Saturday, July 12, 2014

Energy Balls

I have become quite addicted to these, taking them to work each day to have at morning coffee break. 

Like a lot of things in life, I’ve come to these late.  By some kind of osmosis I’ve gone from barely noticing them in café cabinets to realizing that people everywhere are making, buying or eating them. They have now seeped into my skin and I am habitually whizzing up some form of them to substitute for a muffin, which I’m presuming is a good thing, right?

I store them in the freezer and drop one in a ziplock bag on my way to work.  I favour eating them straight from the freezer as they’re chewy and dense and the eating sensation lasts just that bit longer.  Once they come to room temperature they’re softer and therefore disappear faster. 

A colleague makes a blockbuster chocoholic version of these.  Gigantic, fudgy spheres with, wait for it, a surprise square of chocolate in the centre (think Caramello or other flavoured squares of chocolate bars). Full on.

I’ve gone for a more restrained version that you can be all virtuous about eating (although, as with most things, in moderation).  Whilst it’s not a quite the same as a chocolate hit, they do deliver enough of a consolation and they are so easy to make.

These treats bear some oddball names such as amaze balls (although I think that’s actually a brand?) and the more frequent bliss balls.  Well I have to say that just sounds a bit dodgy and reminds me (not in a good way) of David Beckham’s moniker Golden Balls!  Enough of that – I’ll stick with energy balls, thank you.

Energy Balls

16 pitted and chopped dates (Medjool dates are best)
1/2 cup brazil nuts
1/2 cup almonds
2 tbsp good quality cocoa powder

zest and juice of 1 orange
a pinch of sea salt (optional)
½ cup brazil nuts
½ - ¾ cup desiccated coconut for coating
If you’re not a fan of coconut, roll them in crushed nuts or sieved cocoa powder.

Use this recipe as a base but the possibilities are endless.  Substitute the fruits and nuts shown for other dried fruit (apricots instead of dates) and nuts; add different flavourings – after reading The Kitchen Maid’s version, I’ve taken to adding a teaspoon of orange blossom water to mine. 
If you can’t get Medjool dates (and you really want to as they are soft and thick with a sweet taste), soften hard dates (or apricots) by heating in a little water (or the juice of the orange from the recipe). If you use a little water, you won’t have to drain but to be on the safe side set aside any drained water in case you need to add to the mixture.

Grind the nuts in a food processor until fine.
Add the dates, cocoa powder, orange zest and juice and salt.
Process the mixture in the food processor until it is smooth and forms a ball.
Roll into walnut or golf-ball sized balls (your choice – I started with walnut and upsized to golf-ball.  I used a mini-ice cream scoop to measure out the balls.)
Spread the desiccated coconut on a plate and coat the balls in it.
Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
Store in the fridge for about 2 weeks or in the freezer.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Spiced Shortbread with Sultanas & Almond

A batch of just-baked shortbread is cooling on the wire tray.  Bill is looking at the biscuits intently.  What‘s he looking for, I want to know? The smallest, the biggest, the ugliest?  Of course it’s the ugliest. He knows I’ll be taking a photo for the blog and saving the best for that.  Stealing a perfect biscuit could mean a rap on the knuckles with the rolling pin for him. But he also wants one while they’re still hot. They may never taste as good. I take a bite of his.  He’s right.  I take the runner-up in the ugly contest. God, it’s divine. Warm, soft but slight crunch at bottom edges, buttery, rich.  Every inch of willpower is needed to hold me back from having another one. Having had it drummed into me from an early age I’m very good at holding back until the baking has cooled.  Not any longer. Hot shortbread is my new love.

I adapted this slightly from a recipe from New Zealand chef, Peter Gordon.  I substituted the rice flour with semolina and used all white flour instead of a mix of wholemeal and white, only because I didn’t have either.  

One day I’ll try the true version and let you know how that turns out.  In the meantime, I’d rate this one of the top shortbread recipes I’ve tried.  I halved the recipe and managed to get 13 or 14 biscuits. I’ve given the full recipe below (my version) which Mr Gordon says yields 20 serves but you may get more than that.  Instead of hand-beating for the first step, you can blitz for a few seconds in a food processor, scrape down and blitz again. 

And don’t forget to try them while they’re still hot!

Spiced shortbread with sultanas & almond

280g butter, at room temperature
180g caster sugar (plus 2 tbsp extra for topping)
2 tsp allspice
80g sultanas
120g semolina
260g plain white flour
roasted almonds, split lengthways in half (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a baking tray or two with baking paper.

Place the butter, sugar and allspice in a bowl and beat until smooth and well-combined, scraping down the sides once and beating again.

Add the sultanas, semolina and flour and beat until dough just comes together.  Place on a worktop and gently knead for a few seconds. 

Roll the dough out on a gently floured board and cut out biscuit shapes using a cutter.  (Alternatively you can just pull bits from the dough, roll them into balls and press flat with your fingers or a fork onto the tray.)

Using the extra two tablespoons of caster sugar, sprinkle the tops of all the biscuits.  Push a halved almond into the middle of each biscuit. Rest in the fridge for 10 minutes before baking until golden for approximately 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool a few minutes on the tray.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool (or not as the case may be – do try them when they’re hot!).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

etcetera ... feasting in Tairua

We stumbled upon this studio & café whilst heading someplace else.  Once inside it was an easy decision to change our allegiance. On a slight rise overlooking the new marina in Tairua on the Coromandel peninsula we were content to linger in this light and airy gallery featuring a showstopper macramé ceiling hanging and walls of stimulating artwork.

First impressions were of a “no-rush” soulful feel to the place and lots of care and relaxed attention by the duo in charge.  Right away you knew that the food would be good.  Even the fact that the coffee came in takeaway cups (but was excellent) was not enough to put me off.

It was rather unfortunate then that we’d not long breakfasted but, to some amusement, three of us “shared” a delicious jumbo-sized berry and custard muffin.  Our sole male, who always seems to manage to pack in a second breakfast, was tempted, and rightly so, by a super-tasty potato rosti, poached egg, hollandaise sauce (just the right amount) and tomato relish.  I was allowed a bite and I have no idea how they got so much flavour into the dish, it was so very good.

We watched as baked goods appeared, fresh from the oven, and wished we could hang around longer for pulled chicken tacos, stacked lasagna and hearty scones but it was time for the drive home.

There are two large scrubbed, rustic tables – one oval and one long communal – but with space for more and there’s always the option of food-to-go or even catering. This place is going to be popular.  Don’t miss it if you’re down that way.  I’ll certainly be back for more.


128 Paku Drive

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dutch Ginger Cake

Last month we were having book club at the great baker’s house and I was eyeing up what I thought was an apple cake. Turns out it was a Dutch Ginger Cake made by the host (not Dutch) and it was lovely.  She muttered some of the ingredients – almonds, butter, ginger.  I don’t know why but I didn’t ask for the recipe.  I think there was too much conversation going on at the time.

I hadn’t heard of this cake before, although I have seen something similar packaged as cake fingers or slices in specialty Dutch shops.

Later, I googled it and found this recipe by one of my favourite cooks, Maggie Beer.  She is such a delight on television exuding warmth and such enthusiasm.

I thought I had preserved ginger in a jar in the cupboard but it turned out to be stem ginger. I drained it and used half as much as was called for in the recipe.  That turned out to be perfect. Whew!

The cake is dense, rich and buttery.  When I pressed the raw dough into the tin I thought it was too buttery and it was just a tad but not enough to detract.  The ginger and almonds absolutely make this cake and I would definitely make it again.

One more thing. This cake is quite shallow (in height, not personality) which isn’t evident in the photo above so don’t be expecting a tall cake.

I think I've just made the deadline to get this into Sweet New Zealand which, this month, is hosted by the lovely Sue at Couscous & Consciousness.

Dutch Ginger Cake

60g whole almonds
185g butter
1 ¾ cup standard flour
¼ tsp salt
2/3 cup (145g) caster sugar
75g stem ginger, drained and chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (fan bake).

Grease and line the base of a 22cm shallow round tin. (I used a not-so-shallow cake tin.)

Place the whole almonds in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain then squeeze the skin off.  The nuts should slip out easily.  Set aside.

Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly. 

Sift the flour and salt together.  Add the sugar then stir in the chopped stem ginger.

Set 1 teaspoon of the beaten egg aside (to brush the cake).  Stir in the remainder of the egg into the flour, salt, sugar and ginger mix.  Add the butter, mix well into a dough.

Press the dough into the greased tin.  Brush the top of the dough with the teaspoon of egg.

Scatter the almonds on the top and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until golden and firm to touch.

Leave to cool in the tin. 

You can leave as is (I did) or dust with icing or caster sugar to finish.