It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I have a very sweet tooth. So imagine my delight at every hostel I stayed at in Argentina and Uruguay when each breakfast came complete with dulce de leche, the classic spreadable caramel that is liberally dolloped on desserts, cakes and even toast. No matter how dodgy the coffee, how tepid the ‘orange fruit drink’ or how stale the bread, there was always dulce de leche to smother it and more than compensate. My favourite way to eat it was as ‘Flan con dulce’, basically a crème caramel slathered in the stuff. Heaven.

It’s quite the trendy condiment these days and I’ve gotta say I’m glad of it. If you’re craving alfajores de maicena, those delicious cornflour-based biscuits sandwiched together with thick dulce de leche and rolled sparingly in caramel, you could make them yourself, and no doubt I will at some point. But if you can’t be bothered, don’t worry as Argentinian cake shops are popping up all over Sydney, from La Paula in Kingsford to Baker Street in Ultimo to Sugarloaf Patisserie in Kogarah.

You’ve probably heard of this cheat’s version of dulce de leche, and I have to admit it’s not quite as good as the real thing, either homemade or mass produced. The traditional way of making it involves boiling and stirring a litre of milk with sugar until you reach the point of thick caramel deliciousness. However, the cheat’s version yields an acceptable result, and when you consider how little effort goes into it.

Cheat’s Dulce de Leche

As many tins of sweetened condensed milk as you want dulce de leche
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract per tin (if desired)

Put the tins of sweetened condensed milk into a large pot. Boil enough water to more than cover the tins. Place the pot on the stove and pour the boiling water over the cans. Bring to the boil.

Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer. Simmer for 2-3 hours, making sure the tins are completely covered with water at all times as there is a chance they could explode.

Leave the tins to cool in the pot for an hour or more. Empty each tin into an airtight container and stir through the vanilla if using. Serve on everything!

So, do you have a food that you’re craving from overseas?

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One of my favourite things to eat in Spain at the dingy tapas bars we frequented was the kind of aioli that tastes like plastic-y American mayo with some garlic thrown in for good measure. I could drink the stuff, in fact, I’m pretty sure I bought some in a Portuguese supermarket post-Spain and inhaled the whole tub. So any time I had a go at making aioli, I’d just mix mass-produced mayo and garlic. And now that aioli is trendy here, that’s usually what’s served in pubs all around Australia.

I have always shied away from scientific-sounding processes like ‘emulsification’ in cooking so you’ll forgive me if I only got around to making ‘proper’ aioli from scratch about a month ago. I figured it wouldn’t be worth the effort but boy, was I wrong. And what’s more, it goes with pretty much anything savoury – fish, chicken, polenta-crusted potatoes, the list goes on.

To make an aioli you basically do what you would do for a mayonnaise, only using extra virgin olive oil. You blend or mix egg yolks with garlic or herbs until creamy and then, while still mixing, add a large amount of olive oil drop by drop, finishing with a touch of acid like lemon or vinegar. The result is a thick creamy emulsion that will have you licking your fingers with glee, I promise you.

This is a recipe that lends itself to immersion blenders and food processors because the aioli must be constantly in motion or it won’t emulsify. Other than that, it is damn near impossible to stuff it up. You could make it too thick but I’m pretty sure no one would complain if you did and anyway you could just add more lemon, vinegar or water.

Classic Aioli
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon of Lemon juice (more if desired)

Turn food processor on to medium. Add garlic and egg yolks and puree until garlic is extremely fine and egg yolks are very creamy.

Add salt and once dissolved, pour the oil, drop by drop or in a very slow stream into the still running food processor. You may want to use a measuring jug to pour from. It should take a full 5 minutes to add the 2/3 cup oil to the egg and garlic blend.

Add the lemon and blend some more. Transfer to a bowl, chill and serve.

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It’s no secret that Christmas is all about eating, and not just the day of. People often make (or buy) and give treats as gifts, anything from shortbread to jam; rich, wintery foods that will keep for months but when you think abou it, make little sense in the context of an Australian (summer) Christmas. Let’s face it, there are only so many chutneys and flavoured oils you can fit in your pantry. I never really understood why people would make food to give on the most food-laden day of the year. It’s certainly not something I could be bothered doing.

That said, I’m totally in favour of tasting the fruits of someone else’s labour, especially baked goods. Christmas baking is a tradition that many hold dear, including my friend Gina who spent her spare time this week baking fruit mince pies and the traditional Italian Christmas treat paneforte, kind of a distilled, nutty fruitcake.

I took great delight in photographing the ‘pan-for-day’ (as we say in a broad Aussie accent) and all its preparations. Neither Gina nor I could pronounce its name to the satisfaction of her Italian housemate, who took the piss out of us incessantly. That was fine by me. I was taking home a mini paneforte for lunch!

Gina had to ring her parents numerous times to get the correct recipe as although it was written down originally, it has undergone endless metamorphoses and adaptations to become what it is today. So this post is significant in that the recipe is finally written down. Next year Gina will have it on hand, and so will anyone else who wants to make it…

Paneforte is quite flexible. You can use any glacé fruit and any nuts you like, just make sure you have the right amounts. If you don’t feel like chopping nuts, you can leave them whole for an ‘extra chunky’ paneforte or pulse them (briefly) in the food processor. If you can only find dried fruit, not glacé you can use it but keep in mind the paneforte will be drier. Gina’s best tip? Buy peeled hazelnuts. Peeling hazelnuts is a pain in the arse. And the Aussie twist? Glacé pineapple.

The Tarantos’ Paneforte
125g peeled hazelnuts
125g blanched almonds
60g glacé apricot
60g glacé pineapple
60g chopped mixed peel

2/3 cup plain flour
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon

60g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup honey

Preheat oven to 160°c.

Roast the almonds and hazelnuts in a baking dish. Once cooled, coarsly chop the nuts, along with the glacé fruit.

Sift flour, cocoa and cinnamon together. Stir to combine. Stir nuts and fruit into dry ingredients.

Melt honey and sugar together on a low heat. Bring almost to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes or until thick and syrupy. Take off the heat, let cool for 5-10 minutes and then stir through chocolate until melted.

Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until completely combined. This will take a lot of elbow grease!

Line a 20cm loose-bottomed round quiche tine with baking paper. This is essential – if you just grease the tin the paneforte is sure to stick. Dollop the mixture onto it and cover with a second sheet of baking paper. Press the mixture down to flatten it, right to the edges, to get rid of any air bubbles. Cut off excess paper.

Bake for around 35 minutes or until the paneforte has just lost its sheen. If you overcook it or even burn it, just leave it in an airtight container for a couple of days before serving. This will soften it. Lasts 3 months if not exposed to air.

What dish do you most look forward to at Christmas?

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Aren’t other peoples’ families zany? It always seems that way to me. When I was a kid, other peoples’ houses were just different; they looked different, smelled different, ran differently. To a six-year-old child, the familiar, their home, has no smell, no particular look, no discernible system of organisation. It just is. Our own environments are the very definitions of normality. To us…

It isn’t until we find ourselves in someone else’s environment that we are forced to realise that our way of doing things is just one way, not the way. It’s easy to criticise the unfamiliar, from the way someone washes the dishes to the way they run their household. And when you move in with people you weren’t brought up with, their ways will almost certainly be at odds with yours, something which you may not have even considered before.

How is all this relevant? Mousse Chocolate (moos cho-ko-let, not moos chok-let), which is what my boyfriend and his family will call this recipe for all eternity, is technically a mistranslation. The name in Portuguese is literally ‘Mousse of Chocolate’. The name has always sounded slightly wrong to me.

But ‘Chocolate  Mousse’ would sound wrong to my boyfriend’s ears. In addition, ‘Chocolate Mousse’ to his family is something altogether different from what they prepare, something unbelievably creamy which, to a family that abhors cream, makes it unfitting for their beloved concoction of chocolate, eggs and sugar.

This was my second try at this recipe. The first time I made it I just couldn’t get the chocolate and egg whites to come together while still maintaining the mousse’s light and fluffy texture. I had a theory that without the pure fat of cream I’ve used in every chocolate mousse I’ve ever made, they just weren’t coming together, and that as such microwaved chocolate was more unforgiving. Then I noticed that many recipes call for a small amount of butter. So I bit the bullet and did the double boiler thing, butter and all.

So how was it? Rich? Yes. Creamy? No way. Delicious? Definitely. Mousse Chocolate.

Mousse Chocolate for two
2 eggs, separated
60-80g dark chocolate broken into pieces (I used nestle club but next time I think I’ll use something with a bit more depth of flavour).
1 Tablespoon of butter
2 teaspoons of sugar (optional- I left it out but in hindsight I think it needed it)

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks in a completely clean and dry bowl. Set aside.

Put chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the water is not touching the bowl, the bowl should just be ‘steamed’.

When the chocolate begins to melt, add the butter and sugar if desired. Once melted together, turn off the heat. Stir in egg yolks one at a time, very quickly.

Remove the bowl from the pan and fold in a third of the beaten egg whites. Fold in another third gently and then the remaining third even more gently.

Put mix in container/s, cover with cling film and set for at least four hours.

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