Brandy Butter Recipe

Of course, I nearly gorged myself on food at the family Christmas dinner yesterday. It was the second family feast this season, having had a Christmas feast with the Melbourne branch of the family a couple of weeks ago. For both, I made what is for me a traditional condiment for the pudding. It’s very easy, no doubt about it, but something that’s become absolutely essential: the brandy butter. (It also goes by the name “hard sauce“.) Drop it on the steaming hot pudding, watch it melt, and eat it as it soaks in.

I base my recipe on how I remember my grandmother’s brandy butter tasting. While some recipes suggest icing sugar (a.k.a. confectioner’s sugar), I prefer caster sugar (a.k.a. baker’s sugar) because of the texture. Also, I’ve got a fairly light amount of brandy in this recipe, and even my three-year old is known to have eaten it. You can probably double it, if you like a stronger taste.

Ingredients

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (250mL) caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (40mL) brandy
  • ground nutmeg, for decorating

Method

  1. Bring the butter close to room temperature, so it has become soft. Place in a bowl and using an electric beater, whisk on medium-high until it has become creamy.
  2. While continuing to whisk, slowly add the sugar. The mix will become whiter and fluffier.
  3. Continuing to whisk, slowly add the brandy. Stop when mixed through (should take 15 seconds or so).
  4. Using a teaspoon, drop spoonfuls of the mixture into an ice-cube tray. When the tray is full, tap it on the bench to level, and then lightly sprinkle the top with the ground nutmeg, before placing in the freezer to set (should take an hour or so).
  5. Just before serving, remove from the freezer, and run the back of the tray under a hot tap. A couple of gentle whacks should now dislodge the brandy butter.

Makes ~20 large cubes of brandy butter.

Stonehenge Slice Recipe

This is another easy and tasty slice from the Country Women’s Association slice cook-book. The first time I made this, I followed the recipe and used dried apricot, but this time I used crystalised ginger and it worked a treat.

Consider it to be something like Adult Chocolate Crackles. I guess it’s called Stonehenge Slice because you could cut it into thin slices and assemble your very own Stonehenge, if you really wanted. Or even get more creative.

Ingredients

  • 185 g dark chocolate (I prefer 55%)
  • 125 g butter
  • 125 g caster sugar
  • 125 g pieces of crystalised ginger
  • 3 1/2 cups rice bubbles (probably something like 125 g, too)

Method

  1. Chop ginger into small pieces.
  2. Grease a 18cm x 28cm slice tin.
  3. Break chocolate into pieces and put chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 60 seconds.
  4. Chop butter into pieces and add to bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds then stir. Keep going like that until just melted.
  5. Place rice bubbles in a large bowl and combine with the ginger and sugar.
  6. Pour in the melted chocolate and mix together gently.
  7. Press into the slice tin, cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
  8. Cut into slices in the tin before serving. (Keep unused slice in the fridge.)

Microwave Porridge Recipe

One of the reasons I post recipes on my blog is so that it’s easy for me to find them later. The category of Recipes on the blog is a bit like an ever-expanding personal recipe book.

And while this recipe is rather mundane, it was worked out through long trial-and-error to determine the optimal times for our 800W Sharp Carousel Microwave Oven. Coming into the warm weather, we are likely to have less porridge, and if I don’t write this down somewhere, I will probably have forgotten by the time the cold weather returns.

It is what Harriet reliably asks me for breakfast every morning, so woe betide me if I ever forgot how to make it. (She will consent to eat croissants instead of porridge, but I don’t think that’s a long term option.)

However, while it is simple to make, porridge is the prince of breakfasts. It’s healthy – low GI, low in gluten, low in sugar, high in fibre, high in protein. It’s been eaten for at least 4,000 years. There’s a special day devoted to porridge (10th October is World Porridge Day, if you must know). With a little creativity, it can be made into a variety of flavours.

I find the rolled oats packet’s suggested amounts make too little. Simply doubling them makes too much. These amounts are just right.

Porridge (Oatmeal) for One

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (125mL) rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup full-cream milk

Method

  1. Mix all ingredients in a decent-sized microwave cooking pot (eg. a rice cooker). Place, uncovered, in microwave for 3:00 mins on HIGH (for 800W oven).
  2. Remove and give a quick stir. Return to microwave for 2:30 mins on HIGH.
  3. Rest porridge for 2:00 mins, then scoop out into a bowl.

Porridge for Two

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (250mL) rolled oats
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup full-cream milk

Method

  1. As above, mix all ingredients in a microwave cooking pot, then place, uncovered, in microwave for 5:00 mins on HIGH.
  2. Remove and give a quick stir. Return to microwave for 3:00 mins on HIGH.
  3. Rest porridge for 2:00 mins, then scoop out into two bowls.

Variations

  • If you like, you can probably add a pinch of salt, and also an additional flavour like cinnamon or vanilla into the porridge.
  • Our traditional toppings are 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar or a drizzle of local honey. However, maple syrup, fruit jam, breakfast cereal, or yoghurt could also work if they are more to your taste.

Dulce de Leche Pionono Recipe

The upcoming recipe club dinner is themed Argentina, so I’ve been looking into Argentine desserts. It seems that the key ingredient is Dulce de Leche – basically a thick, sweet caramel sauce – so it was a given that this sweet ingredient would feature.

Helping me along, I came across a great website called From Argentina With Love that had an interesting-sounding recipe for Pionono (an Argentine dessert roll), from which this recipe is heavily based. I also had some assistance from this other Pionono Recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • extra caster sugar
  • 200mL whipping cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 200g dulce de leche (I used Nestle Top-N-Fill Caramel)

NB. The Nestle Top-N-Fill Caramel is basically caramelized sweetened condensed milk, and was available as a 380g tin in my supermarket in the section along with cooking chocolate and vanilla extract.

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
  2. Take a shallow tray, 25cm x 38cm (I think it’s sometimes known as a swiss roll tray), grease it, line the bottom and sides with a sheet of grease-proof paper, then grease the paper.
  3. Sift the flour into a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Put the eggs, sugar and honey in a large mixing bowl, and beat with a mixer on high for at least 8 minutes, until the mixture expands to several times the original volume and forms a marshmallow consistency.
  5. Add the flour into the mix, and continue to beat for another minute until well combined.
  6. Pour the mix evenly across the tray (even the corners), spreading with a flat knife if necessary.
  7. Place in the oven, and cook for 8-10 mins. It will be done when the cake springs back at a light touch. You may want to rotate the tray after 6 mins to ensure it cooks evenly.
  8. While waiting for the cake to cook, get a clean and dry (non fluffy) tea towel. Lay it out and sprinkle lightly with caster sugar. Use your fingers to ensure it is covered evenly.
  9. Take the tray out of the oven, invert it onto the tea towel. Remove the tray, and gently peel off the grease-proof paper.
  10. While still hot, roll up the cake in the tea towel, and set aside to cool for a couple of hours.
  11. During this waiting time, prepare the filling. Pour the cream into a mixing bowl and beat until stiff peaks have just formed.
  12. Add the dulce de leche and vanilla and stir to combine. Then beat for another minute or so, until the mixture thickens. Place in an airtight container and chill in the fridge.
  13. When the cake is cool, unroll it, spread the filling across it, and re-roll. Ideally, serve immediately, but it will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for another day or two.

When serving, slice into generous chunks. Serves 6-8.

Dijon Stuffing Recipe

By luck, and a little bit of planning, the night of our October recipe club dinner fell on Canadian Thanksgiving. So, the theme was a given.

While part of the fun of a Thanksgiving theme is over-the-top food (marshmallows in main course and all that), the dish I cooked that I’m going to keep in the repertoire is this fantastic stuffing that I found at Allrecipes.com. Below is my slightly modified version of it.

Ingredients

100g butter
1/4 cup Dijon (French) mustard
1 large onion
2 sticks celery (enough to make ~1 cup when chopped)
110g sliced water chestnuts (e.g. from a can)
1/2 cup crumbed walnuts
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper
3 cups dried bread crumbs (~300g)
200mL of chicken stock

Method

Finely chop the onion and celery.

Melt the butter and mustard together in a large saucepan, and when combined, add the onion and celery.

Cook until onion is softened, then stir in water chestnuts, walnuts, thyme, and pepper & salt to taste.

Mix in the breadcrumbs until thoroughly combined.

You can pause at this point if you wish, and place the mix in an airtight container in the fridge overnight. This enables you to make this part in advance. The last stage can be combined with removing a turkey from the oven to rest.

Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Add chicken stock to the mixture and stir through. It will begin clumping together.

Spread on a baking tray and cook in oven for 20 – 30 mins, until crust begins to dry. Then, remove from oven and serve.

Makes approx 1.5L or enough for 10 adults.

Microwave Popcorn Recipe

Modern conveniences are great.

Back in the early 80s, there were all sorts of new electronic appliances coming onto the market. My parents asked my brothers and I whether we would prefer a Video Cassette Recorder or a Microwave Oven. Both promised to revolutionise our lives!

We all voted for the VCR. We ended up with the microwave.

Oh well. It wasn’t all bad. We made a lot of microwave cakes. It was amazing – you were 10 minutes to cake at any point in the day.

We worked our way through the microwave cookbook. It turned out that all sorts of things could be baked until they were moist and floppy.

Unfortunately, you can maintain the excitement only so long of cooking stuff in a metal box with a spinning glass dish. These days our microwave is relegated to defrosting, melting and reheating. No actual cooking.

Well, there is one counter-example: microwave popcorn.

Think of all the technology that goes into that special plastic bag, bought from the supermarket, placed into a microwave, and zapped until fluffy popcorn appears. How did they ever make it before? Turns out that it was pretty simple.

And in fact, according to this great article I found on the interwebs, it can still be simple, and yet still use a microwave.

I was so excited by this discovery that I immediately posted it on Facebook, but since all my important recipes have to live on my blog, I’m reposting it here.

And for those who were concerned – the next year we got the VCR.

Ingredients

1/4 cup of ordinary popping corn

salt

Method

Place the popping corn into a sealed microwave safe container, e.g. microwave rice cooker, paper bag folded shut, etc.

Microwave on High in an 850W oven for 2:15 mins. Remove, tip into a bowl, and sprinkle with salt.

Serves 2.

Okay.. a little word of warning. There are trade-offs between the following parameters: wattage of your oven, the amount of popping corn used, size of the cooking container, amount of corn that burns, amount of corn left unpopped. The first time you do this, keep a careful eye (and vigilant nose) on what is going on so that you can hit Stop if anything starts burning. I have erred on the side of unpopped kernels rather than burnt popcorn, but perhaps I could improve this with further experimentation.

Sugar-plum Tower Recipe

For our recipe club this month, the theme is “story”, which means that all recipes needed to have some sort of associated story. After struggling to come up with something, my friend Josie suggested the story of the Sugar-plum Fairy (who rules the Kingdom of Sweets in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker), which sounded great because I’d never come across a sugar-plum before.

It turns out that the “plum” in sugar-plum is the same as the “plum” in plum pudding, i.e. not a plum at all. While there appear to be alternative views on the Internet regarding what the historical sugar-plum consisted of, the common themes appear to be the use of dried fruit, the shape of a ball, and being covered in sugar.

So, despite basing my recipe here on a sugar-plums recipe that is referenced from Wikipedia (can you get more credible than that?) by Alton Brown. I have diverted somewhat from tradition by coating two thirds of the balls in chocolate rather than sugar. Not only does it taste great, but gives a nice layered effect.

Ingredients

1/4 teaspoon (1.25mL) anise seeds or 1 star anise
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
180g slivered almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch of salt
1/4 cup (62.5mL) icing sugar
120g dried plums (prunes)
120g dried apricots
120g dried figs
1/4 cup of honey
1 cup (250mL) raw sugar
250g dark chocolate

Method

Toast the anise, fennel and caraway seeds, e.g. under a grill. Toast the slivered almonds as well, but don’t mix them with the spices yet.

Grind up the spices, combine with the cardamom and salt in a small mixing bowl. Sift in the icing sugar, mix well and set aside.

Place the almonds in a large mixing bowl, and crush, e.g. with the end of a rolling pin, so that they are smaller pieces.

Very finely dice the prunes, apricots and figs, and add to the almonds. Mix together with a butter knife until it looks something like high-end trail mix.

Add in the spiced sugar to the fruit and nut mix, and ensure that it is well mixed through. Then pour in the honey and stir until well combined and the mixture is forming clumps.

Roll scoops of the mix between clean hands to form small balls no more than 1 inch in diameter. I needed to clean my hands several times throughout this process, since sticky hands would prevent the balls forming nicely.

Place each ball onto a wire rack and leave uncovered until all balls are made. You need to make at least 55 balls to make a tower 5 layers high (and you’ll need 91 balls to make one with 6 layers, but you probably won’t be able to make that many with these quantities).

Take the smallest 35 balls (and maybe a few more, but ensure you leave at least 20 balls) and set them aside for coating with the chocolate.

Melt the chocolate, e.g. in the microwave by zapping for a minute then stirring, and repeating until the chocolate is just runny. Put some foil down, then roll the balls in chocolate one by one, putting onto the foil to set. If the chocolate starts going hard, melt it again and keep going.

You can pause at this point. In fact, the balls should keep for up to a week if left on the rack, or longer if kept in an airtight container.

Just before serving, put the raw sugar in a bowl, and roll each of the remaining (non chocolate covered) balls in the sugar to coat them well.

To make the tower, form a base of 5 by 5 chocolate balls, each touching its neighbours. Then place a layer of 4 by 4 sugar balls on top. Then a 3 by 3 layer of chocolate balls, then a layer of sugared balls, and a chocolate ball on the top.

This recipe makes between 65-75 balls, where an adult would probably eat about 5 balls at a sitting. Serve with good coffee.

Pizza Base Recipe

We probably have pizza of one sort of another every couple of weeks. I’d like to say it’s always home-made. I’d like to say that.

However, I can say that we do make our own pizza regularly. So, I’ve been meaning to put up this recipe before, but for some reason it gets eaten before I think to take a picture. But last weekend, I happened to take a couple of snaps, so here’s the recipe.

It’s based on a recipe in Donna Hay magazine (issue 25), but you’ll need to come up with the pizza topping yourself. This time, we had a “leftover pizza” with roast chicken and vegetables, and a salami pizza with salami and sliced olives. I’m always willing to try new pizzas!

Ingredients

1 teaspoon dry yeast (or 1 packet, approx. 7g)
1/4 teaspoon (~1mL) caster sugar
3/4 cup (~190mL) of lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon (~2mL) salt
1 1/2 tablespoons (30mL) olive oil
50mL tomato paste
dried oregano to taste (approx 2 teaspoons or ~10mL)

Method

If it’s been cool (like it is in Melbourne at the moment), fill the sink with warm water to a couple of inches, and place a large mixing bowl in it for a few minutes to warm it up. The dough will rise better in a warm bowl.

Meanwhile, put the dry yeast and sugar in a measuring cup and fill it with lukewarm water from the tap. Stir well to ensure all the yeast is broken up. Set it aside for 5 minutes.

Place the flour and salt in the warm mixing bowl, and make a well in the centre. Pour the olive oil and the yeast mixture into the flour, and stir it together with a butter knife to make a dry dough.

Take off any rings or a watch (this stuff sets like concrete). Knead the dough (you can leave it in the bowl) for a few minutes until it is smooth and elastic. This step can be shared with a young child (!).

Cover the mixing bowl with a cloth and leave somewhere warm for 45 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size. I’ve found good places to be: the shed, the car, or even back in the sink with some more warm water.

You can leave it for longer than 45 minutes, but if you leave it more than a couple of hours, the yeast will have eaten all the sugar and the dough will be rather sour.

When you’re ready to make the dough into bases (this recipe is enough for two medium-sized pizzas), preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celcius. Put the pizza trays that you’re going to use in at the same time, to help ensure a crispy crust.

Pound the dough down into a ball and split into two. Spread each ball out on a piece of baking paper (saves having to flour a bench top), making a flat disc.

If you don’t have a rolling pin handy, or don’t like the hassle of rolling, just pop another piece of baking paper on top of the dough, and using a smooth object (e.g. glass, rolling pin), press the dough out until it is the shape you want.

When you’ve got the two plain bases ready, spread each with half of the tomato paste and sprinkle with the dried oregano. Then, go crazy with whatever topics you like.

Serves 2 adults.

Almond Praline Recipe

This is the last part of my “Icecream with Nuts and Ice Magic (but fancy)” recipe from Recipe Club. It’s not particularly novel, but it did complete the dish. Together with the crunch of the white chocolate in the icecream and the crunch of the chocolate shell from the ice magic, the praline added extra crunch that went really well with the smooth icecream, creating a bit of a play of textures and sounds.

I took this recipe from the MasterChef Australia cook book which I got for Christmas. Really, it’s been a book that is more about the reliving of great moments from the TV series, but there are some cracking recipes in there as well. The praline is part of the sticky date pudding recipe (which I can also vouch for).

Ingredients

1/4 cup (~35g) of slivered almonds
1/2 cup (125mL or ~110g) of caster sugar
2 tablespoons (40mL) of water

Method

Start by roasting the almonds. The way I do this is to put them on a piece of foil under the grill, and mixing them around every 30 seconds or so. Within a few minutes they should be smelling good and lightly browned.

Put a piece of baking paper onto a baking tray or sheet, and scatter the almonds onto it, over an area of roughly 20cm x 20cm. Let them cool while continuing with the recipe.

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan, and cook over a medium heat. Instead of stirring (the candy will stick to a spoon), swirl the syrup regularly. The sugar will disolve, and begin to bubble a lot. Keep going until the syrup becomes a deep golden colour, like honey. This will take a few minutes.

Remove the saucepan and immediately pour over the almonds, and then tip the tray from side to side to cause the candy to cover all of the almonds.

Wait until it sets, and break into shards. They can be stored for a couple of days in an airtight container.

Serves 6-8.

Double White Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe

The other key part of the recipe from my “Recipe Club” dessert (the previous part being the Ice Magic) was the ice-cream itself. The main problem here for me is that I don’t currently have an ice-cream maker; the last one exploded in the pantry when it got too hot one summer. So, I needed to find a recipe that explained how to make it without one.

I was rescued by a recipe book called Ice Cream (of course) by Joanna Farrow and Sara Lewis. Sadly, this book has been in my possession for several years now without ever being used. It survived several house moves when other books were culled, and clearly there was method to the madness since it turned out to have exactly the sort of recipe that I was looking for.

Ingredients

4 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
1 teaspoon (5mL) corn flour
300mL milk
250g white chocolate (happily Whittakers still makes good chocolate in 250g blocks)
2 teaspoons (10mL) vanilla extract
300mL whipping cream (~35% milk fat)

Method

With the egg yolks, caster sugar and corn flour in a large bowl, stir with a fork until it is well combined and slightly bubbly.

Then pour the milk into a saucepan, place over a medium heat on the stove, and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and drizzle into to egg mixture, stirring all the while, and you’ll end up with a basic custard mixture in the bowl.

If you’re like me, you’ll have ended up with milk cooked onto the bottom of the saucepan, and will need to get another one or do a quick clean.

Pour the custard mixture back into a saucepan, place over a low heat on the stove, and stir constantly until the mixture thickens, perhaps to the consistency of a pouring custard. It will also get really smooth at that point, which is another good indicator. Don’t try to over-thicken the custard.

Remove the custard from the heat, and pour into a large, freezer-proof bowl.

Break 150g of the white chocolate into small pieces. Then gently stir those pieces into the hot custard, along with the vanilla extract. Leave it to cool for 20 mins or so, and then place in the fridge to chill. This should take about another hour.

Put the cream into a bowl (yes, another one), and whip it with an electric beater until it has thickened, but “still falls from the spoon”. You should see the cream beginning to form little lumps at this point, and it will have doubled in volume.

Remove the bowl of chilled custard from the fridge, fold the whipped cream into it, and put it in the freezer for three hours.

Remove it from the freezer. Using a fork, pull the icecream away from the sides of the bowl. Then, using an electric beater, blend together the frozen and unfrozen parts of the mix for about a minute. The ice cream mixture should be the same consistency as a good milk-shake. Return to the freezer again for another two hours.

Finely chop the remaining white chocolate, so that the pieces are about the same size as choc bits.

Remove the ice cream from the freezer again. Follow the same approach as before with the fork and electric beater, and this time stir in the white chocolate as well. The ice cream mixture should be the same consistency as a thick-shake. Return to the freezer again for another two to four hours, or until firm.

Makes about 1L of ice-cream, so will serve about 8 if presented in cones or about 4 if presented in bowls.