Saturday, 31 May 2008

Best Brioche ever…

…says Melissa of Traveler’s Lunchbox. And I can’t tell you how right she is. When I saw her recipe for the first time – in August 2006 – I knew I had to make it some day. Due to its rather elaborate nature…well, let’s not make excuses. Fact is that this particular recipe sounded so promising that it would pop up in my memory every now and then, reminding me of “You need to make this”. And this can’t be said of all the recipes I’ve saved over the years.

I’ve always been in love with all sorts of yeast dough, especially when having it for breakfast with a thick smear of butter and creamy honey on top. Funny enough, until today I had never made a real brioche. However, a similarbreakfast treat always was kind of a by-product when churning out trays full of sweat yeast dough covered in fruit and streusel.

Only once per year we would eat something bakery-bought that’s similar to brioche – it’s called “Spitzl”, a regional specialty known only in the Upper Palatinate (of course, this is a severe case of "same same but different" as these kinds of sweet yeast bread exist allover Europe - but let's not digress). The sweet yeast bread I'm talking about is rich, soft, and speckled with raisins. It's traditionally a present from godfather or godmother to their respective godchild given on All Saints’ Day. Naturally, the one who got the longest braid (up to a meter or so) would have the coolest godmother or godfather of all.

Whilst I wouldn’t say that the taste of these braids surpassed the flavour of our home-made goods, they had one big advantage: Their texture was singularly beautiful – when pulling apart or biting into it, the bread would separate into long strands rather than small crumbs. For some reason that was unknown to me back then, I was never able to achieve this superior texture when baking at home.

Hence my enthusiasm when I saw Melissa's recipe claiming to have solved the mystery. I followed her instructions to the t which resulted in the most shiny, satiny, velvety smooth, and super-elastic yeast dough I’ve ever made. By the way, her technique of browning the butter with the specks of two vanilla beans filled the entire kitchen with such an enticing smell that I could hardly hold myself back - all I wanted was diving right into that perfumed butter, with a big spoon, that's how good it was.

Luckily, I managed not to do anything silly and, the next day, pulled two shiny, golden brown loaves out of the oven. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me and had to wait a day before taking pictures. As Melissa says, the brioche is best eaten on the day it is made, and the texture will change with time. That's why the photo above doesn't really show these sublime strands of dough anymore. But I swear they were there - just go and try for yourself!

PS: Although this brioche isn't my regular breakfast fare, I wish it was and that's why I submit it to Bread Baking Day #10 - a food blogging event invented by Zorra and this month hosted by BakingASweetLife.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Daring Bakers do Opera Cake...

...even if it doesn't look like one... Finally, I've been able to participate once again in one of the Daring Bakers' Challenges - and what a challenge! This time, it wasn't nothing less than the classic opera cake that we had to try our hands on. Usually I would shy away from butter cream laden desserts, however, when I saw this challenge I knew instantly who to feed it to. This month, my now-husband was finishing the four-year trial called PhD and I had planned on baking cake for his research lab to eat after the public thesis defence. This super rich recipe seemed to be exactly the thing if you want to feed loads of people (but to be sure I made a red wine dark chocolate cake as well - these engineers can eat a lot).

I started with the joconde two days before - after all, I couldn't risk running late and keeping him awake while trying to finish it. The recipe worked like a charm and now I know which one to choose if I ever try again to make a Swiss roll (my one and only attempt resulted in a totally broken sponge base). The only tricky part was dividing the batter evenly as I didn't have two baking sheets. If trying again, I would probably try to get this unbelievable elastic joconde even thinner for three layers.
To moisten, I used a cointreau-flavoured syrup following the Daring Bakers' recipe.

For the filling I wanted to make a Swiss meringue butter cream, simply because I don't own a sugar thermometer and this variation seemed to be the easiest of butter creams. Luckily, again with a little cointreau as flavouring, it also turned out to be the tastiest butter cream I've ever had (and I normally don't like any of them). This recipe was easy to follow and easy to scale down to 20 per cent which all went on the first layer.

Although I would never want to eat white chocolate on its own, I love white chocolate mousse and the one from the Daring Bakers' recipe was no exception. I doubled the original amounts and used it all to cover the whole cake. As my filling to cake ratio was a bit off the mark, I decided to only pipe some of the white chocolate glaze on top instead of covering the cake or it would have been too sweet for me (besides, my glaze turned out rather stiff anyway).

Only much later (and despite reading the recipe several times) it dawned on me why my concoction wasn't looking like an opera cake at all - I had forgotten to cut the joconde properly to make a smaller cake with three layers! Too bad but I know that I wouldn't have been able to cut dainty, slim slices anyway. While cutting away, T was being questioned by his reviewers and although I was sure that he would pass the whole thing splendidly (which he did), I was the nervous one of us both (so nervous in fact that I couldn't get a decent photo). Well, better this way than the other way round...

Anyway, everyone loved this opera cake despite its homely appearance. Here you can see what it should have been looking like. Check out the recipe at the host's and the two co-hosts' blogs as well as the results of all the Daring Bakers members! This month's DB edition is dedicated to Barbara of Winos and Foodies and her event The Taste of Yellow in order to promote Lance Armstrong's LiveSTRONG foundation - that's why we changed from the traditional coffee-dark-chocolate opera to this light-coloured version!

Saturday, 24 May 2008

My first wedding..;-)

Ok, I freely admit that it took only two requests for me to gladly display some of my wedding photos. It's already one month later and I still can't wipe this big smile off my face..;-)

The only drawback was that none of our families could come down under. However, we'll have another - bigger - church wedding back in Germany in a couple of months. Therefore, with only a couple of close friends, this celebration was quite different from your regular wedding (if there's such a thing at all). I simply loved its hand-made, improvised feel.

Originally we had planned to get married directly on the beach so we booked holiday houses in a lovely small town called Copacabana Beach up the Central Coast. However, due to this year's rather cold and rainy autumn in Australia, the place didn't quite live up to its name and we opted for a more sheltered spot at the local lagoon. It still provides you with a view of the beach and plus the added benefit of an awesome sunset over the lagoon - if you're lucky, that is. Alas, the weather held up only for as long as we were posing for the formal shots. Just before the ceremony was about to start, we again had to swap locations - and the whole bridal party simply jumped the fence (ok, it was only a little wall, about one foot high) that surrounded the veranda of a nearby empty holiday house (we did knock on the window to check though). This lovely veranda provided a roof so we stayed all dry and could have some Sparkling Shiraz while listening to a saxophone player as planned.
We have no clue on whose property we got married in the end but we plan to go back there one day and rent this rather lovely house for an anniversary weekend...

But maybe now I should start from the beginning as our wedding was the affair of a whole weekend: We wanted to get away from Sydney to a more secluded spot and quickly decided on a full weekend - to make it worth it. T and I arrived on the Friday afternoon in Copacabana Beach, frantically collecting keys for three houses and just making it in time to our rehearsal with the marriage celebrant. Then our guests started to trickle in and the celebration began already, fuelled by a whole vat of home brewed beer courtesy of our friends George and Nadia. I kept running back and forth to accommodate all our 30 guests in the different places, we cooked loads of spaghetti to feed everyone - and then I decided that I need to relax and went back to the house I was sleeping in. My friends Romina and Nora took care that I started to relax by giving me a foot massage and hot milo as a night cap - aaahhh, I could have that everyday...

The next day, whilst most of our guests explored the area, went for a run along the beach or simply chilled out, I set to work to assemble the wedding cake, a Black Forest Cake. I had made the genoise two days in advance but it still took me a while to make syrup, cherry filling, and cover it all in whipped cream - I'm certainly no good at cake decorating. Anyway, after that was done, it was time to slow down, let the hair dresser do her thing and have a sip of champagne with my girlfriends. And in case anyone wondered - I did eat something during my wedding day..;-)

In fact, I managed to stay calm most of the time - until about five minutes before T was about to pick me up. What if he didn't like the way I looked (admittedly quite different from my everyday look)? Wouldn't that spoil the whole day or maybe even make him change his mind - well, luckily I only had a couple of minutes to spend on such nonsense... Of course it was all good, and when walking towards the location of our wedding, we had the rare sensation of practically everyone, regardless of age, looking at us, cheering and waving. The people in Copacabana Beach were so nice; some even offered us a ride in their car as it had started to drizzle.

Luckily, our friend Alex who took the official photos, managed to get lots of wonderful shots before it started to rain in earnest. And with a little spontaneity, all was fine and the wedding could go ahead. Afterwards we went back to the biggest of our three houses where the reception was being held. More sparkling red was drunk, lots of nibbles were eaten, and several speeches were given which made this occasion even a little more special for us. Then the main course (different spit roasts, roast vegetables, salads, and jacket potatoes) was being served by the caterer (food was a little so-so, unfortunately, we weren't able to taste-test beforehand and had to trust a recommendation). However, for a sweet-tooth like me this was all being eclipsed by the wedding cake anyway..;-)

The big advantage of a small wedding is that you really get to speak to your guests - so we talked, and ate, and drank until the wee hours of morning. The next day, T and I slept in whilst our guests took care of cooking a big Aussie breakfast on the BBQ for everyone. Then we all helped together to clean-up and the guests started to depart one by one. T and I spent the afternoon with a few friends in one of the surrounding national parks and then headed back to Sydney for a quiet end to our eventful wedding weekend.

I often wondered what would be different after getting married - if anything would change or nothing at all. Meanwhile, my life has gone back to normal but so far, the marital bliss hasn't worn out yet!

PS: Many thanks to my parents who made it possible for us to have not only one wedding but two!

PPS: Several people tried to count afterwards - I think the most reliable number was 30 guests representing 11 different nations (and that's not counting in all the Aussies with mixed parentage) - a lovely mixed crowd - and that's really what Australia stands for, in my eyes!

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Time to change...

... and to catch up on homework - to say the least! Whilst I'm busy pondering about how to give this blog a different look before (hopefully) resuming my usual blogging routine, it's high time that I display all the wonderful badges I've been given over the last few months! This post is going to get a permanent home in the sidebar under "Fame and (no) Fortune".

Just around the time when my blog turned one year old, I got this wonderful birthday present: My dear friend and fellow blogger Nora of Life's Smorgasbord awarded me this yummy badge for being a 'droolworthy blogger'. Thank you, Nora!

Only a little later, I was thrilled to win in several categories of Jugalbandi's Click event: My photo of floating noodles won in 'originality', made the overall second place, and got the much appreciated readers' choice award. I couldn't have been happier about the outcome!

Earlier this year, Margot of Coffee&Vanilla nominated me for the 'inspiring food photography' award, and lucky me - I won the public online poll! Now I can proudly display this lovely badge, makes me want to start baking right now..;-)

Around the same time, I was lucky enough to win one of the host awards at the DoesMyBlogLookGoodInThis competition. Jennifer of Bake or Break liked my soft pretzels, and I'm so glad she did! I just hope to bake more, photograph more, and blog more, so I can enter this amazing competition again.

And last but not least, it's time to proudly display my Daring Baker's badge - check out the amazing number of daring bakers worldwide!