Sunday, 28 August 2011


As nice as it is to stick to what you know about baking, every now and then it’s good to challenge skills with something ridiculously complicated (or, ridiculous for me – someone who’s more the “throw it all together and see what happens” kind of cook).

I must confess that I’m very easily swayed by what I see on tv – foodwise. Watching The Great British Bake Off right now makes me want to create whatever it is they’re cooking up each week. An episode of last season’s Desperate Housewives inspired me to make a pineapple upside-down cake when we visited my mother-in-law that weekend. And so, watching a re-run of Everybody Loves Raymond one early weekday morning put the thought in my head to try braciole.

I spent a while researching recipes – it’s not one found in an average, all-purpose cookbook. I settled on this one by Hal Licino as he explained a bit of braciole background as well as giving an achievable-looking recipe, and also because the first comment is from someone who was also put onto braciole because of Everybody Loves Raymond (I don’t really even like the show very much…)

Braciole is essentially a thin piece of tenderised steak that’s spread with a mix of breadcrumbs, cheese, pine nuts, parsley, prosciutto and currants. It’s then rolled up and cooked for hours in a sauce.

I didn’t actually make the sauce in Hal’s recipe – I just did a basic tomato sauce with thyme, garlic and carrots. I also had the braciole cooking for only 2.5 hours. It was very good, but I didn’t measure each ingredient evenly so some flavours came through more than others. Next time I’ll probably whiz everything together in a food processor first.

(Any veggies out there…you might not want to look at these pics)

Pounded, filled and rolled. Nobody seems to sell baking string,  so I had to use rather dangerous-looking combination of toothpicks to hold them together. Thankfully, all were accounted for later and we didn't eat one accidentally… 

Be warned, though – removing toothpicks from hot meat is actually a little painful.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Chocolate strawberry shortcake

Going by Nat King Cole’s apt description of summer days, ours have been more crazy and hazy than lazy this year. But, after a spate of cloudy and humid weekends, the first sight of sun on a Saturday meant a sumptuous summer fruit dessert was needed. Maybe it’s more of my New England baking reflex talking, but there’s just something about having a dish that involves sugar and berries in-hand to truly enjoy a warm summer afternoon.

In the end, by the time my choco-fied version of strawberry shortcakes cooled down enough to glaze, then set long enough for the glaze to harden, the sun had gone in and the heavens had opened. The British summer strikes again! Oh well, the backyard will have to wait another week to be mowed, but chocolate-strawberry goodness can be enjoyed rain or shine.

Chocolate scones (makes 6-7)
1/3 cup (75g) butter, softened
1¾ cups (220g) flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup (32g) baking cocoa
¾ cup (175ml) milk

  1. Preheat oven to 450F/220C.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Cut in the butter, and use your hands to work it in until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
  3. Stir in the baking cocoa, then the milk. Add a little more flour if necessary to create a firm dough.
  4. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface, and knead for about 30 seconds. Roll or pat the dough to ½in (just over 1cm) thick.
  5. Cut out the scones with a 3in (7.5cm) round cutter. Place each one about 1in (2.5cm) away from each other on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake 10-12 minutes. The scones should have risen, the outsides should look fully baked and the insides should be soft but not doughy.
  7. Cool on a wire rack. Don’t start making the glaze until the scones have cooled completely.

Chocolate glaze
4 squares (30g) of baking chocolate
2 tablespoons (28g) butter
2 tablespoons sugar
½ tablespoon water

Melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat (or in a bowl suspended over a pot of boiling water), then stir in the sugar and water. Keep stirring frequently for about two minutes, or until all ingredients have dissolved and the mixture has become a thick, smooth syrup.
Cool for about 10-15 minutes. Spoon over the top of each cooled scone, letting it drizzle down the sides.

Strawberry sauce
Around 3 cups of strawberries, chopped (apologies to gram users – I forgot to weigh out this one, but I used a whole punnet of strawberries from the supermarket)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon corn starch
2/3 cup (150g) sugar
Pinch of salt

Squish down the strawberries slightly with the back of a spoon or potato masher, to release the juices and create a smoother sauce (the more you mash them, the smoother the sauce will be). Add the rest of the ingredients, and stir over medium heat until the mixture boils. Remove from heat, and cool completely.

To make up the shortcakes...
Cut one scone (warm or cool) in half , pour some strawberry sauce over it, and serve. Top with whipped cream, if desired.