November 26, 2007

Flourless chocolate cupcakes

I'm having afternoon tea today with a friend at her work for her birthday. Haven't had time to bake over the weekend so have defrosted these cupcakes that've been in the freezer for a few weeks.

Recipes for flourless chocolate cakes are everywhere. Their authors sometimes give credit to, amongst others, Claudia Roden or Elizabeth David, but it was probably originally a cake for Passover, the Jewish festival where no unleavened food may be eaten. I've made this cake a hundred times since I was given a copy of Dolly Campbell's I Hate to Cook in 1991. Dolly Campbell was the pseudonym used by Jill Dupleix in her cookery column in the Melbourne Age. The recipe was called "I Hate to Cook Best Ever Chocolate Cake". and I agreed with her that it was the best ever. It has popped up frequently in Jill's books and columns over the years. In one she suggested that you should use whichever chocolate is appropriate to the occasion...the finest couverture chocolate for best, and supermarket chocolate for not-so-special occasions. I had, up until then, always used either Cadbury or Plaistowe cooking chocolate or dark eating chocolate. So I tried making it with 70% Lindt chocolate - with disastrous results. The melted chocolate hardened into an unworkable lump once the nuts and egg yolks were mixed in. I've not been game to use anything higher than 45% cocoa solids since, but it may be worth giving it a go using something in between the two. The flavour will be delicious even with the cheap stuff!

I now usually bake the cake in individual serves rather than as a large cake. Despite being a bit ugly and funny-looking (the cracking is inevitable) they're deliciously rich, yet light, and need nothing more than a dust of icing sugar or cocoa on the tops.

Flourless Chocolate Cake(s)

250g dark chocolate
150g unsalted butter
1 Tab strong black coffee
1 Tab brandy (opt.)
150g caster sugar
125 ground almonds/almond meal*
5 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Place chocolate, butter, sugar, coffee and brandy in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until butter and chocolate are completely melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in the ground almonds, then the lightly beaten egg-yolks. Whip egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir a big spoonful into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the rest with a large metal spoon or a whisk. Spoon into paper-lined muffin tins or a 23cm greased and paper-lined springform tin. Bake for about 30 mins. for the small cakes, or 45-50 mins. for the large cake, or until firm to the touch but still a little soft in the centre. Cool the small cakes for 5 mins. in the moulds before removing. Cool large cake completely before inverting onto serving plate. Sprinkle with icing sugar or cocoa.

Makes about 15 cupcakes or 1 large cake.

*You can use hazelnuts instead of almonds for a slightly different flavour. Finely ground is best, but coarsely ground works well too and will give a crunchier texture.

*They'll keep for 2-3 days in the fridge (bring to room-temp. before eating), but if you want to freeze them, open freeze first, then wrap in cling-film then foil.

November 25, 2007

pasta sunday

Georgie came over and made this for dinner tonight. There are only a few ingredients so it can be rustled up in no time. It was delicious...not surprising as she's a great cook.

Asparagus and Rocket Spaghettini

80ml extra virgin olive oil
8 asparagus spears cut into 5cm lengths
400g spaghettini
120g rocket (shredded)
2 long red chillies, chopped finely
2 tspns grated lemon rind
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 tabs lemon juice
salt + ground black pepper to taste

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Blanch asparagus for 4 mins. Remove with a slotted spoon, refresh under cold water, drain and place in a bowl. Return water to the boil and add spaghettini. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and return to the pan.

Meanwhile add the rocket, chilli, lemon rind, garlic and 2/3 cup of the Parmesan to the asparagus and mix well. Add to the pasta, pour on the lemon juice and olive oil and season with salt and ground black pepper. Stir well to evenly coat the pasta with the mixture. Serve and top with remaining Parmesan.

Serves 4

November 21, 2007


Today I've made cupcakes for tomorrow's "farewell Moira" arvo tea. I've used the recipe I always use when making cupcakes for a crowd. It's a re-jigged cake recipe cut from a mag a few years ago. I'm such a fan of this recipe as it's foolproof, it makes a lot (around 22) and they always turn out flat-topped which is best if you're using glace icing rather than buttercream.

Passionfruit Buttermilk Cupcakes

All ingredients should be at room temperature:

185g butter, softened
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
1/2 cup icing sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup passionfruit pulp (about 6)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tspns finely grated lemon rind

Preheat oven to 165 degrees. Cream butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. Add eggs singly, beating well after each addition. Add rind, then sifted flours in 3 batches and liquids in 2 - so flour, liquid, flour, liquid, flour. Dollop mixture into paper lined cupcake tins (I use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to do this so they're all a similar size) and bake for 25 mins. or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in tins for 5 mins to stop cakes shrinking away from papers. Remove and cool completely on a rack before icing.

Note: I couldn't find any cheap passionfruit anywhere, so I blitzed a peeled orange with the stick blender and used the resulting pulp instead. I think the result was as good if not better than with passionfruit, and was much cheaper than buying 6 @ $1.49 each.

November 20, 2007

salad days

It's been too hot to cook so the last couple of nights we've had a salad for dinner. Last night it was a variation on a Karen Martini recipe from a recent Sunday Life mag. It was very fast and easy to prepare, and like everything I've made from Karen's book Where the heart is it was very good.

Chicken, Couscous and Spinach Salad

50g couscous
50 ml chicken stock or water
1/2 tspn mixed spice
1 Tab extra virgin olive oil
4 Tabs plain yoghurt
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 Tab red wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
handful shredded basil leaves
2 Tabs pinenuts, toasted
1/2 bought cooked chicken, shredded
few large handfuls coarsely shredded baby spinach
few baby cos leaves

Add boiling water or stock to couscous and stand 2 mins. Separate grains with fork. Whisk together spice, oil, yoghurt, onion, vinegar, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Toss together with chicken, leaves and couscous. Scatter with pinenuts. Serves 2.

Tonight I made a Thai beef salad based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. This is very flexible - you can add or subtract ingredients and/or vary the amounts according to your taste.

Thai Beef Salad

Mixture of shredded salad greens (I used Chinese cabbage and baby spinach)

1 carrot, julienned or coarsely shredded

large handful bean sprouts

1/2 cup coriander leaves

1/4 cup shredded basil leaves

2 spring onions chopped

1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, lightly crushed

2 small medallions eye fillet


1 Tab lime juice (or lemon)

1 Tab fish sauce

2 tspns olive oil

1 tspn sesame oil

1/2 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

2 tspns brown sugar

Char-grill or pan-fry meat to your preferred degree of 'doneness' and rest for 10 mins. Slice thinly. Whisk the dressing ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Toss lightly with remaining ingredients, divide between two plates and scatter beef on top. Garnish with a few extra coriander leaves. Serves 2.

November 19, 2007

pink ribbon day

Today at work, staff are having an afternoon tea to raise money for breast cancer. I planned to make appropriately shaped cupcakes. But since most of my recipes result in cakes that are flat topped rather than "hilly", I've made meringues instead. The raw mixture was a deep flesh pink, but sadly it faded with cooking to a dull beige. I didn't know whether the sweets for the tops would melt in the oven, so I tried one and it did. The rest I've poked in after baking so they're a bit cracked. Oh well, hopefully they look authentic enough to give the girls a laugh...

November 17, 2007

grandmother's flower garden quilt

I fell in love with a similar quilt of Trish Harper's when I took one of her classes ages ago at Amitie. She kindly gave me a copy of the hexagon template, and I spent hours contentedly cutting out and mixing and matching the florals. I confess that though I loved it when I started it I'm now not so fond of it. It's been spread out on the spare-room bed to remind me to finish it, but all it does is inspire feelings of guilt. The planning and buying the fabric is by far my favourite part of doing patchwork, so I'd really love to start something new with all this free time on my hands. But my conscience tells me to be disciplined and finish this first. I've only got a couple of outside rows of flowers to attach so it shouldn't take long.

I can't remember how Trish quilted hers...probably by hand. I've hand pieced the whole thing so it seems a shame not to hand quilt it. But it's a daunting prospect when I want to get on with something else.

November 15, 2007

i say clivia, you say clive-ia

We're looking forward to a more manageable garden when we move to a new place, wherever that may be. We love our big garden and getting out in it, but neither of us particularly likes gardening. It's looking pretty good at the moment, despite the drought. The Clivias which line the driveway have put on their best show ever, and their glowing orangeness has attracted several comments from passers-by as it does every spring.

Every year when I pick the first bunch I can't help thinking that the stalks would look more attractive if they were dark green instead of looking exactly like a bunch of celery. But I suppose Nature knows best.

long service leave

Today is the 8th day of my leave. Hmmmm - into the second week already. I was hoping to make good use of my 9 weeks off by doing a few things around the house, like getting the timber floors repolished, in readiness to sell. We were hoping that the ruin that is next door would be pulled down soon, since settlement took place a month ago. And then we could put our house on the market. But 2 days ago, another For Sale sign has gone up, so we are back to square one.