Ferrero Rocher Mini Cupcakes

In the last few weeks, it has been so hot and sticky here in Melbourne. The type of weather that sucks the energy right out of you, it’s not fun. And in this weather, baking is the last thing anyone would want to be doing! With a slight cool change earlier in the week, I jumped at the chance to make these little babies, and boy, I am glad I did. They are very yummy. I guess they are kind of my (belated) Valentine’s Day post. I have always loved Ferrero Rocher chocolates, but they have always been something I have had on a special occasion. Plus, my boyfriend loved them. So, there we have it.

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The chocolate cupcake recipe I used, is the one I have used many, many times before. It is fantastic, and works really well every time. I cut the Ferrero Rocher chocolates in half, which is not easy to do! You will probably get a really messy half and a neater half. Place the messier half inside the uncooked cupcake, and leave the other half for decorating. You can find the cupcake recipe  here. I halved the recipe for this batch, and it still made close to 30 mini cupcakes.

Cupcakes

Nutella Ganache:

  • 1 cup Nutella
  • 250g good quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 75g salted butter, softened, not melted

Melt the white chocolate in a glass bowl, in the microwave in spurts of 20 seconds. At the end of each stint in the microwave, stir chocolate with a metal spoon. When completely melted, stir in Nutella until well combined. Leave at room temperature to cool. When mixture is at room temperature, it may have become a little solid. If so, just run some lukewarm water around the outside of the bowl to soften up a bit. In a separate bowl, beat butter until pale and creamy. Spoon the butter into the Nutella mixture and beat altogether for a couple of minutes until whipped and smooth.

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To decorate: Spoon Nutella ganache into a piping bag fitted with a round wide nozzle. Pipe one single round onto each cupcake, and place halved Ferrero Rocher on top. Store in an airtight container, in a cool, dark place. If it’s really hot, you can place the cupcakes in the fridge, but bring them down to room temperature to eat. I am very reluctant to put cake in the fridge, and people always think this is weird. When you put cake in the fridge, the fat component of the cake (butter) becomes harder, so the cake becomes drier and often crumbly. By the way, you can freeze these cupcakes, too. Just do it as soon as they are decorated, and obviously, bring them down to room temperature to serve, preferably overnight.

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Here are some I made with Malteasers. Equally as delicious!

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Lamington Cake with Balsamic Strawberry Jam

Happy Australia Day to all you Aussies! I hope everyone is having a relaxing long weekend 🙂 As a country, Australia does not really have a defined cuisine of its own. I guess it has something to do with being derived from Britain, and not really having a whole lot of history of our own. However, there is one sweet that we do claim do be our own (aside from the humble Pav, of course!). It is the delicious Lamington. If you do not know what a Lamington is, you are missing out, big time! They are slices of sponge-y cake, filled with jam, and covered in chocolate icing and coconut. Yum! I had actually never made a Lamington before, so I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I decided on a cake version for my Mum’s birthday, and I must say, it was delicious, and a big hit.

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I was going to use the recipe from the ‘BAKE’ book, from the Australian’s Women’s Weekly (AWW are the go-to’s for great recipes for many Aussies), for normal Lamington’s. However, I just had to look on my favourite site, Taste, of course, to see if they may have had a recipe for a cake. Luckily, I found the perfect one with great reviews, so I went with that, with a few of my own additions. I guess I could be more sure of the measurements this way, instead of having to adapt a slice into a cake. Anyhoo, the recipe was great – easy to follow and not ridiculously time consuming, either. Winner 🙂

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Lamington Cake: (recipe from Taste.com)

  • Cooking oil spray, to grease
  • 1/2 cup self-raising flour
  • 1/4 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1/4 cup cornflour
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup caster (white) sugar
  • 2 cups coconut
  • 250ml thickened cream
  • 1/3 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste/natural extract

Preheat your oven to 180c/356f. Grease two 20cm round springform baking tins with cooking oil spray, and line with non-stick baking paper. Set aside.

Sift all three flours into one bowl. In a separate bowl, beat all of the eggs, and the sugar, for approximately ten minutes, or until the mixture is thick, pale and creamy. Then, sift half of the flour mixture into egg mixture, and  gently fold it in with a metal spoon until well combined. Repeat with the remaining flour. Make sure the flour is all combined as it can be difficult to see in a large bowl – the flour will just sink to the bottom. And remember to be gentle as you don’t want to knock too much air out of the sponge.

Divide the mixture evenly into the 2 prepared tins. Smooth the surfaces with a metal spoon to ensure the mixture is even. Bake for 12-15 minutes (mine took 14, but ensure you check at 12). Insert a skewer to ensure cake is cooked – the skewer will come out clean. Leave in tins to cool, then place on a wire rack.

Chocolate Icing:

  • 2 cups icing (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1/3 cup good quality cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup water

Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl together, and add the water. Mix well until combined and smooth. Pour the icing into a large, shallow dish. Pour the coconut out onto a large baking tray.

Place one side of the sponge cake into the icing, cover the sides, then dip the other side of the sponge in the icing. Cover in coconut and place on a large cake stand. Repeat with remaining sponge cake, except place this one on a plate or another baking tray. I found this process super messy and it took me a while, but I got there in the end!

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Balsamic Strawberry Jam:

  • 1 medium punnet of strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste/natural extract
  • 1 cup caster (white) sugar
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Splash of water

Place strawberries and water (I literally used a splash, just to moisten the strawberries) in a medium sized saucepan. Cook on a medium heat until the berries begin to soften (about 2 minutes). Add the vanilla and sugar, and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes, or until strawberries have broken down. Add balsamic vinegar, and continue cooking on low until mixture becomes a sticky, jam like consistency. Pour into a bowl, and leave to cool. If you are not using the jam on the day of making it, cover with cling wrap and place it in the fridge. I made my jam two days beforehand.

Lamington Cake

Assembly:

Whip up 250ml thickened cream, with 1/3 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar, and 1 tsp of vanilla bean paste/natural extract. With one sponge cake already on the cake stand, cover with whipped cream, ensuring you spread the cream right to the edges of the cake (if you want to decorate it like my cake, leave a little bit of cream behind to pipe on top). Then, spread over the strawberry jam – although this time don’t spread it right to the edges, leave about 1cm. Place the other sponge on top of the cream and jam. Decorate as desired 🙂 EAT!

Messy goodness

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY! (check out my past Australia Day posts here.)

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Coconut and Lime Ombre Cake

Happy slightly belated New Year to you all! I can’t believe it is 2014, and January the 1st marked whiskitforabiscuit’s second birthday. Yay 🙂 The beginning of the year is always a bit of a baking whirlwind for me, because almost every member of my family has their birthday in January. So, here is the first of the birthday cakes:

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I love the combination of coconut and lime. It’s really fresh and summery, which is nice when you’re in the middle of the horrible heatwave Melbourne is experience at the moment! The last thing you feel like doing is forcing down a piece of heavy mud cake down your pie hole, so this cake, I thought, was ideal.

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As you may have seen, I enjoy making layer cakes with different colours and gradients; it just makes it a bit more fun, especially when kids are around. I also decided, instead of covering and filling the cake in buttercream, I used a fresh and tangy lime curd to sandwich the layers, and whipped cream to cover the cake, with some coconut, too. Buttercream does not go down well in heat!

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For the cake, I used my trust vanilla cake recipe I have used many times before (which is originally a cupcake recipe, but it works just as well for larger cakes), and just added a bunch of lime zest, lime juice and coconut. It’s so easy and it works perfectly every time, especially when adding different flavourings. I only had a couple of hours to make this cake, so the layers are not quite as even as I’d like them to be. Oh well, it still tasted pretty awesome!

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I hope you all had an amazing New Year, and that 2014 is everything you wish it to be! Happy Baking 🙂

Pork Belly with Apple Cider Vinegar Gravy and Roasted Apples

I can’t believe Christmas is over already! 😦 This makes me a bit sad, because it is, by far, my favourite time of the year. My favourite time from this Christmas was probably eating this pork belly. It was that good, even if I do say so myself. Pork Belly is hands down, one of my favourite foods in general. If the piece of tender meat along with the layer of juicy fat isn’t enough to whet your appetite, then the thick slab of crispy, salty crackling (that should always be there) surely must!

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The recipe that I used was awesome to say the least, and it will certainly be making a regular enough appearance on my kitchen table. I searched for awhile to find a recipe I was happy with, and that didn’t seem too hard, because pork belly is definitely not the easiest thing to cook. I really loved the roasted apples that went with the pork, because they were all lovely and caramelised from the butter and brown sugar I put with them in the oven, and it was a welcome change from the standard super sweet store bought apple sauce! Plus, the whole apples look much nicer on the plate, too.

Apples, butter and sage

I’m not going to worry about writing the recipe out for you, because I followed it word for word from Taste.com, my go to site for awesome recipes. You can find it here. If you are going to try cooking pork belly yourself, I have a couple of tips for you. Not that I am an expert on the subject, but they certainly helped me out. Firstly, ask your butcher to score the pork rind for you, it makes preparing the meat a lot easier. Second, do not be afraid of salt! Salt will draw moisture out of the pork, and create crispy, crackly goodness. I put three layers of coarse sea salt on my rind, along with the fennel seeds called for in the recipe. Lastly, if your pork is not as crispy in the middle as it is on the edges, it is okay to leave it in the oven for longer, just turn down the temperature a little, and it is unlikely that the meat will dry out.There is a lotttttttttttt of fat in pork belly, it will keep the meat moist.

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And, of course, enjoy every moment of eating that pork. I am not often happier than I am when eating freshly roasted pork crackling, as silly as it sounds. I love it!

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I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, and enjoy bringing in 2014! Thanks very much for reading whiskitforabiscuit’s adventures this year 🙂 See you next year. Happy Baking!

Poached Pear and Salted Caramel Macarons

After four months of no baking, it feels good to be back! I can’t believe it’s been THAT long, nearly half a year of no butter and sugar action, which is a just a bit wrong, really. When I stepped back into the kitchen and begun measuring my ingredients out, it all came flooding back. It was reassuring to know that I hadn’t completely lost my touch, and the macaron recipe I use has remained engraved in my brain – it’s the only recipe I know off by heart, no surprise. I had been planning  these macarons for about a week to mark the beginning of my Christmas baking schedule, which is very hectic – again, no surprise, as I always become over ambitious with these things, trying to do waaaaay too much in so little time. Whilst this flavour is not quintessentially Christmass-y, it is extremely delicious. Anything involving salted caramel is. I poached the pears in vanilla and cinnamon, so I guess that means I can claim it as a Christmas flavour?

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I loved the fresh hit of the pear in the midst of the creamy caramel, however I think it made the shells  bit soggy unfortunately. Next time, I would maybe try making my own pear jelly and have little cubes in the middle. They were delicious nonetheless. The green Christmas trees on the shells were incidental actually. I just thought it would be nice to add a little green touch to represent the pear, but I’m happy with the result!

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Macarons:

This recipe is Adriano Zumbo’s, and was published a couple of years ago in the Herald Sun. You will definitely need kitchen scales to make macarons.

  • 135g almond meal
  • 135g icing sugar
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 45g egg whites
  • 50g egg whites
  • 40g water
  • Colouring gel, green

Spray four oven trays with cooking oil spray around the edges, and line with baking paper and set aside. Place almond meal and icing sugar in a large bowl, and sift together 3 times. Set aside, along with the 45g egg whites. Put 50g egg whites in a separate bowl. Heat caster sugar and water in a small saucepan, over a low-medium heat, until the sugar completely dissolves (if it slightly burns my tongue, it’s done!). If you do not want to burn your tongue, Zumbo suggests investing in a candy thermometer and heating the syrup until it reaches 118 degrees C (244 degrees F). If the syrup becomes thick and powdery in appearance, you will need to start again. This is because the sugar has been heated too much, too quickly, and instead of dissolving, it has cooked.

Begin beating the 50g egg whites with one hand, and with the other, stream the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl to create an italian meringue. Beat until stiff peaks form, the meringue should be thick and very glossy. If you want to add flavouring/colouring, now’s your moment. So add the colouring now. Just lightly beat them into the meringue. Pour meringue into the almond meal, icing sugar and 45g egg whites mixture and mix roughly to combine. When combined, fold mixture together (one single stroke) until there are no air bubbles left. Make a spread across the top of the mixture, and it should disappear in about 20 seconds. Spoon mixture into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle. (If you don’t have a piping bag set, most supermarkets sell plastic ones, they are Multix brand, in an orange box and contain 5 piping bags with a few different nozzles, plus they’re only about $3. You should be able to find them in the baking aisle). Dip a skewer into green colouring gel, and wipe up one side of the piping bag, creating a straight line. Lock the bag by spinning the top around 4 times. Pipe 3-4cm rounds on the oven trays prepared earlier. Tap the bottom of the trays on the kitchen bench and let them sit for about half an hour, or until mixture is dry to the touch. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 145c (135c fan forced).

Place in oven and bake for 16-20 minutes. Check macarons at 16 minutes, and to test if they are cooked, pull a macaron off the baking paper. If it is stuck, keep cooking and checking regularly. Cool on trays for 5 minutes, then peel off and place on a wire rack. The mixture should make about 12 -15 large macarons, and about 25 smaller macarons. Macarons keep really well (about 5 days in the fridge) and some say that the longer they are refrigerated, the more the flavour is likely to develop. Macarons taste best when they are stored in the fridge, then brought down to room temperature to eat.

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Caramel Maison: (from p. 242 of Adriano Zumbo’s book, Zumbo):

•220g pouring (whipping) cream (35% fat)
•1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (I used 1 tsp vanilla bean paste)
•120g water (this is just under 1 cup)
•300g caster (white) sugar
•60g liquid glucose (available at most supermarkets)

Place the cream and vanilla in a small saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Then, remove from the heat, and remove the vanilla bean if you are using one. In the meantime, place the water, sugar and glucose in a larger saucepan over a low-medium heat and cook until the glucose and sugar are fully dissolved, stirring occasionally. Zumbo’s says to use a clean pastry brush dipped in water to clean the sides of the saucepan in order to avoid crystalisation, however you can also just place the saucepan in really hot water with suds just after use and the sugar will melt off really easily. Increase the heat to medium, and cook the sugar mixture until it reaches a dark amber colour. This does take quite a while, and I was getting worried that mine would not work, but persistence is key here, it will eventually darken after 6-7 minutes. Very carefully stir the cream mixture into the sugar mixture slowly – be very careful because it spits and releases lot of heat. I found the best way to do this was with a spoon with a very long handle, as you want to keep your face as far away from the saucepan whilst it is spitting. If you don’t have a spoon with a super long handle, just add the cream really slowly and try to stir as best you can! Keep stirring as much as you can until the caramel settles down, then stir until completely smooth. Transfer to a bowl, let it cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.

Caramel Buttercream: (this recipe is on page 42 of Zumbo’s cookbook)

•150g unsalted butter, chopped and softened
•300g caramel maison
•4.5g sea salt flakes

Place the butter in a bowl, and beat until light and fluffy. Warm the caramel maison in the microwave until it reaches a pouring consistency (mine needed 1 min, 20 seconds on high as it was in the fridge overnight), however, just warm it in stages to prevent burning the caramel. With the beater running slowly, add the caramel maison to the butter and continue mixing until thick. Once I had added about half of my caramel, I got a bit worried because it looked like it was curdling, however as I kept adding the caramel, it began to thicken up. So don’t freak out until you have added all of the caramel to the butter. Once you have added all of the caramel, fold in the salt. I did not measure my salt, as I used a shaker. So if you too are using a shaker, just salt to taste.

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Poached Pears: (recipe adapted from Taste.com.au)

  •         2 packham pears
  •        3 cups cold water
  •        1 cup caster (white) sugar
  •         ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste or ½ vanilla bean with seeds scraped
  •        1 cinnamon stick
  •        Lemon juice

Peel pears from the stem down, and coat in lemon juice. Place all ingredients in a medium sized saucepan and simmer over a medium heat for around 20 minutes, or until pear is soft. You can test the pear with a fork, however do not make too many holes as they can become waterlogged. Once pear is cooked through, place in fridge for approximately 30 minutes to cool completely. Once cooled, cut into small bite sized pieces.

Assembly:

Pair up likely macaron shells. Scoop caramel into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle. Pipe a small circle on one shell, place a piece of pear on the caramel, and pipe another small circle over the top of the pear. Sandwich together, and place in an airtight container in the fridge. When ready to eat, bring macarons down to room temperature.

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Italy and Spain: Meditteranean Magic + a few other bits and pieces

What an amazing few weeks that were spent in Italy and Spain. We were so lucky to have experienced beautiful weather almost everywhere we went, although even more beautiful, was the food, of course. The easiest way for me to write this post is to break it down into places we visited. All of the restaurants I talk about in this post, I would thoroughly recommend. If you have any questions about them or want some further recommendations throughout Europe or in London, shoot me through a comment 🙂

Venice:

Venice was really amazing – everything I expected it to be and more, and nothing like I have ever seen. The canals, the boats and the gondolas, the narrow streets and lane ways, they all looked like they had just jumped out of a postcard! It was really beautiful, despite the hoards of tourists and smelly water. Having never been to Italy, but being a huge fan of Italian food, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into the local haunts. Venice certainly did not disappoint! Firstly, the wine in Venice was delicious. I, as well as my boyfriend, are quite fussy, but we had the most delicious Pinot Grigio, and partnered up with my scrumptious duck ragu with fresh spaghetti, was a match made in Venetian heaven!
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My favorite foodie place visited in Venice was a teeny tiny almost booth like pasta joint called Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta to Go. It was number 1 on TripAdvisor, and it definitely lived up to expectations. Alfredo’s make all their pastas and sauces on site, and cook your pasta directly in front of you. I also loved the way you could choose your dish with a number system, picking your choice of pasta and sauce. The pasta is served in little cardboard boxes similar to noodle boxes, then you can go and enjoy your delicious dinner sitting on a little Venetian bridge – perfect! We went twice in our 3 day stay, and the first time I had a penne ‘Ciao Bella’ which was a delicious combination of cream, curry paste, fresh tomato, zucchini and Parmesan – it was unlike any pasta sauce I’ve ever eaten, but it’s definitely one I’d like to recreate at home! The second time, I had fresh fettuccine with a sauce called ‘Chickenese’ – basically a bolognese make with chicken. It was so yummy, I wish I could get my sauces to taste the way the Italians do! So simple, yet so amazing!!
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We also had some delish gelato in Venice, not a surprise really! We were super lucky that our hotel was in a fantastic location, so we were able to walk everywhere, including ‘La Mela Verde’, which was number 3 on TripAdvisor. Flavours we sampled included Giotto (white choc and almond), Dark chocolate, Pistachio and Straccitella (choc chip). All flavours were really yummy, although I would recommend the Dark chocolate gelato 🙂

Sorrento:

If it hadn’t been for this one amazing local restaurant, I probably wouldn’t have added Sorrento into this post. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the best time in Sorrento – which was mainly due to our hotel, but still, there wasn’t a whole lot of food that stood out. I’m sure many people would disagree with me, this was just our experience. Unfortunately, when you have been constantly travelling around for a long time and have seen so many countries and cities, moving around every few days becomes tiring and new places can lose their luster. You can become frustrated when little things don’t go in your favour, and can easily disregard the fact that you are in Italy, on the beach, looking over Mount Vesuvius, next to a cliff face! We had definitely hit the wall at this point and were extremely tired. Luckily, this little restaurant was our savior, and was definitely the highlight of our Sorrento experience. This restaurant was what I really wanted to find in Italy – small, family run, inexpensive and with all the quintissential Italian classics. It was awesome, and we visited it every night we were in Sorrento! From pizzas to soups, freshly made pasta to calzones and delicious salads, they had it all, and it was great. As it was small and out of the main area, it really felt like you were welcomed into the owners home for dinner, and they actually ate their own dinner in the restaurant, too. With plastic placemats and your knife and fork in a small paper bag, it was also unpretentious. Plus, the owners make their own Limoncello – how could I resist?! If anyone is ever in the Sorrento area, I urge you to take a detour to Gran Caffe Laura, you won’t regret it!
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Sorrento is the capital of Limoncello. You can buy Limoncello/Lemon everything! I had the best gelato in Italy on the Isle of Capri – which is a stunningly beautiful place. Limoncello and Strawberry!
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Rome:
When in Rome…eat as much as you can! We definitely did. We had two real foodie highlights in Rome, one of them being a tiramisu that is hailed as Rome’s best. These two places were both in the area where we stayed which was just south east of the city in the Ponte Lungo area. The tiramisu was absolutely amazing, and I would happily revisit Rome for the sole purpose of eating more! This is coming from someone who has never been a huge fan of tiramisu and who doesn’t drink coffee! We were lucky that it was only round the corner from where we stayed. Bar Pompi has a few flavours of Tiramisu – the classic coffee, pistachio, hazelnut, banana and nutella and strawberries and cream. We tried the first three – the classic was definitely my favorite, and my boyfriend loved the hazelnut.
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The other foodie highlight in Rome was a great pizza place recommended by our host. Pizzeria Dal Bersagliere served the thinnest and crispiest pizza I’ve ever had! I know that many people don’t enjoy really thin pizza bases, and I found it a little different, but this is the traditional way the crust is made and is how the majority of pizzas are in Italy. The toppings were simple: margherita, marinara, napoli and so on. No meat lovers or bacon cheeseburger in sight! We personally found the best Italian pizzas to be crispy at the edges and a little doughy in the middle, but still holding its form so the pieces would not fall down in the middle, and not soggy. This place definitely hit the spot, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Rome, as it is also nice and cheap 🙂 Can’t get better than that!
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Florence:

Ah, Firenze! I really loved Florence, it was my next favourite place we visited after the amazing Paris. We were so lucky with our accomodation, we could see the magestic Duomo from our window – it was literally 50m down the street. I also loved that we didn’t need to take any public transport, which is big plus when you’re used to taking hot and stuffy underground tubes everyday! You can walk everywhere. There is so much culture in Florence – from the little laneways waiting to be discovered to the beautiful basilicas, we thought that Florence had it all. As far as food went, it was by far the best we had in Italy, and I had one of my favourite meals of the trip there. There were three places that really stood out for me. The first was a tiny little cafe called Il Panino del Chianti – which basically means a sandwich and a glass of (tuscan) wine! They had little share plates of cold meat and antipasti and a small selection of regional tuscan wines. They also had a special where you could choose 3 ingredients in a panino for 4 euros. Perfect! They were delicious, and so generous with the fillings considering how cheap it was. We went there twice and the first time I had proscuitto, sundried tomatoes and marinated artichokes (my fave!), and the second time I had ham, pear and pecorino. Yum! It was perfect for lunch – not too big a meal, so you can still justify a pizza or pasta for dinner!
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The second place was an awesome gelato shop called Grom, just down the road from our apartment. It was really fresh, full of flavour and decently priced. So, we went there every night! My favourite flavours were surprisingly Coffee, and the Dark Chocolate gelato, and my boyfriend loved the Nougat.

Thirdly, is my favourite restaurant from the entire trip. This place was recommended to us by our host, and we were so glad we visited (twice)! Osteria Il Gatto e la Volpe (The Cat and the Fox), was soooooooo good. Soooooooo good. I will happily keep repeating that it was sooooooo good. The reviews on TripAdvisor were also amazing, so it was a no-brainer for us! The menu was really big, which is usually not a good thing, but not this time. Everything that we had over the two nights was downright delicious, and we couldn’t fault anything. They serve warm bread before your meal comes, which is definitely homemade in their pizza oven – it was really yummy. They also make their own balsamic vinegar – the best I have ever tasted! It was really thick and had quite a grape-y flavour, and I would have happily drank the whole bottle! You can actually buy big wine bottles of the vinegar – if only we had the suitcase space! My boyfriend had a pizza both nights which he absolutely loved and thought it was the best he had in Italy, and that’s saying something, as he had a looooooot of pizzas! The first night I had a vegetable risotto, and it was great. Nothing pretentious, just freshly cooked with a simple tomato sauce and creamy rice. The second night was definitely the highlight for me – I had a ravioli filled with a super light mashed potato with herbs, in a bolognese sauce. I know it might not sound like much, but it was amazingly delicious. I still think about that dish, and yes, I did dream about it that night! I can’t wait to return to the Cat and the Fox, and I absolutely recommend it if you are ever in Florence!

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Barcelona:

I can’t wait to go back to Barcelona! It was really hot when we were there, and then the one day we went to see the main sights, it was pouring with rain – typical! Barcelona was a really cool place, the city has a really chilled out vibe and there is plenty to see and do. As far as the food went, there were two places which we loved, and I’m sure there would have been more, but as our trip was coming to and end, so were our finances 😦 Both of these places were in the area in which we stayed – I think it was called Entenca, but don’t count me on it. It was just south-west of the city centre. The first place was a tiny burger joint called B Burger. Not traditionally Spanish, but it certainly had influences and was delicious enough, plus the owners were super friendly and explained everything to us in English. We had to make a reservation the night before, as the place is so small, they can only cook a few meals at a time. I loved this, as it meant the food was fresh and cooked to order, and the staff were attentive and were not run off their feet. We went to B Burger twice, and both times I ordered the Jamon Jamon burger, which had a fresh patty cooked medium rare (the more blood, the better I say!), parmesan, rocket and proscuitto. Delish! We also had patatas bravas (small roasted like crispy potatoes) with a paprika aioli. B Burger also had amazing gin and tonics, my boyfriend and my favourite drink, and perfect to cool down with in the Barcelona heat. They were soooo big, and made with care by the owner complete with juniper berries. I would love to go back to B Burger next time I am in Barcelona. If you’re ever there and want a cheap and decent feed, make sure you ring and book the day before!
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The next place we really loved in Barcelona was a restaurant called Koxkera. Weird name, but amazing food. This was definitely our treat in Barcelona, it was not cheap but it was definitely worth it. I was on a mission to find a great paella, as you do in Spain. Although, I had read that many places will just heat up frozen versions, which is disgraceful considering it is their national dish! I guess that stuff happens everywhere though, as we did have couple of horrible pizzas and risottos in Italy. So, I did my research and tried to find the best places in Barcelona that make fresh seafood paella. We certainly found this at Koxkera – it was full of flavour, but the saffron was not overpowering, the calamari was so fresh and perfectly cooked – not rubbery or stringy at all, and the prawns were delicious. I can’t explain how great it was!! We had two prawn starters, one being fresh unpeeled king prawns with lemon and aioli, and together with some traditional Spanish tomato bread, I was in heaven. I know it’s a little weird, but I love peeling prawns. I find it very therapeutic! I couldn’t do them all day, but just a few. Our second prawn dish came out in a sizzling claypot full of garlic and small, extremely hot Spanish chillies. They were like little prawn poppers, and I could have eaten them all myself! I really can’t wait to get back to Barcelona and try some more of the food! We had great sample of amazing Spanish seafood and I think I may have to try and find something similar in Melbourne! Let’s hope I can 🙂

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A few other bits and pieces:

There are a couple more little bits I want to add into this post, as they were simply too good not to share! The last 10 days of our trip were spent back in London, which is now easily one of my favourite cities in the world. We went to a fantastic little Japanese place in the West End area called Tsunami, and it was fantastic. I am by no means a big fan of Japanese food but this restaurant may have slightly changed that! We had a range of things, and shared them all between the four of us. I really like the idea of sharing food, and it seems to have become quite the phenomenon in today’s society. I like trying little bits of everything and tasting new foods I probably would never order myself. At Tsunami we had kataifi prawns – king prawns wrapped in string like pastry and fried – what’s not to love? We also had tempura prawns, sliced hoi sin pork belly, dynamite chilli beef, soft shell crab sushi rolls and miso marinated black cod. The highlights for me were the tempura prawns, the dynamite beef which wasn’t too spicy considering its name, but it just had that nice bit of heat (I sound so wanky!!), and the black cod. This piece of fish (bottom right below) was easily one of the best things I have had on this trip, second to the ravioli in Florence. It was deliciously flaky and so creamy, and the miso which it was marinated in gave it the most amazing caramel flavour and sticky edges. I’m not sure how else I can explain it, but it was really to die for. I would highly recommend.

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On our way back to Australia, we had a little stopover in Singapore. Our hotel happened to have the amazing Carousel restaurant inside, which has won a bunch of awards for its buffet dinner. So, of course, we had to go. It was definitely the best buffet I have ever been to. The seafood section alone would have been enough, but they had everything. There were two dessert tables with great little layered shooters and cakes with chocolate airbrushing. They were all amazing (including the 3 chocolate fountains). We were lucky enough to have breakfast there, too, which also unsurprisingly fantastic.

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Well, that ends my foodie experiences from our amazing trip to Europe! I can’t believe how quickly it has gone, and I would do anything to go back. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my travels, and I hope I haven’t bored you too much with the descriptions of all our meals! Now back to reality, and back to BAKING! Yay 🙂

Paris: my foodie heaven

I have recently floated off cloud 9 which consisted of a week in pastry paradise. It was hands down, one of the best weeks of my life so far. For a very long time, I have been almost obsessed with Paris, for reasons fairly obvious, even having never been there. So, to actually be there and see the sights right in front of my eyes was pretty amazing for me. I had a little bit of a heart attack the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower!
Eiffel tower
Now, to the food. We were really lucky to have snatched up a great little studio apartment in the bustling neighbourhood of Bastille (for Melbourne people, this would probably be the equivalent of Fitzroy/Brunswick), which was just to the east of the city. We could not believe our luck when we realised the Bastille Market – one of the biggest foodie markets in Paris, was literally at the end of our street. Winner! We headed down on a sunny Sunday morning to find delights such as crêpes, baguettes, cheeses, fresh fruit and veg, fresh seafood, curries and souvenirs.
Bastille market
The great thing about Bastille is that it is out of the main toursity area of Paris. This means great local restaurants, bakeries/patisseries on nearly every corner, and super-friendly French people – something we were not expecting. We had been told by so many people that the French did not like tourists at all and were quite unwelcoming. These people obviously stayed in super touristy areas in the city that are overcrowded and full of horrible, overpriced restaurants. Out of every country we have visited so far (6), we found the French to be the friendliest, which was fantastic. Our local bakery, Maison Laudemaine Voltaire, was our go to each day. It had the best baguettes we had ever tasted, and some pretty amazing desserts and pastries, too.
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Baguettes
Two places I just had to try in Paris were, of course, Pierre Herme and Laduree. If you are not familar, they are both extremely well known around the world for their macarons and pastries (Pierre Herme also has amazing chocolates). I can safely say that I had the best macarons in Paris, which really is not a surprise at all. For me, Pierre Herme won by a mile. We bought a box of 7 macarons (we couldn’t afford any more!), and we were both in heaven. The flavours we chose included Salted Butter Caramel, Chocolate Passionfruit, Citron Praline, Rose, Violet Yoghurt and Giandjua Chocolate. My favourite flavour was Violet Yoghurt, and I think it was because I was not expecting it – it was such an interesting flavour, but so delicious. I will definitely try to create this flavour when I get home!
Pierre Herme
Pierre Herme shop
In comparison to Pierre Herme, Laduree’s macarons were unfortunately a bit disappointing. The flavours were pretty standard, but the fillings were quite runny – they just didn’t have the same finesse (sounds wanky I know, lol) as Pierre Herme. The pastries on the other hand, were amazing. We got a Saint-Honore Pomme Facon Tatin – which was a bit of take on an apple tarte tatin. It had this amazing caramelised puff pastry with tiny choux filled with salted caramel, caramelised apples and caramel chatilly whipped cream. Wow! I also had something I had been wanting to try for a long time – Ispahan. Ispahan is a big macaron filled with rose cream, lychees and raspberries. It was delicious.
Laduree collage
Finally, I also had my first French onion soup experience. It was definitely as magical as I imagined it to be!! It was so yummy, and was complete with gruyere croutons. Another one to try when I come home!
Onion soup
So, that ends our foodie adventures in Paris. There is still so much I want to see and do, and so much more food I want to try. Lucky I’m going back next year 😀 Follow me on Instagram for more travel photos – GemmaAsh

London: High Tea heaven and Market madness!

Ahhh…it´s been a while! I apologise for my severe lack of posting while abroad, I really didn´t fancy writing a post and adding photos on my tiny iPhone with shaky wi-fi, so I figured it would be best until I got to a proper, civilised computer! In addition to that, there hasn´t really been a whole lot to post about anyway, as we have been in the UK most of the time so far, and whilst the food is great, it´s fairly westernised and not really that different to Australia, well, from what we experienced anyway. However, there were two places we went in London that were fairly touristy but still quite amazing 🙂

I´m sure that most people who have been to London have experienced the epic craziness that is Harrods. Wow. That place is insane. The only things I wanted to see were the Toy Kingdom (I had an amazing time when I was 8 years old and was feeling nostalgic) and of course, the heavenly food hall! It was insaaaaaane. There were so many people there that you could hardly catch a glimpse of the cupcakes, let alone to buy one, which would require a hefty bank loan anyway! Obviously the patisserie and the bakery were my favourite sections to look at, but they also had other areas such as a butcher, a fishmarket, a salami/cold meats sections and soups, sandwiches and salads, etc. Everything looked delicious. I settled on a brie and caramelised onion panini, and an amazing brownie – a bit boring I know but most brownies have walnuts in them, which I am allergic to, so it was a rare and beautiful moment!

The other amazing foodie experience in London was the awesome Borough Market. It´s not huge, but is very well known amongst the locals, and many top restaurants come to the Borough Market to pick up their fresh ingredients. The range on offer at the market was huge, and consisted of items such as cheeses, salami, truffles, seafood, pastries, artisan chocolate, goat´s milk ice cream, spanish paella, fresh fruit and veg, meats, juices, preserves, baklava, BBQs, Jamaican soul food, coffee, and my favourite, fresh pasta! I had, obviously, some pasta, which was the most delicious pumpkin tortellini with olive oil and pecorino. I would have taken more with me if I could have. I also had a fresh juice with pear and mint, and my boyfriend had a fresh falafel and the most amazing, and the biggest apple strudel I have ever seen – and I forgot to take a photo of it! We will definitely be returning to the Borough Market when we head back to London in November.

Another place I loved was M&M World! It´s a bit of a novelty, but the place is crazy – 3 stories full of M&M everything – clothes, PJs, homewares, souvenirs, and of course, every M&M colour you could ever dream of! I loved M&M World, so much I went twice and bought PJs! Wish they had one in Melbourne 😦

Redskin Macarons

This is now the second time I have made these, and round two definitely didn’t disappoint. I LOVED redskins when I was little, and when I saw this flavour popping up around local markets and food blogs, I just had to give them a go. They are ahhhhh-mazing! A winner with the crowds, too 🙂
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Another awesome thing about these macarons, is that the ganache is super easy to make. You just melt down some redskin lollies, cream and add in the white chocolate and you’re done! Chocolatey, creamy, raspberry gooey deliciousness 😉
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Macarons:

This recipe is Adriano Zumbo’s, and was published a couple of years ago in the Herald Sun. You will definitely need kitchen scales to make macarons.

  • 135g almond meal
  • 135g icing sugar
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 45g egg whites
  • 50g egg whites
  • 40g water
  • 1/4 tsp colouring      gel, purple

Spray four oven trays with cooking oil spray around the edges, and line with baking paper and set aside. Place almond meal and icing sugar in a large bowl, and sift together 3 times. Set aside, along with the 45g egg whites. Put 50g egg whites in a separate bowl. Heat caster sugar and water in a small saucepan, over a low-medium heat, until the sugar completely dissolves (if it slightly burns my tongue, it’s done!). If you do not want to burn your tongue, Zumbo suggests investing in a candy thermometer and heating the syrup until it reaches 118 degrees C (244 degrees F). If the syrup becomes thick and powdery in appearance, you will need to start again. This is because the sugar has been heated too much, too quickly, and instead of dissolving, it has cooked.

Begin beating the 50g egg whites with one hand, and with the other, stream the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl to create an italian meringue. Beat until stiff peaks form, the meringue should be thick and very glossy. If you want to add flavouring/colouring, now’s your moment. So add the cocoa now. Just lightly beat them into the meringue. Pour meringue into the almond meal, icing sugar and 45g egg whites mixture and mix roughly to combine. When combined, fold mixture together (one single stroke) until there are no air bubbles left. Make a spread across the top of the mixture, and it should disappear in about 20 seconds. Spoon mixture into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle. (If you don’t have a piping bag set, most supermarkets sell plastic ones, they are Multix brand, in an orange box and contain 5 piping bags with a few different nozzles, plus they’re only about $3. You should be able to find them in the baking aisle). Lock the bag by spinning the top around 4 times. Pipe 3-4cm rounds on the oven trays prepared earlier. Tap the bottom of the trays on the kitchen bench and let them sit for about half an hour, or until mixture is dry to the touch. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 145c (135c fan forced).

Place in oven and bake for 16-20 minutes. Check macarons at 16 minutes, and to test if they are cooked, pull a macaron off the baking paper. If it is stuck, keep cooking and checking regularly. Cool on trays for 5 minutes, then peel off and place on a wire rack. The mixture should make about 12 -15 large macarons, and about 25 smaller macarons. Macarons keep really well (about 5 days in the fridge) and some say that the longer they are refrigerated, the more the flavour is likely to develop. Macarons taste best when they are stored in the fridge, then brought down to room temperature to eat.

 purple macarons

Redskin Ganache: (I think the recipe is orginially by Adriano Zumbo, but I can’t find it for the life of me! I saw a random photo on my Mum’s Facebook page – have no idea whose it was, with all the ingredients laid out, and made my own measurements. Compliments to to whoever’s photo it was…oops!)

  • 8 redskin lollies (I’m fairly certain redskins are available worldwide, made by Allen’s in Australia, and possibly by Wonka in the US)
  •  1/2 cup thickened cream
  •  1/2 cup white chocolate, chopped
Place the redskins and the cream in a small saucepan, over a low-medium heat, stirring with a metal spoon until the redskins are completely melted – this should take up to 5 minutes. Add in the white chocolate, and stir until everything is combined well and melted. Leave ganache at room temperature until firm enough to pipe.
To assemble, pair up likely macarons shells, and spoon the ganache into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle. Pipe small rounds on one shell, and sandwich with the other. TIP – don’t put too much ganache onto the shells, the ganache is quite runny and sticky, and if you have too much filling the shells will slip and slide all over the place!
redskin
FYI – This will be my last recipe post for a while, as whiskitforabiscuit will temporarily turn into a bit of a travel blog! I am off to Europe for 3 months, so I will do my best to post regularly and will attempt to focus it around food, of course…but that shouldn’t be too hard!
Follow me on Instagram – GemmaAsh!

A Wonderful Wizard of Oz Party!

Last Sunday, it was my little sister’s wonderful Wizard of Oz party. Well, it was more of a production actually, as our house was temporarily taken over by Oz paraphernalia and resembled quite the tornado. It was a lot of fun, and the amount of work my parents put into making the place look like it was straight out of the movie set was astronomical. As was the amount of time I spent in the kitchen! I made so many little bits and pieces I thought I would dedicate a whole blog post to it 🙂

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My ‘Emerald City Macarons’ – Redskin flavoured, with edible gold glitter. This flavour was SO delicious!

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‘Yellow Bricks’ – aka Salted Caramel Rice Bubble Slice

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Unfortunately, I did not make these. I had never tried a cake pop before, I have heard they are very difficult to make. These ones not only look amazing, but tasted it, too. Inside were gooey, chocolatey, fudgey balls of cake. YUM!

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Rainbow lemonade for the kiddies 🙂

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The cake I made – Somewhere Over The Rainbow Layer Cake, with Yellow Brick Buttercream and a Macaron Emerald City.

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This was the same recipe I used to create last year’s Rainbow Cake. It’s not at all difficult, it just takes a lot of time. The end result is well worth it, though. Especially when kids are involved!

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Follow the Yellow Brick Road…