chocolate almond clusters

5 Dec 2016

I've been so busy at work during the week and busy during the weekend baking for Christmas week when Saturday arrived I'd completely forgotten I needed to make something for the blog for Monday. I looked through the cupboards and looked to the internet for inspiration.

Each year at Christmas I like to make home made goodies to give to my neighbours and workmates. I'd planned to make peppermint bark, as that's always popular and an Ottolenghi cookie recipe but I when I came upon this recipe for almond ginger clusters, I figured I could easily add a third item as I had everything I needed in the pantry.

The original recipe was made using ginger. Not every-one is a fan of crystallised ginger so I decided to make 3 different clusters. I made one batch with dried apricots; the second batch with sour cherries and the third batch with chopped crystallised ginger.

I made the toasted almonds earlier in the day and I figure I ate a quarter of the almond mixture as it was so yummy. The recipe was supposed to make 36 clusters but I could only get 33 from the mixture. I wonder how that could have happened?

I have so many blocks of chocolate in my fridge so I used a mixture of what was there - 70% cocoa with sea salt, 70% cocoa without sea salt and a small quantity of 45% cocoa chocolate. As we've now headed into summer in Sydney, there was no way these clusters would set without refrigeration. They needed about 20 minutes. By the time I finished making the 3 batches my t-shirt was covered with chocolate. I am such a messy cook.

Here's the recipe for you and please note, I use a 250ml cup and a 20ml tablespoon.

Chocolate Almond Clusters – makes 33
180g (6ozslivered almonds 
30g (1ozicing sugar 
1½ tablespoons golden syrup 
1 tablespoon water 
90g (3ozdried or candied fruits, chopped finely. I used 30g each of dried apricots, sour cherries and ginger 
340g (12ozgood quality dark chocolate 60-70% cocoa 

Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF. Combine almonds, sugar, golden syrup and water in a small bowl, mixing until sugar dissolves. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and spread nut mixture into a thin, even layer covering the entire sheet. Toast for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the almonds are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on rack. 

When cooled to room temperature, crumble any chunks and combine with the chopped dried fruit in a small bowl. I made 3 different fruit clusters, so I separated the almond mixture into 3 small bowls. Into one bowl I placed the chopped ginger; into the second bowl went the sour cherries and in the 3rd bowl the dried apricots.  

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over low heat or in the microwave, stirring until smooth. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Into each small bowl combine 1/3 of the chocolate and mix until uniformly coated with chocolate. Use 2 teaspoons (I used my cookie scoop) to form into 1-inch mounds. Work quickly so chocolate does not set before clusters are formed. Repeat with remaining chocolate and almond mixtures. 

Cool until set then store in an airtight container in the fridge.  As an alternative, all of the chocolate and almond mixture can be combined at one time and spread onto the parchment lined sheet pan. Break into bite size pieces after chocolate has solidified.

I'm planning to include a few of each flavour in a little cello goodie bag. I decorated each set of clusters so I'd know which one was which. There are sea salt flakes on the apricot clusters, finely sliced ginger on the ginger clusters and you guessed, it a sliver of sour cherry on the sour cherry clusters. 

See you all again next week.

Bye for now,


a sydney wander - summers floral

1 Dec 2016

Last weekend I was driving home following a spot of Christmas shopping and after a slow trip from the North Shore I decided to make a detour to Woollahra. I parked the car and walked to Summers Floral, one of my favourite flower shops, for a dose of prettiness.

Summers Floral is housed in a beautiful old building on the corner of Queen and Moncur Streets.

There was beauty every-where I looked, both indoors and outdoors.

Some of my favourite succulents.

It was even better when I made my way indoors. How gorgeous are these hydrangeas?

And these beauties.

Hands down these were my favourites. Isn't that orchid an amazing colour?

And those roses? Sublime.

I walked by this cheerful front door on the way back to my car. Many years ago I lived in Woollahra and I'd forgotten how much I like the area.

I hoped you enjoyed my little wander around Woollahra.

I have a big weekend of baking ahead so see you all again next week.

Bye for now,


sourdough fruit buns

28 Nov 2016

I've always been a firm believer in the old adage, if at first you don't succeed then try, try again. This is the third time I've made these delicious fruit buns. The recipe isn't the problem, I just couldn't get them to brown in my new oven.

While looking at sourdough recipes on the internet, I saw lots of people advocated baking their bread in a covered dutch oven. I have 2 covered dishes so I wondered if it were possible to bake the fruit buns the same way. I figured the only way to find out was to give it a go.

I made the ferment 2 days before using it and the dough 36 hours before baking to help develop the sourness in the dough. Once the buns were shaped I transferred them to a baking paper lined low cast iron casserole dish then covered it for the first rise.

I baked the buns on the lowest rack in my oven, covered for 15 minutes then uncovered for 15 minutes. The end result - perfectly baked fruit buns. They smelt and tasted divine fresh from the oven topped with butter and jam.

If you don't have a low covered casserole dish I'm sure using a baking paper lined cast iron skillet or a pizza tray covered with a metal bowl would work.

Here's the recipe for you, adapted from this Mike McEnearney recipe. For all my recipes, I use a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon. The eggs I use are 60 grams and my oven is a conventional gas oven not fan forced, so you may need to reduce your oven temperature by 20°C.

Sourdough Fruit Buns - makes 12. You'll need to begin this recipe 2-3 days ahead

Yeast Ferment
65g bread and pizza flour
¼ tsp instant yeast
2½ tbs warm water

Bun Dough
500 g bread and pizza flour
370 mls lukewarm water
2 tsp fine salt
100 g each sultanas and currants
200 mls boiling water
1 Earl Grey tea bag
2½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp each ground allspice and cloves
Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Easy glaze
¼ tsp gelatine
2 tbs strained orange juice
1 tbs sugar

To serve
Butter and jam

For the yeast ferment combine the flour, yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside overnight to ferment. If you prefer a sourer tasting bun, return the ferment to the fridge for another 24 hours.

When you’re ready to make the buns gradually combine flour with 370 mls lukewarm water in a bowl. Slowly add to the yeast ferment and combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes to rest. Add the salt and gently knead in the bowl until the salt is incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for a further 30 minutes to rest. Working in the bowl, slightly stretch out one quarter of the dough and fold towards the middle, then take the opposite side and fold into the middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees and repeat with the remaining sides to complete a total of 4 folds. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for a further 30 minutes. Repeat the folding and resting sequence 2 more times.

Meanwhile place the dried fruit, tea bag and 200 mls boiling water in a bowl. Set aside for 2 hours or until fruit is plump. Remove tea bag and drain fruit well discarding the liquid. Add the spices, zest and fruit to the dough and knead until evenly distributed. At this stage I put the dough back into the fridge, covered the bowl and left it overnight.

The next day remove the dough from the fridge and set it aside to rest in a warm place for 2-3 hours or until risen by one-third. Turn out dough onto a floured work surface. Knead for 1 minute, and then divide into 12 equal pieces (about 100g each). Use your hand to roll each piece on the work surface to form a round bun. Place buns close together on a baking dish lined with baking paper that has a close fitting lid. I used my Le Creuset covered casserole dish. Cover the dish with the lid and refrigerate overnight to ferment.

The next day, remove the buns from the fridge. Stand at room temperature for 1 hour or until slightly risen and soft to the touch.

Preheat oven to 220ºC (conventional). Place the covered dish into the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the buns have risen slightly. Remove the cover from the dish, raise the oven temperature to 240ºC and bake for a further 10- 15 minutes or until dark golden.

Meanwhile while the buns are in the oven, make the glaze. Sprinkle the gelatine over the orange juice in a small saucepan until softened, then dissolve over a low heat. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.

Remove the buns from the oven and then slide the baking paper and buns onto a wire rack. Brush hot cross buns with glaze and stand the buns in a warm place, such as near the opened door of the turned-off oven. This will help to set the glaze. Serve warm with butter and jam.

Christmas is just around the corner. Last weekend I started baking for Christmas Week, starting Monday December 19. There will be 5 days of Christmas baking featuring both desserts and festive bread recipes. I spent most of Saturday making the family Christmas pudding and Sunday I made an absolute showstopper of a cake.

I hope you're looking forward to this annual event.

See you all again next week.

By for now,

morello cherry bundt cake

21 Nov 2016

Flicking through a magazine a few months back I saw a recipe for a sour cherry and lemon butter cake. I thought that sounded like a tasty combination so last week I decided to make my own morello cherry version topped with lemon flavoured glacé icing.

A few months back I bought a bottle of morello cherries when I planned to make a sour cherry and cream cheese babka. That never happened so the bottle's stayed unopened in the cupboard ever since. I adapted the Gretta Anna plum cake recipe that I've been making for years. Instead of topping the cake batter with sliced plums, I folded the sour cherries through the batter.

I really like old fashioned butter cakes and so do my workmates. I had some leftover buttermilk so I used that to make the cake and flavoured the batter with grated lemon rind. You could use vanilla and cinnamon as flavourings if your prefer.

This butter cake is very moist so the fruit always sinks to the bottom of the cake. That's great when you use a regular round tin but not so pretty when you use a bundt tin. I also had no idea how many cherries to add to the cake batter so I used just under a cup of drained cherries. Some I left whole whilst some I halved as quite a few of cherries in the bottle still had pits left inside.

If you'd like to make the recipe, I use a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon. The eggs I use are 60 grams and my oven is a conventional gas oven not fan forced, so you may need to reduce your oven temperature by 20°C. 

This recipe makes a small bundt cake or a 17cm round cake. If you'd like to make a large bundt cake or a 23 cm/9 inch cake just double all the cake ingredients. You may need to bake the 9 inch cake for a little longer than the bundt cake. The quantity of icing will be sufficient for a large bundt cake.

Morello Cherry Bundt Cake
125 grams unsalted butter
⅔ cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
2 eggs
1 cup self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ cup almond meal
¼ cup buttermilk
⅔ cup well drained morello cherries

Glace Icing
1 cup sifted icing sugar
Lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to moderate (180°C/160°C fan-forced). Generously grease a small bundt tin or 17 cm round cake tin with butter and then finish with a dusting of flour.

2. To make the cake, cream the butter, sugar and rind together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until combined well. Sift the flour and baking powder into a small and stir in the almond meal. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk to make a soft batter. Gently fold through the cherries.

3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, gently smoothing the surface.

4. Bake for about 35-45 minutes or until the cake is well risen, the top is golden and the cakes tests ‘cooked’ when tested with a skewer.

5. Allow the cake to cool for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

6. When the cake is cool either dust the top of the cake with the icing sugar or drizzle with the glacé icing.

In a small bowl, combine the icing sugar with a little lemon juice to form a thick icing. Drizzle over the cooled cake.

Store the cake in a cake tin for up to 5 days but it won't last that long!

I took the cake into work and it disappeared in a flash so it would seem that morello cherries and lemon are a winning combination.

See you all again next week.

Bye for now.



gordon's bay - a sydney wander

17 Nov 2016

I feel so blessed living in Sydney. I live near the city centre with beaches and parks just a short distance away. So last Sunday I drove over to Coogee to visit Gordon's Bay, part of the Coastal Walk.

I'm an early riser so I left my place nice and early. When I arrived, it was only 6.45 a.m and the place was heaving with joggers and walkers. 

Sydney people are obviously crazy about health and fitness. Whatever happened to a good old fashioned Sunday morning lie-in?

I took the short but steep downhill walk to the bay. What I hadn't realised was how many dogs also take the walk. Judging by the number of puppies who made a beeline straight into the water, this is a very popular doggie beach.

As the doggiest of dog people this image makes my heart sing. These 2 puppies enjoying a frolic in the bay were called Daisy and Sally. Sally was very obedient. Daisy less so.

The sun was still high in the sky but I managed to get this image. The wooden boat ramps are such a feature of Gordon's Bay.

Another view of the bay taken before I climbed back up the hill to where I'd parked the car. I found all kinds of amazing banksias in the surrounding streets. 

I hope you enjoyed my wander around Gordon's Bay.

See you all again next week.  

Bye for now,


pumpkin swirl cheesecake

14 Nov 2016

I haven't made cheesecake in ages and with Thanksgiving Day just around the corner, I knew I wanted to incorporate pumpkin into the cheesecake.

I still had some pumpkin in the fridge leftover from the pumpkin pie, so I oven roasted a chunk to make the puree.

I looked online and found images of a pumpkin swirl cheesecake that looked nice so that's what I decided to make. 

I borrowed the idea from Martha Stewart; adapted the base and pumpkin filling from Rose Levy Beranbaum and used my own cheesecake filling. I kept my fingers crossed that the 3 different elements would work together.

Aren't the cookies cute? I was a bit distracted while putting the filling together so the 2 tsp of rum in the filling absentmindedly became 3 tsp of rum. It definitely added a kick to the cheesecake.

Even after 70 minutes of baking and chilling in the fridge for a day this is a gently set cheesecake. The quantity of filling would probably fit better into an 8 inch springform tin but you'd need to increase the base recipe by another 50% to cover the base of the tin. Otherwise double everything to make a splendid 9 inch/23 cm cake.

You don't need to decorate the cheesecake but I thought it would be nice topped with some softly whipped cream and a handful of coarsely chopped maple glazed pecans.

If you'd like to make the recipe, I use a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon. All eggs are 60 grams and my oven is a conventional gas oven not fan forced, so you may need to reduce your oven temperature by 20°C.

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake 17cm springform pan
60g Spekulatius cookies or gingersnaps, crumbled
30g toasted pecan halves
½ tbs sugar
Pinch salt
30g unsalted butter, melted

½ cup pumpkin puree
2 tbs brown sugar
500g cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup caster sugar + 1 tbs
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tbs cream, sour cream or Greek yoghurt
1 tbs plain flour
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp rum

Maple Glazed Pecans
¼ cup of whole pecans
1-2 tbs maple syrup

Whipped cream and maple glazed pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line the base of a 17cm springform pan with baking paper. In a food processor, combine the crumbled biscuits, pecans, sugar and salt and process until fine crumbs form, about 20 seconds. Add the melted butter and pulse just until incorporated, about 10 times. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom of pan. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack to cool completely.

In a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stir together the pumpkin and brown sugar and bring the mixture to a simmer and cook stirring constantly, until thick and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes. Set to one side to cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 170°C. Wrap exterior of 17cm springform pan containing crust with a double layer of foil then boil the kettle. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cream cheese, caster sugar, salt, vanilla, cream and flour; beat until well combined. Add eggs, processing until just combined.

Remove 200 mls of the mixture and transfer to a bowl; add the cooled pumpkin puree and the rum, and mix until well combined. Pour half of the remaining cream cheese filling over the crust. Using about half the pumpkin mixture, dollop over the top of the cream cheese filling. Gently pour the remaining cheesecake mixture over the top. Dollop the rest of the pumpkin mix over the top of the cheesecake then using a skewer or toothpick, swirl into filling.

Set springform pan inside a large, shallow roasting pan. Carefully pour boiling water into roasting pan to reach halfway up side of springform pan. Bake until cake is set but still slightly wobbly in centre, about 75 minutes. Turn the oven off before removing the springform pan from the water bath, then transferring to a wire rack; carefully remove the foil from the tin then return the cheesecake to the switched off oven for an hour. Remove the cheesecake from the oven then let cool completely. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 24 hours. 

To unmould the cheesecake, wipe the sides of the pan with a dish towel that you’ve run under hot water and wrung out. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen the cheesecake before unmoulding and then carefully remove the side of the pan. Next time I’d line the whole tin with baking paper to make the unmoulding process a whole lot easier.

Just before serving, decorate with whipped cream and coarsely chopped maple glazed pecans.

Maple Glazed Pecans
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Toss the pecans in maple syrup then spread out over a baking paper lined tray. Bake the pecans in the oven for about 10 minutes, turning the pecans over about half through the cooking process. Allow the pecans to cool completely (the maple syrup caramelises during the cooking process so is very hot) before removing from the tray. Store the candied pecans in an airtight container.

Did the 3 elements tie together? Did they ever. I have to say, the cheesecake was a bit fiddly to make but it was absolutely delicious.

I've been thinking about Christmas week. Normally I have a theme for my Christmas baking but I'm struggling to come up with one this year. If you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them. Either email me directly or post a comment. Thanks for your help.

See you all again later in the week,

Bye for now,


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