Category Archives: confectionery

Recipe: Chocolate THING that is basically evil but really yummy

A couple of Thursdays ago, I read an article in the paper lamenting the fact that many Australians would be letting down their employers by taking a sickie on the Monday before Australia Day.  (The article did, at least, point out that employers should be reasonable about granting annual leave on this day, but something about the way it was written still left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.)

My scientists work ridiculous hours, and don’t tend to take sickies, even when they probably should (leading to the fun phenomenon of the Lab Lurgy – we are a sharing sort of team on 5 West!), but I thought that if others were getting a four day weekend, legitimately or otherwise, we should do something to make it worth coming in to work that day.  Accordingly, I proposed a casual lab lunch – anyone who wanted could bring a plate to share, and we’d set up in the meeting room for a couple of hours, with people dropping in, chatting and eating when they had time.

It turned into a smallish but pleasant gathering – certainly worth doing again, with an interesting variety of food ranging from Turkish bread and dips provided by our German lab head and vegetarian sausage rolls from one of our British postdocs, to a proper Gallette des Rois, brought in by one of our French scientists. 

Normally, I would make Nonna’s pizza for this sort of occasion, but my left wrist is still giving me a lot of trouble, and kneading is definitely beyond me.  So instead, I decided to pursue my current favourite confectionery strategy of melting a lot of chocolate, and then opening the pantry and flinging any sweet contents that seem plausible into it.  The results were very tasty – it’s quite a sophisticated, dark chocolate thing, full of glacé and freeze-dried fruits, but I also couldn’t resist pouring in some popping candy, and I got a great deal of glee out of hearing people go “oh, this is really nice – ooh!  Oh my God what is that?” at irregular intervals through the afternoon…

All in all, an excellent way to liven up the day before a holiday.

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Your Shopping List

500 g good dark chocolate (I used half Lindt, half Green and Blacks, both 70% cocoa)
250 g glacé fruit (I used pineapple, peach and apricot, but cherries, pears, oranges, or anything else that takes your fancy would work.  Probably not citron, though.)
50 g crystallised ginger
35 g freeze-dried fruit (I used strawberries and blueberries, but again, pick your own preferred flavours)
35 g popping candy
100 g praline paste (I used almond, but use whatever you prefer)

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Pot-Pourri Post: Nerdy Nummies, Sugar Geodes and Jam Sugar

A post all about sugar, what a surprise at this time of year!  Today is horribly hot, and I’m sitting inside, obsessively tracking the cool change across Western Victoria via the BOM weather observation map, and there is no way I am doing any kind of baking right now.  But as it happens, I have been playing with some very fun things recently, so this is basically a post about several things that aren’t long enough for a post of their own, but which I wanted to share with you nonetheless.

First, please let me draw your attention to the Nerdy Nummies Cookbook.

It is, in my not at all hyperbolic opinion, the best cake decorating book ever.  I love it with every fibre of my being.  It’s as though someone took the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book and then added the periodic table of the elements and blood cells and the moon landing and rainbow unicorn poo and twenty-sided dice every other bit of science fun or geek culture it could find and made it into a book.  It is AWESOME.  I have scientifically tested this on real scientists, and they agree that it is AWESOME, so we know that this is true.

So far, I’ve only made one recipe from it, but I have no hesitation in recommending it to basically anyone who likes cakes or science or just fun silly things.

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Recipe: Fruits in Liqueur

A couple of years ago, Diana Henry put out a book called Salt Sugar Smoke, which is all about preserving things.

I’m terrified of preserving things, because my kitchen is always full of dirty dishes and I’m convinced that no matter how careful I am about sterilising jars, I’m going to give everyone botulism.

However.  There was one collection of recipes that that looked so simple that it was basically irresistible.  Also, they are completely full of alcohol, and I defy any botulism bacteria to find a way in to something that is basically alcohol and sugar.

Lots of alcohol.  Lots and lots and LOTS of alcohol.  And sugar.

Lots of alcohol. Lots and lots and LOTS of alcohol. And sugar.

Also also, it’s November, and I’m about to get consumed by Christmas singing.  If I don’t get onto Christmas now, I’m basically stuffed.  And what could be more Christmassy than fruit preserved in excessive quantities of alcohol and sugar?

So on Sunday morning I hied me to the Farmers’ Market for stone fruits, and then to the bottle shop, where I proceeded to buy more alcohol than I have ever seen before (and probably considerably more than I have consumed in my lifetime to date, come to think of it), under the helpful supervision of the kindly Hannah at Dan Murphy’s, who took pity on my complete confusion about what eau de vie was and which kind of rum might work better in Confiture Vieux Garçon, and helped me find options that were not too outrageously expensive.

(She also very kindly did not look at me as though I was a total lush, though, to be fair, my obvious ignorance of what most of the things I was buying actually tasted like probably made it clear that I wasn’t a very promising candidate for alcoholism.  Though I did get quite distracted by a Sicilian blood orange liqueur which I could absolutely not justify buying…)

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Anyway, first, I want you to know that putting fruit in alcohol is awesome, and so is Diana Henry’s book.  My personal favourite recipe so far is the aforementioned Confiture Vieux Garçon, which is essentially a thing where you take fruit as it is ripe, mix it with sugar and cover it with brandy, kirsch or rum, and then leave it until the next round of fruit is ripe, at which point you sugar that and add it and cover it with more alcohol, and so on, until your jar is full of layers of different kinds of fruit, all thoroughly sozzled.

But the reason I’m really writing this post, the magic, glorious thing that I discovered this weekend is because I have discovered the ultimate Christmas gift recipe.  You can make it in November and then forget about it while you do all your mad Christmas parties and singing in December.  In fact, you want to make it in November, because it needs time to steep and become glorious.  It looks beautiful.  It tastes divine.  It is luxurious.  And it takes less than five minutes to make.

Do I have your attention?

Here it is:

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Your shopping list

500 g dried nectarines
750 ml white muscat Continue reading

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Crackles That Crackle

I only discovered popping candy a couple of years ago, when I made the Masterchef Lolly Bag cake, and I have been looking for it in the shops ever since, because it is my new favourite thing.  Well, around about Easter, I discovered that not only was it available at Woollies, but their particular variety was super popping.  As in, I washed my hands after putting popping candy in something, and the sink crackled and cackled for about five minutes after I stopped running the water.  Awesome.

Of course, the first thing one must decide is what to put one’s popping candy in, but to me this was easy.  I mean, chocolate crackles are all well and good, especially if you take my approach and fill them with as much dark chocolate as they can hold, but their name is rather misleading, don’t you think?  Chocolate crackles are chocolatey, certainly, and they are crunchy, too, but they hardly crackle.

Well, they do when you put popping candy in them.  Boy, do they.  For best results, I recommend not telling people in advance about the popping candy, either.  (Even if one does tell people, the look on the faces of those who have never had popping candy before is quite priceless.)

This would have been my Eurovision dessert this year if I hadn’t gone all classy and stuck with proper Austrian food (Cross-Dressing Ken didn’t even make an appearance this year – I was too tired from work on the Friday, I was at a class on chou pastry on the Saturday, and I was not up for making a Cross-Dressing Ken cake that would be ready for our 5 am festivities when we got up early to vote.  Fortunately, Conchita was so fabulous that Ken was not much missed.).  It just screams Eurovision.  Though for best results, these crackles probably deserve just a little bit of edible glitter on top…

This recipe is super-easy, as befits a chocolate crackle recipe.  It makes about 16 quite decadent and rich chocolate crackles suitable for grownups – I use really dark chocolate and glacé ginger, so I’m not sure how child-friendly these crackles would be.  But you could always use popping candy in an ordinary crackle recipe if you wanted…

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Your shopping list

200 g dark chocolate (I like Lindt 70%)
75 g crystallised ginger
30 ml pistachio or almond butter
3 cups (750 ml) rice bubbles or their gluten-free equivalent
50 ml popping candy

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Recipe: Chocolate Crackles with the Lot (but Vegan!)

These chocolate crackles really don’t deserve to be as good as they are.  They came about because I had a New Year’s Eve party to go to, and I’m constitutionally incapable of going to a party without bringing dessert – but I didn’t have anything obvious to bring.  What I did have was half a block of copha, a bit of tahini, some chocolate, a big handful of random glacé fruit and a whole box of lollies leftover from various Christmas festivities.  I also had a strong desire not to actually cook, and a rather messy kitchen with both cocoa and icing sugar still left out on the counter after previous baking events.

Everyone knows that chocolate crackles are what Copha (refined coconut oil, for those of you who didn’t grow up with the Aussie tradition of chocolate crackles and honey joys at every birthday party) is for.   And I have always preferred my chocolate crackles with actual chocolate in them.  And surely chocolate crackles could only be improved by a whole lot of random mix-ins?

As for the tahini – well, I didn’t really have enough Copha for the amount of mix-ins I wanted to use.  But I wasn’t going to buy more Copha, because it really is only for chocolate crackles (and, as it turns out, Lebkuchen, which is why I had it in the first place).  I didn’t want to make the crackles richer with butter – I may not be vegan, but if I’ve got a recipe that is perfectly vegan and tasty to begin with, I draw the line at gratuitously un-veganising it – and I was a bit worried that they would be ridiculously sweet.  Tahini is a useful sort of fat, and really quite profoundly bitter, at least to my palate, so it seemed like a good counterbalance to the whole ridiculous mess.

And as it turns out, it was.  This recipe may look like a complete disaster but it actually balances quite well.  And I’ve just realised it isn’t vegan after all, because of my choice of lollies, but since you can make it with whatever lollies you have in the house, I’m still calling it vegan, because it really is as vegan as you want it to be.  A note for the gluten-free – Rice Bubbles are not, in fact, gluten-free, but you can buy annoyingly pricey gluten-free puffed rice cereal that would work perfectly well here.  Since I had nobody gluten-free to cater for, I didn’t bother this time.

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Your Shopping List (or Fridge Dive, depending how you want to play it)

125 g copha
50 g tahini
110 g dark chocolate
3 tbsp cocoa
2/3 cup icing sugar
150 g mixed lollies – I used jaffas, smarties, chopped up jelly snakes, and jelly bellies.  None of these are vegan.  But there is no reason you couldn’t use any vegan lollies you have in the house – I have it on good authority that Skittles and Toffee Apples are fair game, as are a lot of dark chocolate-dipped fruit and nuts, and I know there are plenty of stores that sell specifically vegan lollies, too.  You could also just add 150 g of other mix-ins of your choice.
175 g chopped glacé fruit – I used a mixture of glacé cherries, ginger, apricots and peaches, but any kind would do.
4 cups rice bubbles

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Recipe: Lisa’s Low Fructose Gingerbread Bliss Balls

I’m procrastinating from packing.  I don’t know why I’m so scared of packing, but I totally am, which means that instead of packing I have resorted to things like cleaning the bathroom, baking cakes (so that Andrew still feels loved while I’m away), and now, finally fulfilling a promise from months and months ago to create some bliss balls for a friend of mine who is now having to avoid fructose.  Sorry about the wait, Lisa.

It’s actually a bit difficult to make bliss balls (or raw truffles, as I tend to call them) without fructose, because pretty much all the recipes use dates or other dried fruits to hold the balls together and make them sweet.  Fortunately, I have a chocolate truffle recipe that doesn’t involve fruit – until I put freeze-dried raspberries into it, of course – and so I was able to modify this into a slightly healthier, less rich snack that will hopefully fit the bill.

I rather like the treacly darkness of these truffles, but I admit, my first batch was a bit low in the spice department.  I suspect they will get a bit spicier if you leave them to mature for a few days as the raw ginger permeates the mixture, but I, personally, would definitely add more ginger to begin with – and in fact, the recipe below reflects the amount of ginger that *I* think these bliss balls need…

Enjoy!

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Your shopping list

1/2 cup rolled oats
60 g fresh ginger
1/2 cup almond butter
1/4 cup melted cocoa butter
1/4 cup treacle
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
a pinch of nutmeg

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Recipe: Absurdly Cute Meringue Easter Bunnies

This is yet another one of those recipes that happens when I decide to make lemon curd, and then have to figure out something to do with all the egg whites.  I was just going to do plain meringues, but then for some reason my brain (which is not usually a particularly visual organ) came up with this image of stylised bunnies.  I drew the design on a piece of paper to see if it actually looked bunny-like outside my brain, and it did!  After that, it was just a matter of figuring out what colour to make the paws and ears, and how to do little bunny-like faces…

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Your Shopping List (for 12 bunnies, which is what I would have had if I hadn’t managed to stuff up on separating one of my eggs)

4 egg whites (use the yolks for lemon curd, or maybe a huge batch of mayonnaise)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/3 cups of caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
food colourings and flavours to taste – I used rose, violet and orange essences. 
coloured mini choc chips, or silver cachous, or other decorations for faces.
several piping bags, if you don’t already own them – you will probably need one for each colour, unless you are much bigger on washing up than I am

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Recipe: Weirdly Addictive Mostly Raw Peppermint Raspberry Truffles

I can already hear what you are thinking.  You are thinking, wow, that’s a really bizarre combination for truffles.  And you are quite right, of course.  These truffles are not love at first bite.  Your brain and palate are far too busy trying to work out whether they are peppermint truffles or raspberry truffles to really delight in them.  But when you sneakily go back for more – just to try to work out what they actually do taste like – you discover that, actually, they really are rather good.  And you want another one.  And another after that.

The fact that they are shaped like teeny tiny teddy bears doesn’t hurt, either.

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Of course, this still doesn’t explain what possessed me to come up with such a bizarre flavour idea.  In fact, it was a unique conjunction of events.

First, today is Andrew’s birthday (happy birthday, Andrew!), and Andrew really likes chocolatey peppermint things.  Over the fifteen or so years we have known each other, I have been steadily escalating the chocolate-mint birthday cakes to ever more ridiculous levels of elaboration and richness.

But the last few weeks have been absolutely hellish at work, and not a lot of fun outside it.  Which I haven’t been, very much, because I have been working very long hours just to keep up.  So by the time I got home yesterday evening, I was in no mood for serious baking.  Raw truffles seemed like just the thing.

Which brings me to the third factor (which may be the one you don’t want to know about, but if I have to suffer, I don’t see why others should escape scot-free), and that is the fact that I currently have my period.  And, in addition to causing quite a bit of pain and other un-fun side effects, my period has a truly bizarre effect on my sense of smell.  Since I cook largely by smell, this means that my culinary judgment at this time of the month becomes seriously iffy, and in really good months, I get to have a nervous breakdown about the fact that I can’t cook, that everything I cook tastes terrible, that everything I cook will always taste terrible, and if I can’t cook, then what is the point of even being a Catherine?

Add all this together with the fact that I’m seriously tired, and what you get is a Catherine who is trying to adapt a recipe while simultaneously not being capable of reading it correctly, and who then finds herself with something that tastes like Dreadfully Wrong Peppermint Truffle, casts wildly about the pantry and the freezer for something with which to fix it, and randomly throws in an entire packet of freeze-dried raspberries.

Of such conjunctions, brilliant recipes are not made… but, in spite of everything, this is still actually quite a good one.  The coconut oil is optional, because I put it in by accident and strongly suspect that this was the reason my truffle mixture separated in such an unsightly fashion.

After all this, you might well ask why I am posting such a manifestly imperfect recipe.  It’s quite simple, really.  I can’t stop eating these things.  They are seriously more-ish.  I have no idea what it is that makes them work – they shouldn’t work, I’m quite positive, and yet, I keep going back to the fridge for more.  And my sister-in-law felt the same way about them, so it’s not just weird Catherinishness.  There’s something in this flavour combination that actually does work.  I just don’t know what.

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This teddy bear is here to help you.

Your Shopping List

1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup cacao powder or good dark cocoa powder
1/2 cup melted cocoa butter
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup pistachio butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
5 tbsp water
1/2 tsp, or thereabouts, peppermint oil
40 g freeze-dried raspberries

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Reflection and Recipe: Life-affirming apricots with pistachio butter and chocolate

Today was the last of a sequence of strange and difficult days at work for me.  You see, a couple of weeks ago, a member of staff – not one of my scientists, but a long-term member of my little work choir – passed away.  We were not close, though we chatted regularly about music and her cats, and so, while I was shocked and saddened, it would not be true to say that I was deeply emotionally affected by her loss. (It sounds rather cold to say this, but it would feel self-aggrandising and dramatic to claim a strong emotional reaction.  I liked her, I liked singing with her, and we spoke occasionally outside choir.  Others were much closer to her than I was, and I don’t want to belittle their grief by claiming otherwise.)

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Last chance to order pectin jellies and finally, CARAMELS!!

Orders for Pectin Jellies close 4pm tomorrow, Australian Eastern Standard Time!

Citrus – $12 (Blood Orange, Lemon, Grapefruit)
Garden Inspirations – $12
(Orange & Rosemary, Lemon & Lavender, Raspberry & Rose) SOLD OUT!
Luxury Fruit – $15 (Raspberry, Passionfruit & Lime)
Summer Fruits – $15 (Strawberry, Pineapple and Nectarine) (while stocks last!)

Please email me at 17catherines at gmail dot com to place your orders.

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Vegan Caramels

OK, so the caramel wrappers never arrived, but I eventually found some exorbitantly-priced wrappers in Melbourne.  This suggests that caramels are not going to be economically viable in the long-term unless I find a better supplier.  But I keep on getting queries about caramels…  What I have therefore decided to do is follow the lead of other purveyors of gourmet caramels, and sell my caramels individually as large (about 35 g, 4.5cm/4.5cm squares).  These will be wrapped in baking paper and string for the proper artisanal look.

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Large Caramels

Coconut Caramel – $3
Spiced Oat Caramel – $3Almond & Pistachio Nougat Caramel – $3
Almond & Chocolate Caramel, with dried cherries, cranberries and crystallised ginger topping – $4

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Or buy the whole set for $12!

I will also sell 100g mixed bags of standard lolly-sized caramels, wrapped in the exorbitant paper.  There will be fewer of the bags, I think, because I’m giving priority to the larger caramels.  And because I only have enough wrappers for 200 caramels, because they were (did I mention this?) *really* exorbitant.

Bag of mixed small caramels – $10

Please note that the oat caramel contains gluten, and that the two almond caramels contain nuts.  The coconut caramel is nut- and gluten-free.

Orders for Caramels close at 4pm on Wednesday, December 18th!

LATE ORDERS

Obviously, I would rather sell my stock than not, so if you contact me after Monday (for jellies) or Wednesday (for caramels), I will do my best to accommodate you – but I will not make any further batches after Wednesday night.