Friday, October 30, 2009

The ultimate chocolate cake

WHO would have thought that the ultimate chocolate cake would be lurking right under my nose all these years?

It’s been quite a few years now since I, while poking through a newsagent’s to escape a sudden shower, spotted a Women’s Weekly Chocolate Cakes cookbook, half-hidden behind dodgy wedding magazines and a couple of stray birthday cards thoughtfully posted on the wrong shelf by a bored toddler. I bought it, of course – hello, a book devoted entirely to chocolate cakes? Come on – but for some reason, every time I thought to bake something from it, I got distracted, didn’t have the right ingredients … the list went on.

Then, a month or so ago, on a night when I was home alone and feeling peckish, I picked it up, glanced at the recipe for the family chocolate cake and thought, what the hell? It wasn’t the sort of recipe I usually make – no creaming of butter and sugar, my favourite part of the baking process – but I pulled out a saucepan, stirred the melting butter and baking powder mixture assiduously to ensure it didn’t boil over, and held my breath as I slid the quite-liquid batter into the oven.

But when I’d iced it, sliced it and taken my first bite – my god. I inhaled the (rather, um, large) slice I’d cut and it was all I could do to stop myself from eating the rest of the slab. It was soft, moist, still warm, thanks very much, with a slightly caramelised crunch on the top that melted into the fudgy icing. It was so good I pulled out the laptop and emailed pictures to my boyfriend at work: “OH MY GOD YOU SHOULD SEE THE CAKE I JUST BAKED”. It was just as good the next day, too: still soft and moist, with a deliciously fudgy interior to make up for the lack of straight-from-the-oven warmth.

It was so good, in fact, that I made it again not a fortnight later. This time with the help of my four-year-old niece, who I hoisted up on to my hip so she could stir the buttery icing mixture before she sat on the bench and sifted the icing sugar over the bench, over us, into her mouth - and even into the bowl.

Family chocolate cake

Adapted from the Women's Weekly Chocolate Cakes cookbook

1 cup water

1 1/2 cups caster sugar

125g butter, chopped

20g cocoa powder

1/2 tsp bicarb soda

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Chocolate fudge icing

90g butter

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup caster sugar (I used slightly less)

1 1/2 cups icing sugar

1/3 cup cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a 22cm round cake tin

Place water, butter, sugar, sifted cocoa powder and bicarb soda in a medium-large saucepan and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Watch it, it will bubble up.

Transfer to bowl of mixer (or medium bowl) and allow to cool.

Add sifted flour and egg and beat until batter is smooth and a paler colour.

Pour into tin and bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Top may brown rapidly - it can be covered with a piece of foil but I really like the crunchy top

Let the cooked cake cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

For icing, place water, sugar and butter in a saucepan and stir until sugar dissolves.

Sift icing sugar and cocoa into a small bowl and gradually beat in the butter mixture. It will be very liquid.

Refrigerate, covered, for about 30 minutes or until thickened to your satisfaction.

Beat with wooden spoon until spreadable and pour over cooled cake.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Around the world for a pie

HERE in Sydney, the past few weekends have been a sporting smorgasbord.

Three weeks ago it was the AFL Grand Final. Two weeks ago it was the NRL Grand Final. This weekend just gone was Australia’s biggest car race, the Bathurst 1000.

What else is a girl to do but make meat pies to go with the frolicking on the field?

You’d be hard-pressed to find anything more Australian than a meat pie, but it’s the joy of the internet era that I made Clotilde’s olive oil pastry for the bases of my pies. I had been planning to try out Maggie Beer’s sour cream pastry but a bit of forgetfulness at the shops on Saturday morning ruled that out, and there’s something very 2009 about using a Parisian pastry for an Aussie staple.

It was fabulous, too, may I say, especially for someone who tends to have a heavy touch with pastry – easy to knead and roll out and beautifully short and flaky in the finished product, with the herbs - I used oregano, coriander and a touch of cumin - adding a lovely bit of flavour.

The filling originally called for two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and the flavour was a little overpowering, so I’ve knocked it down to one tablespoon in my recipe below.

Served with mashed potatoes, peas and a generous slathering of tomato sauce (which I forgot to take a picture of - what an amateur!) it was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than anything you could get at the footy.

Oh, I almost forgot - I had a bit of filling left over after making the pies, which I have whacked in the freezer with the thought of making a nice easy pasta bake in the next week or so.

Meat pies

Makes 4 individual pies

1 tbs olive oil

1 large brown onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, julienned

1 zucchini, diced

A generous handful of button mushrooms, chopped

500g lean beef mince

1 tbs cornflour

3/4 cup beef stock

3/4 cup tomato sauce

1 tbs Worcestershire sauce

1 tbs barbecue sauce

1 tsp Vegemite

1 quantity Clotilde's olive oil pastry

1 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, beaten

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and vegetables and cook until onion is soft.
Add mince and cook, breaking up lumps with a wooden spoon, until browned. Toss in cornflour and cook, stirring for 1 minute.
Add stock, sauces and Vegemite to mixture. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 8 minutes or until thick. Allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 220°C.
Make the olive oil pastry, divide into quarters and roll out to fit four 10cm pie plates. Allow to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
When the pastry is ready, scatter some breadcrumbs on the base (this helps to soak up the juices and keeps your pastry from going soggy) and spoon in the cooled mince mixture.
Cut puff pastry sheet into quarters and use a little water to stick each quarter on a pie, cutting pastry to fit.
Brush with beaten egg, season and use a sharp knife to slit the lid to allow steam to escape.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.