Archives for category: Adventures with food

Failed Stamp

I had a disappointing experience recently that very nearly put me off cooking for good. Now I know that sounds a wee bit extreme but i should explain.

I am an absolute perfectionist. Failure is not an option. And in this case, failure (on a grand scale) is exactly what happened.

Crispy pork belly with crackling is one of my favourite dishes of all time. I love the saltness and tenderness of the pork with the delicious crispy texture of crackling and topped off with a tangy apple sauce. YUM!

I’ve always wondered how easy it would be to make. There are a lot of cooking shows on Food TV that make it seem as easy as cooking toast. I was pretty confident that i could make it no problem.

Pretty quickly I discovered that there were some issues with my decision to try and make it from scratch rather than picking it up pre made from the local roast place. First of all was my dislike for touching meat. The biggest problem was that my slab of pork belly had nipples. Therefore, it became a real animal rather than just an ingredient. And thus my enthusiasm for pork belly diminished rapidly.

Secondly, was my choice of recipe. Actually to be fair, it was my absolute inability to accurately follow directions. No fault of the recipe at all. One of the issues is that I don’t own a set of scales (If you’re shaking your head at this point, i don’t blame you). So usually I just guess how much something weighs and some times I get it close and some times it’s an unmitigated disaster. This was the latter.

Now, Jamie Oliver is a very talented man. I respect the guy a lot. Especially what he’s going with Schools and encouraging healthy eating. But i implore him to write a cookbook with a title like – ‘Pork Dishes for Dummies’ or even ‘Using a Gas Oven for Imbeciles’. It’s my own fault really. I believed in my abilities far too much. But I digress…

Once I had gotten over the initial horror that my pork belly had once been a sweet and happy little ‘Babe’ character, I went about following the recipe as best I could.

If you’ve ever tried to ‘score’ pork. It’s actually not that easy. You have to actually hold the meat and then slice into it and make nice deep, but not too deep, slices into the fat. I was too grossed out by the nipples and I had to get Man of the House to do this part. You have to then rub salt into your nicely cut gouges which should be easy right? Wrong. It turns out that if your knives are even slightly too blunt then making pork belly instantly becomes an exercise in futility.

Anyway, once the pork had been gouged and salted, it went into the oven to get all puffed up and delicious. Or so it was meant to. After half an hour in a hot oven, the crackling was meant to have started puffing up and looking edible. After close to an hour it wasn’t even close. Our old work horse of a gas oven just wasn’t getting hot enough and although it was cooking the pork through, the crackling was greasy and flat. I was started to get desperate, and more importantly, very hungry and very grouchy. Man of the House decided that there was a super easy solution to this, we just chuck it upside down on a hot skillet (fry pan, if you will). He’d seen someone do it on Food TV so again – piece of cake!

For someone who isn’t confident cooking meat to begin with, a huge deviation like changing the cooking method half way through is close to going out in public in your underwear. Mostly panic followed by the instinct to run.

As it turned out, that’s exactly what I should’ve done. After about 10 minutes it became blatantly obvious that the Food TV chefs knew something we didn’t. Half of the “crackling” burnt to a crisp and the outside edges stayed chewy, fatty and uncooked.

Now I’m really cranky. So we ended up turning the heat down and cooking it as best we could until it looked somewhat edible. In the midst of all of the pork drama, I had neglected by roast vegetables in the oven which were now lumps of coal at best and turned a head of crispy bok choy into a mushy, overcooked veggie nightmare.

I can only assume that all of comments from people saying how amazing their pork belly turned out, were contestants on Master Chef.

We ate in silence. Broken only by the snorts of derision watching a program on easy pork recipes. Back to what I know best – Baking.

Miniature Food - Paris Brest

Image by PetitPlat Food Art - Stephanie Kilgast via Flickr

The first sign that you have fallen in love with pastry is when it takes you four hours to finish and then the next day it’s all you can think about.

Let me be clear though, this was no ordinary pastry. I don’t fall in love with pastry on a whim. I’ve had a few pastries in my time and i’m not fickle enough to fall in love with each one.

This particular pastry had me add hello.

A large base of choux pastry with a creamy delectable custard filling, chocolate shrapnel baked into the pastry, a moreish meringue topping decorated with slivered almonds and dusted in icing sugar.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Probably because it was only yesterday.

The Bordeaux Bakery in Wellington call it a Royale but the closest i could find on Google was the Paris Brest. I’m not entirely sure it is the same thing but after at least an hour of searching it was as close as i was gonna get.

A very brief history thanks to the Travel Provocateur explains that “This wheel-shaped dessert is named after a bicycle race from Paris to the port of Brest and back. Durand’s maison was on the cyclists’ route, and in 1910, a delicate pastry wheel was born.”

If i was a little more confident in my baking prowess i would attempt to make this pastry mountain of awesomeness. Seeing as of late my baking has been less than impressive (some very sad wee Belgian Biscuits that i don’t want to talk about), i’m going to post an incredible recipe by pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis in the hope that someone makes it and tells me how easy it is…

Cocoa Paris-Brest

Vanilla Pastry Cream

– 7 ounces/200 grams whole milk

– 3 ounces/90 grams heavy cream

– 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

– 2 large egg yolks

– 2 ounces/60 grams granulated sugar

– 2 tablespoons/15 grams cornstarch

– 1 sheet gelatin, previously bloomed in cold water

– 0.5 ounce/15 grams unsalted butter

Cocoa Pate À Choux

– 6 ounces/180 grams water

– 4 ounces/120 grams whole milk

– 4 ounces/120 grams unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

– 1 ounce/30 grams sweetened condensed milk

– ½ teaspoon/2 grams fine sea salt

– 4.5 ounces/140 grams all purpose flour

– 0.5 ounce/15 grams cocoa powder

– 4 large eggs

Cocoa Paris-Brest

– Cocoa Pate À Choux

– 1 egg, for egg wash

– Water, as needed

– Sliced almonds, as needed

– 8 ounces/240 grams Vanilla Pastry Cream

– 4 ounces/120 grams unsalted butter, softened

– 3 ounces/90 grams hazelnut praline paste

– Confectioner’s sugar, as needed


Vanilla Pastry Cream

1) Place milk, cream, and vanilla in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.

2) Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and corn starch.

3) Remove the milk form heat and carefully whisk in to the egg yolk mixture.

4) Return to the pan and to medium heat, stirring constantly, just until combined mixture begins to boil.

5) Remove from heat.

6) Stir in the gelatin and transfer the mixture to a shallow bowl, discarding the vanilla pod.

7) Allow to cool and then stir in the butter until incorporated.

8) Store tightly wrapped, under refrigeration.

Cocoa Pate À Choux

1) Place water, milk, butter, and salt into saucepan and bring to a full rolling boil.

2) Add the flour and cocoa all at once to the boiling mixture.

3) Stir with wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until a smooth mass forms.

4) Keep cooking and stirring it around over moderate heat to dry out the dough as much as possible, about 2 to 3 minutes.

5) Transfer dough to mixing bowl. With the paddle attachment, beat at medium speed to release steam and cool a bit for one minute.

6) At low speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated between additions.

7) The dough should look smooth and glossy.

Cocoa Paris-Brest

1) Transfer cocoa pate à choux dough to a pastry bag with a plain tip and pipe out as desired.

2) Beat one egg yolk with 1 ounce water to make an egg wash.

3) Liberally sprinkle the sliced almonds over each puff.

4) Place in pre-heated 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 300 degree F to continue baking for about 20 minutes more, until the interior of each puff has begun to dry.

5) Meanwhile, combine butter and praline paste in a mixer bowl and whip until thoroughly combined. Slowly add pastry cream.

6) Briefly chill the mixture while the choux puffs cool.

7) Split each choux puff in half; place the praline mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a small star tip.

8) Pipe a ring of the filling onto the bottom of each puff and gently replace the top.

9) Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

So now I know that 5 cupcakes in one day is my limit. This is a good thing to know. How did I come to this conclusion you ask? Well let me explain…

I had intended to make a Cookies n Cream Cake because it combines two of my greatest loves in life – cookies and cake – when i stumbled upon a little gem of a recipe which made my heart flutter a wee bit:

Cookies n Cream Cupcakes! – More specifically, Oreo Cupcakes!

I have Annie’s Eats to thank for my dream cupcake. Not only was it one of the only recipes that didn’t include yogurt in the batter, but the recipe used about 3 times the cookies of other recipes.

Although the recipe called for about 40 cookies, I had eaten quite a few of them by the time I started baking so had about half that, which roughly works out to a pack and a half of Oreos.

I also didn’t use the frosting in the recipe… Because I had used up (see: eaten) all the Oreos. Instead I found this nifty little frosting recipe that goes perfect with these cupcakes. It also uses sour cream which i thought was a bit different and added a little bit of tartness to an otherwise extremely sweet cupcake (not that i’m complaining).

inside cookies n cream cupcake

Ultimately I was pretty happy with these cupcakes. My only minor complaint (and no doubt this is my baking prowess rather than the recipe) is that they seem a teeny bit dry. If anyone bakes these and finds the same thing, let me know. Otherwise I will assume it’s me.

Regardless, I still ate 5 of them… in one morning… one after the other.

I had to give at least 10 of them away because I feared the repercussions of eating 24 cupcakes all by myself.

So now i’ve found a recipe for Champagne Cupcakes which look absolutely amazing. I have to try it out… I can hear the recipe calling me… Watch this space.