cardamom and coffee macarons were awarded Overall 2nd Place.

There were many outstanding images in the running this month, and I am excited to have won this award.  Thank you!  (Make sure to check out all the other winners and entries.)

 

Talk about a global brainstorm.

From 4 continents in less than 3 days I have over 20 macaron flavour ideas for my wedding.  How amazing is that?  Thank you so much for all for your ideas (and keep them coming, please!).  To be honest, I was actually a little overwhelmed by all the options.  Where to start?  Where to start?

It will be difficult to choose only one or two flavours for the wedding.  But luckily, I am planning to continue my macaron adventures post-wedding.  With all these ideas, looks like I have no other choice!  What a shame…

{ Green }
1. Wasabi
2. Pandan and pandan/screw pine
3. Matcha tea
4. Lime
5. Kiwi
6. Mint macaron with chocolate cream and mint leaf
7. Mint macaron with vanilla cream and chocolate square
8. Basil
9. Lime-basil
10. Green tea and palm sugar
11. Apple and mint
12. Green cardamom (powder)
13. Pistachio with rose water

{ Purple }
14. Blackcurrant
15. Violet figs with honey cream filling
16. Black cherry

{ White }
17. Coconut
18. White shells filled with a white Russian butter cream
19. White rose
20. White chocolate
21. Salted caramel (well, close to white and given how delicious these macarons are, I could not help put them on the list!)

{ Blue / aqua }
22. Blueberry

Let the short listing commence…

Wedding inspiration board

First off, this post may seem to deviate away from baking, but I promise there is a (round-about!) connection.

I am getting married at the end of the year.  I am pretty excited as you can imagine.  And those that know me well, know that it also means one thing.  A highly researched, organised, considered event.  Do not get me wrong; there is absolutely nothing elaborate planned.  It will be a simple affair of 30-35 people, sans formalities.  No bridal party.  No speeches.  No first dance.  And dare I say it…no cake.

When first engaged, the prospect of eloping seemed very appealing.  Simple, minimal fuss, low key.  Problem was, we would miss out on sharing the day with family and close friends.  And really, at the end of the day, what is more important?  I was then reminded of the reason I bake.  It is really part of my fabric.  I love baking to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, birthdays.  I love to bake to give homemade gifts.  I love to learn and discover what families around the world incorporate as baking traditions into their lives.  For me, it is the people in your life that make you who you are and provide the joyous memories.  Baking helps me create those memories.

So you may be thinking, “if baking is so important in your life, why not have a cake at your own wedding?”

Good question.  There are two reasons why.

1. Because we do not want the formality of cake cutting, and
2. I am including something better!

Macarons.

Everyone knows I am obsessed with these little petit fours so what a better way to personalise my wedding day?  The search is now on for colours, flavours, fillings, packaging, labeling to give these little macarons the regard they deserve.

I have created my own ‘inspiration board’ (above) for the wedding.  I selected emerald green with hints of aqua and lavender as the theme colours.  (Long story!)  So far I have considered my macaron options to be pistachio, lavender and vanilla, to tie in with my colour palette.  But there are so many other choices. 

Any ideas for flavours, colours and filling?  Anyone made macarons for wedding favors?  Any tips or hints?

I am glad it did finally come back to baking – and my favourite kind at that.

{ Images }
1st Row: Champagne bottle photo by Jonathan Canlas, Green tie from Martha Stewart Weddings, Lavender field, Atonement movie scene, Long table photography from the Brides Cafe
2nd Row: Flowers from Martha Stewart Weddings, Invitation from Snippet and Ink, Table Number from Novak Photography, Champagne Truffles from Teuscher
3rd Row: Hanging Flowers from Apartment Therapy, Jewellery from Martha Stewart Weddings, ‘The Dress!’ – Wedding Dress, Oscar de la Renta, Martha Stewart Weddings Fall 2008
4th Row: Macarons from Paulette via Brooklyn Bride, Favor Boxes from Snippet and Ink

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