Dark Chocolate, Cardamom and Pistachio Brownies (Gluten Free)

I spend an unnatural amount of time thinking about things like how exactly chick-pea water works as an alternative to eggs (it couldn’t….could it…??).  Or what the exact reaction is that happens when you whip butter and sugar together.  Or why 180 degrees celsius in two different ovens is never the same.  I guess it’s what comes with the territory when you are both a scientist and a food blogger.  A double occupational hazard of sorts.

Lately my neurons have been firing about incorporating vegetables and legumes into sweet baked goods like cake and brownies.  Throw stones at me if you will, but I have to say, I’m not convinced.

BrowniesCardamomPistachioGF (1 of 3)
From the point of view of adding moisture without adding fat, I suppose I get it. Sort of.  But for the purpose of ‘hiding’ veggies to boost one’s veggie intake? Unconvinced.  I for one would rather beetroot roasted and tossed with chunks of salty fetta and baby spinach, the whole thing doused with a squeeze of lemon juice, than lurking sneakily in a cookie.  If I soak a batch of white beans, it’ll be to toss them with parsley, chilly and olive oil, not conceal them cleverly in a mudcake.

BrowniesCardamomPistachioGF (2 of 3)

So here are my brownies. Gluten free and moist with coconut oil which will make your skin shine. They sing with cardamom notes and are brought gently down to earth with the richness of dark chocolate and pistachios.  Like most of the baked goods on this site, the sweetness is subdued so feel free to add a little more sugar if you like things a little sweeter.  And not a vegetable or legume in (or out of) sight .

BrowniesCardamomPistachioGF (3 of 3)

Dark Chocolate, Cardamom and Pistachio Brownies

Get:
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
Seeds scraped from 1/2 a large vanilla bean, or 2 tsp vanilla paste
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
1/2 tsp cinnamon
120g good quality 70% dark chocolate, melted
3/4 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup almond meal
1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Make:

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius.  Grease and line a shallow oven tray with grease-proof paper

In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk the eggs.  Add sugar, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon and beat with an electric mixer until a smooth mixture forms.

In a separate bowl, melt the chocolate either in a bain marie or in 20 to 30 second bursts in the microwave. Stir through coconut oil, also melted.  Stir this mixture into the egg mixture until a smooth mixture forms.

Gently stir through the almond meal, salt and baking powder, followed by the pistachios.

Pour the mixture into the pan and bake on the top shelf for 18-22 mins.  Remove from the oven when the middle of the slab is still a bit undercooked, and leave in the tray to cool.  Slice and serve!

Earth Hour and biscuits that are out of this world

What would happen if every light and appliance in the country was switched off, for just an hour? Would we make a small, but notable dent in our consumption of energy resources?  Would we at the very least be reminded to only use what we need, to hit the switch on the wall when we leave the room, to be more aware of just how many lights we have burning at once?

cheddar cheese coriander biks (2 of 3)

Earth Hour is an annual initiative about exactly that……..a nationwide switch off, for one hour, tonight at 8.30pm.  In the lead up to today’s event, Earth Hour Australia has released Planet to Plate a cookbook consisting of 52 glorious recipes from Australia’s biggest culinary names, Matt Preston, Kylie Kwong and Jill Dupleix to name a few.  But it is not just the recipes that make this book unique.  Each chapter is punctuated by stories from Aussie farmers, those at the frontline of food production, who are the first to feel the profound impact of our energy consumption.  They talk about their long-standing struggles to produce good food that the nation can be proud of, in the face of climate change.  They gush about the land they love and the joy they take in farming, despite its difficulties.

I chose to share with you a recipe that caught my eye immediately.  Indira Naidoo’s Sage and Cheddar Biscuits were every bit as crumbly and buttery in texture as the beautiful image in the book promised.  A dearth of sage in my fridge steered me towards coriander and I succumbed to my usual temptation to pair it with chilli.  The result was a delicately cheesy, herb-freshened biscuit that delivers a sharp chilli spice.  The adaptation was easy and was a testament to how beautifully simple this recipe is.  Next time, I want to add in Ajwain (carom) or cumin and you too can experiment with spices and herbs using the basic recipe.  As an addition to a cheese plate or with a cuppa, as Indira says, they are pretty divine.  If you ask me, they made a pretty good afternoon post-photography session snack too.

Planet to Plate is available to order on the Earth Hour website here.

*A copy of Planet to Plate was sent to me by Earth Hour Australia, without obligation, and words and opinions are my own.

cheddar cheese coriander biks (3 of 3)

Chilli, Coriander and Cheddar Biscuits

Adapted from Sage and Cheddar Biscuits, Indira Naidoo, Plate to Page Cookbook

Makes 24-30 biscuits

Get:

150g butter, softened
225g plain flour, extra for dusting
125g tasty cheddar cheese, grated
1 small handful finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 tsp hot chilli flakes
Generous pinch salt
A few extra coriander leaves for decoration

Make:

Place all the ingredients apart from the whole coriander leaves into a large mixing bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until they come together.  Transfer to a clean, floured surface and knead lightly for a few seconds.  Split the mixture into halves and roll each half into a 3cm diameter log. Wrap in cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Remove the dough from the oven and with a sharp knife, slice into 1 to 1 1/2 cm slices. Place the slices flat side down on 2 baking paper lined baking trays. Bake for 10-12 mins or until the tops are starting to turn golden brown.

Making Progress

It took a tough lesson that drove home to me the importance of following recipes while baking.  That looking squint eyed at a 1 kg bag of flour and dumping in approximately a third of it before dousing it in the wet ingredients does not necessarily produce a good, or even vaguely edible, cookie.  That forgetting to sieve the flour, then quickly losing patience while working the lumps out of batter, is a sure fire way to incite the wrath of the cake gods.

My first cake was born of the oven in the small, rented apartment that my family lived in as new immigrants to Australia.  Indian kitchens, traditionally, do not have ovens.  The only home-made cake I had tasted was the one that my mum used to make in the jaffle maker, the one she had excitedly purchased after attending a demonstration at a neighbour’s place.  She would follow the eggless recipe in the instruction manual that was also a cookbook, brand new to baking herself.  That cake was soft, sweet, and in hindsight, almost pancakey.  It’s surface was ribbed from the jaffle maker cake fitting and it’s crumb was loose and yielding.  It was, from memory, a good cake.

strawberry coconut cake (2 of 3)

My mum’s jaffle maker cake was what I envisioned when I and my childhood best friend, flour dusting our faces and every surface of the tiny kitchen, slid our dubious batter into the hastily preheated oven.  What emerged some forty nail-biting minutes later was more weapon than cake.  More desert than dessert.

The Rock Cake haunts me to this day.  It’s harsh surface hiding a dry, uncompromising crumb.  The raisins that studded it a humiliated version of themselves.  It’s alarming power to strain any knife that dared to challenge it.

It was a tough lesson but an effective one.

Thankfully these days I (mostly) follow recipes when it comes to baking, and I choose my sources wisely.  Deb Perelman’s blog Smitten Kitchen is one of my go to sources for fail-proof recipes, especially when it comes to baking.  I came across this strawberry summer cake while browsing through her archives in search of a way to use the 2 half punnets of strawberries that had taken up residence in my fridge.  What I pulled out of the oven was delectable, a far cry from my first cake as an eight year old.  It was moist, dense and chewy with coconut (my only tweak), yet still somehow light and summery.  The strawberries took on the jammy character that berries will in the oven, adding tartness to sweetness, red stains to fluffy pale yellow.

It’s a cake to celebrate the dregs of summer, and perhaps more importantly, my birthday.

strawberry coconut cake (3 of 3)

Strawberry and Coconut Cake

Slightly modified from ‘Strawberry Summer Cake‘, Smitten Kitchen

Get:

85gm unsalted butter at room temperature, extra for greasing
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus extra granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup shredded coconut
6-8 strawberries, washed, hulled and halved

Make:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease and flour a standard medium sized cake tin (I used a bundt tin).

Fold the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.

In another bowl, use electric beaters to beat butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. On low speed, mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined

Add dry ingredients gradually, using a spatula to fold in until just combined.  Fold in the coconut gently.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and scatter the strawberry halves, cut end down, over the top.  Sprinkle over with 1-2 tbsp sugar.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 mins, then reduce temperature to 170 degrees C and bake for 40-50 mins, or until a cake tester or knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

strawberry coconut cake (1 of 3)

Red Velvet Bundt Cake

I just wanted to share this cake with you today.  Red Velvet cake is probably my favourite type of cake, and yes I realise what a big statement that is.  I am prepared to stand by it.

Red Velvet Bundt 1

This was Billy Law’s Have You Eaten? Baking Club challenge for this month.  You may remember that I did a food photography workshop taught by Billy a few months ago.

I made this cake for a friend’s house-warming party and as it turned out this was the perfect excuse to make my first Red Velvet cake.  This friend and I were roomies (flatties?) during our London days.  We had an excellent system going where I would cook and she, the neat freak would clean up after me before I could even finish setting the oven timer.  She was also a fellow Red Velvet lover and the two of us with our third flat-mate would wander down to Portobello Markets on a Saturday.  Once there, we would meander among the stalls of antiques, kitsch souvenirs and free-size clothing to the Hummingbird Bakery.  There was always a queue in the narrow store, the number of people waiting almost equal to the number of cupcakes on display.

Two red velvet cupcakes would be ordered, and another flavour, so insignificant compared to red velvets that I can’t even remember what the favourite of our other flatmate was.  Then, clutching our treats, we would continue to make our way through the crowds of Londoners, expats and tourists, relishing each crumb of cake and smear of icing along the way.

Red Velvet Bundt 2

I really didn’t change much in the recipe that Billy provided, so there is not much point typing it out again here.  I threw in a second tablespoon of cocoa powder to intensify the chocolate flavour because, well, this is me we’re talking about.  I also had misplaced my gel food colourings so I used a liquid food colouring of which I used 2 tsp, but would recommend using 3 or 4 tsp judging by the resultant colour.  And yes, I realise that you can’t get an idea of the colour from these pictures but I really didn’t feel comfortable taking a cut up cake to a party.

Lastly I should mention that this was a super easy recipe which yielded wonderful results and an empty platter at the end of the party, which I always think provides better feedback than any words ever could.

I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas and I wish you all a decadent, happy-boozy New Years Eve.

Red Velvet Bundt 3

Quick Masala Soda Bread

There is a pot of soup bubbling away on the stove and you are just a little bit proud of yourself for coming up with a way of finishing off that crusty loaf that you bought a few days ago.

And you are just a tad excited about tearing off chunks of said loaf and dipping them into that incredible soup you’ve just made.

Then you open the bread bag and you pull out the remainder of the loaf. 

Is it just a bit harder than you remembered? No matter, it’s probably soft in the middle

Say, what are those teeny tiny bluish dots on the cut surface of said bread? You know the ones.

Now did you pick up this bread two days ago on the way home from work?  Or perhaps a week ago just after your gym session?

For a second you wonder if maybe you could just work with this here.  You contemplate slicing off the fungal colonies and acting like it ain’t no thing.

Don’t be judging now………..we’ve all been there.

Masala Soda Bread 1

Then the Voice of Reason (VOR) in that brain of yours (it turns out she’s still there) speaks up.  In one swift move the half loaf is in the bin and you are all souped up with no-where to go.

The shops are closed by now and it’s too cold to go out anyway.  ‘Proper’ bread-making with all that kneading and rising is out of the question- you are so hungry that you’re likely to eat the dough raw and give yourself bloat.

So now what?

VOR tries to make up for things by suggesting you try and make that Irish soda bread you’ve been meaning to try and make.  You take her advice but not being able to help yourself you throw in some spices and Indianise it a little. 

What you end up with is a super tasty and crusty loaf that takes less than an hour to make. 

Good one, VOR!

No yeast?
Don’t get your knickers in a knot…..this thing uses bi-carb soda which everyone has, right? Right.

This bread is the bomb.  It makes soup dinner when previously it was just soup.  And in the morning, you may just want to toast it and slather it with some good butter or cream cheese.

If an Irish person and an Indian person got together and had a baby, that baby would be this bread.  Actually the only Irish-Indian baby I know is way cuter than this bread but I’m sticking to my metaphor all the same.

Masala Soda Bread 2

Masala Soda Bread

Modified from BBC Food

 Get:

1 tbsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp chilli powder (less if you prefer)
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
2 1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp bi-carb soda
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

 Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan until fragrant.

Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk.  Stir until just combined.  The dough should be quite moist but not sticky.  Add a little more buttermilk if it is too stiff. With clean hands, on a floured surface, bring the dough together kneading very lightly until it is a flat ball.  Place in a skillet or tray lined with grease-proof paper  Make 2 deep indentations in the dough in a cross shape.  Sprinkle a few more cumin seeds over the top if desired.

If you would like a softer exterior, cover loosely with foil.  For a crusty exterior, leave uncovered. Bake for 30-40 mins until baked through.  You can test this the way you would a cake- by passing a clean knife into the centre.

Masala Soda Bread 3