Wednesday, May 28, 2008

daring bakers - opera cake

if you've ever been to paris, you'll know that the opera garnier is a pretty funky place (with some great cafes near by). this month's daring baker's challenge was the opera cake. i hazard to guess that the fine inventor of this cake, whose name escapes me, thought it looked a bit like the baroque-esque features of this amazing building. if you'd like to make one, this is the way you would go about it:

An opera cake is layers of joconde (basically an almond meal and meringue sponge) soaked in surup and layered with lots of dairy fat. so there are a few pieces you'll need to get together:

the joconde

6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) caster sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C),and divide the oven space into third

line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) swiss-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. add the sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

if you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix).

using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. this could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. place one swiss roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second in the bottom third of the oven. it may be necessary to swap the pans half way through the cooking process to ensure they cook evenly.

put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. let the cakes cool to room temperature.

the syrup
½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i used honey)

stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

the buttercream
1 cup (100 grams) caster sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water
seeds of one vanilla bean/vanilla extract/essence etc
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (i used a couple of mashed up bananas)

combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) on a candy or instant-read thermometer. once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

while the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

when the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

while the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

with the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny. then add the banana

refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

white chocolate ganache/mousse
7 ounces (200g) white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liqueur of your choice (i sued frangelico)

Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan. stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. set aside to cool completely.

in a bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form. gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.

if it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.

the glaze (make just as you're getting the whole thing together - see below)

14 ounces (400g) white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. whisk the mixture gently until smooth.

let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer. place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

getting it all together
ok, this is the tricky bit. to start off with you need three layers of cake. 'but hey crazy lady' i hear you say, 'i only have two cakes'.

well yes, i know. so cut a third off the end off each cake. you now have two 2/3 cakes, and two 1/3 cakes. so you put the two 1/3s together and now you have 3 2/3 of a cake. hope that makes sense!

so you get a full piece of cake, drizzle it with a third of the syrup and then using a spatula spread out half of the butter cream.

now take the two ends that you cut off the cakes and place them together to make the new layer. again, drizzle with syrup and smooth over the butter cream.

put the last layer of cake on and drizzle with the last of the syrup. but this time spread the cream mousse over the top. make sure it's fairly even on the top and bung it in the fridge for several hours to get it really cold.

this is the time to start making the glaze, as per the instructions above. spread it all out over the cooled cake and smooth it off with your spatula. get it back in the fridge to set. once it's ready to serve just trim off the edges to expose the layers. these cut off bits make a really good alternative to beer when you come home from a late meeting all stressed and snipey.

et voila! mon gateau au opera!

overall mine was a great success. normally opera cake is make with dark chocolate, but the DB lasses made this one white as a celebration of spring. of course in australia it's lovely and crisp and frosty and autumn. i love autumn, so i'm quite happy to celebrate that instead.

the only problem with my execution of this was that the banana made the butter cream a bit soggy, and as i only have one pan i had to cook the layers of the jaconde separately, so they were a bit uneven when it came to putting it together. it was also a bit fiddly, but i'm sure the next time i make it, it will all be a bit more straight forward - although i did wash a gazzilion bowls!

this is certainly a special occasion cake, but worth a shot. cereal. i didn't actually get to eat any of it, because i took it to work and my 'friends' ate it all before i got a piece. the reports were good. i guess that's it settled, i will have to make it again. tee hee.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

food and history - a delicious meal

haven't been posting much, but am probably going to make up for it now, because this proves to be a long one.

started by breakfast at the store today with JC and Jess the Elder. Was too tired to really enjoy myself, as some bright spark decided to put the movie Troy on last night, starting at 10.30 which meant that it was almost 1.00am by the time it finished.

I loooove Troy. and as a history nerd, i have other history nerd friends who have issues with this. and i should warn you, if you ever get the chance, never see an 'historical' ancient film with me - don't. i spend the whole movie saying things like 'thessalonians didn't wear torques', or 'sparta's not on the coast', or 'they wouldn't have had those types of columns in troy'.

i can be very tiresome most of the time.

but it's a stonking, rip snorter of a film. only the thinnest thread of relation to the homeric story (i note in the movie patrokolas is brad pitt's cousin, not is lover) but i think brad pitt makes a fantastic achilles, and eric banna a brilliant hector and the movement and the colour and even the sounds are just how i've always imagined this time in history - something i'm sure a lot of you have not given any thought to at all.

but the whole point of this very rambling film critique is to emphasise that i was tired.

after a very large plate of bacon and eggs and a second coffee please, i rode to my mothers to make pasties.

i've always known that i have scottish/viking heritage on my father's side, and welsh and german on my mothers. but it turns out that my great-grandfather (my mother's paternal grandfather) was part cornish and a great pasty maker.

originally pasties were made for cornish miners, and the big bit of crust was used as a 'handle' so that they could eat them after coming up from the pit, and sometimes they would be savoury one end and sweet the other. they're still popular in australia, particularly in south australia where there is a big cornish population.

so today we tried out my family's pasty recipe:

¾ lb steak (0.34kg)

1 lb peeled potatoes (0.45 kg)

1 onion

1 swede

1 tspn salt

¼ tspn pepper

1 tplsn finely chopped parsley

4 tblspn water


1 ½ lbs plain flour (0.68 kg)

1 pinch salt

Squeeze lemon juice

¾ lb lard or dripping (0.34 kg)

2 ½ - 3 gills (1/¼ - 1½ cups) water (2 gills = 1 cup)

Cut meat into small pieces. Add vegetables chopped fine and seasoning. Just before putting on pasty add water.

Sift together flour and salt. Rub in shortening with fingertips and make well in centre. Add lemon juice and cold water and mix to a stiff paste using a knife. Do not make too damp or pastry will be hard. Form into a ball and knead lightly on a lightly floured board, rest in cool place for 30 minutes then roll to required shape

cut out circles from the pastry using a side plate as a template. add a good quantity of filling, moisted the edges before folding into a half circle, and crimping the edges to seal. brush with egg or milk to glaze.

you should get 10-12 pasties out of this

bake at 220 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until the pastry is a rich golden colour and the filling hot.

we had a bit of pastry left over, so we filled it with apples, sultanas, apricot jam and little brown sugar to make a tart for afters. because obviously we hadn't had enough fat in our day to that point.

now, the health fanatics amongst you are going ooooooowwwwwwwhhhh... dripping. well, yah boo sucks to you, because it made a lovely pastry, and to be honest a lot of the fat cooked out and into the pan in the oven. they were truly lovely. i can not recommend them highly enough.

you will also notice that the pictures in this post are much better than the ones you usually get from me. this would be down to the fact that as i have the darkest kitchen in the world, my mother does not and there's a lot more natural light to work with.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

this i can cook

ok, maybe biscuits aren't really my thing, right now, but i can at least make myself a toasted sarnie for dinner.

just over a year ago my beautiful friend ralfi moved back to his native berlin, to look after his dad who was poorly. he left me with a parting gift of two gigantic tins of baked beans. tonight, too tired for anything else, i opened the last one and made toasted sandwiches and a really strong cup of tea.

news is that dad's on the mend and ralf's contemplating moving back to australia.

ralf - come home, we love you and miss you!!!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

why am i so bad at this?

i'm quite sure that kate is going to cast me out of the cookie carnival gang. two out of my three challenges have been awful, awful failures. this month it was blueberry drop biscuits. i love berries. any type of berries.

here is the story:

1/2 cup copha
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tspn almond extract
1 1/2 tspn grated lemon zest
2 c plain flour
2 tspn baking powder
pinch salt
1 cup blueberries

cream the shortening, sugar, egg, milk, extract and zest in a large bowl. Slowly add the flour, baking powder and salt. fold in the blueberries and mix until well blended.

cover and chill for 4 hours.

Drop dough by teaspoonfuls, 1 1/2 inches apart on a greased tray. bake 12-15 mins. cool slightly before moving to wire rack.

now, this is a picture of my batter:

looks totally yummo. wish i had taken a photo of them on the tray ready to go in, because they looked beautiful then too. but in the oven they lost all their shape and i ended up with more of a slice, one tray of which i burnt because i was watching bloody spicks and specs at the time and myf's team were almost winning (i like it when myf's team wins). i was supposed to be taking these for the cancer council's biggest morning tea tomorrow, but i will have to stop at the shops now. how embarrassment!!

i have two excuses. firstly i have the worst cold in the world and thinking really, really hurts. secondly maybe copha in australia is different to vegetable shorting in america (which was what was in the recipe kate sent us). i plead ignorance and illness (and chronic stupidity)

soon i will cook something that works. i promise. please let me play with you kate, please!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

not nearly boring enough!!!!

mercy, when this started it was supposed to be a history blog. i love history. really!! it will be history week in south australia soon and i am all a-quiver with excitement.

but to re-history BHG, we will be having Rome Week. Starting Monday 9 June (the day after my birthday, hints to all), there will be a daily history lesson about the romans, and a daily roman recipe. learn about architecture, the gracchi, bread and circuses etc, and get yummy italian food to eat as well. feel free to submit your favourite italian recipe to me at daxiongmao AT adam DOT com DOT au and i will be happy to test it out and post the results. full credit will go to all recipe submissions, and if you happen to be in adelaide and want to come and help me eat it, all are invited!!!! it's hard to eat all this food when you live on your own, just wear your toga.

Greece week to come in July.mmmmm..... think of the pastries, and the history of course. can't wait to write my essay on the Tower of the Winds. or stoa. i love stoa, oh for god's sake people, look it up on wikipaedia.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


this weekend is total bliss! it's been a really busy six months for me, i came off the back of a 560km bike ride, straight into a really busy time at work for the organisation as a whole, then organised an event for 4,ooo people at the government house, which was attended by the governor and the minister, the tried to organise two students events, one of which was a total, utter, f****-up, through bureaucratic bungling of which i was not part (i was just tidying up the mess). on top of that the best boss in the world left, leaving me to try and fill her gigantic shoes, while having none of my regular job taken away from me and not a single extra cent in the bank to show for it. and then uni on top of that. thank god i don't have children or i'm sure i would have fallen over by now.

needless to say i am tired. extraordinarily tired. i handed up the cycling tourism essay that has been bugging me so much (both of my summative assignments this year have been very average, i only have one left to make up lost ground), both of my shows are open, and i am relaxing. or trying to. it's been so long since i relaxed i'm not sure how to do it anymore.

but i have lots of delicious, healthy food in the house, to make up for the toast and vegemite/bacon sandwich diet that i have been living off for a while. have accumulated no small amount of lard on my stomach of late (it always goes straight to my stomach). however did burn the hazelnuts i was toasting for my killer home made muesli, good thing i have some almonds and lots of cranberries. tonight i am making slippery beef noodles for JC, which is one of my favourite noodle dishes. i'm a bit of a noodle freak. nothing like a bowl of duck and dumpling ramen soup. fantastic!

i am also making stuff for the Argentinean woman who will be living at my place for the next week and a half while she attends an arts conference in adelaide. looking for inspiration. any one got a good recipe for lamb? or lentils? get me outta my rut! please!!!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

the meaning of it all

why am i posting? what is the meaning of it all? does it mean that i have something witty, erudite and urbane to impart to the world? no, it means that i have:

1. a (still) unfinished assignment
2. a sink full of dishes
3. a morning tea at work tomorrow for which i should be making cake.

so instead i blog. and read other blogs. and search you tube for meaningless drivel.

yes! it's procrastination!!!

dum te dum te dum....

ok, sod you world. i'll write the stupid essay.