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I will be blogging again after another long hiatus at: everybody needs a hobby. Please come visit if you would like to see what I have been up to in the kitchen.


Merry Christmas: Pain d’amande Cookies

 Back in my familiar kitchen after a long hiatus, I have been getting into the Christmas spirit by baking cookies. The house has been smelling of toasty nuts, cinnamon and caramel for days and I love it. For me baking is something that I don't even realise I had been missing until I get back into it and remember how much fun it is. 

This year's selection of cookies were: peanut butter sandwich cookies, brown sugar and brown butter sandwich cookies and these pain d'amande cookies. Of the three the pain d'amande cookies were my favourite so I'm sharing them on my blog today. These cookies are impressively thin, snappy and full of toasty sliced almonds, an ideal accompaniment to a fruity sorbet or a plate of summer berries and cream as befitting a southern hemisphere Christmas.

Pain d'amande cookies
From Sweet Miniatures by Flo Braker

115g butter
300g raw, large crystal sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
80mL water
325g flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
85g sliced almonds

1. Melt the butter over low heat with the sugar, cinnamon, and water. Stir gently until the butter is just melted, the goal is to prevent the sugar from dissolving too much.

2. Remove from heat and stir in the flour, baking soda, and almonds until well mixed.

3. Line a 23cm loaf pan with clingfilm and press the dough into the pan so the top is smooth. Chill until firm - I found that the flavour of the baked cookie improved after 2-3 days in the fridge.

4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. 

5. Using a sharp, serrated knife, slice the dough, as thin as possible, into rectangles. The ideal firmness for the dough is the point where it 'slices like fudge' according to Flo Braker.

6. Space the cookies 3cm apart on baking paper lined baking sheets and bake for 10 min minutes, or until the cookies feel slightly firm and the undersides are golden brown. Flip the cookies over and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, until the cookies are crisp. Baking times depend on the thinness of your cookies.

Cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.


Because you can't physically put love in a box: white chocolate oat cookies

I am not so good at letting people know that I care, sometimes I can't find the words to say how I feel. Thank goodness for baking. If you have received baking from me, it means all sorts of good things.

I made these cookies for some friends in another town who had a tough week coming up. Cramming for scary exams is so much nicer when you're able to take cookie breaks I reckon. I really wanted these to turn out perfectly so I used every cookie trick I know, allowing the dough to mature for a couple of days, making the cookies on the biggish side and tapping the middle of the cookies with a back of a spoon when they emerge from the oven.

The result was crispy-chewy, nutty and caramel flavoured cookies which I sent to my friends by courier and I am told they were enjoyed by all who encountered them. Sending baking care packages is almost as fun as receiving them, if you have someone in need of cookies on your mind, why not whip up a batch of these and send some warm fuzzies their way?

White chocolate oat cookies
from smitten kitchen

I omitted the sprinkle of salt as I used salted butter and I let the dough mature in the fridge for 3 days prior to baking, otherwise I followed the recipe and found it to be dead simple with amazing results.

1c plain flour
3/4tsp baking powder
1/2tsp baking soda
1/4tsp table salt
200g butter, slightly softened
1c sugar
1/4c packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2c old-fashioned rolled oats (I used instant oats because that is all I had)
150g good-quality white chocolate bar, chopped (I used Green and Black's)

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees celsius. Line baking sheet with baking paper. 
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and table salt in a  bowl.
3. Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Then mix in egg and vanilla
4. Add flour mixture gradually and mix until just combined. Gradually stir in oats and white chocolate.
5. Roll the dough into balls about 2Tb in size. Place them on the baking sheet, about 5cm apart. Flatten the balls down to about 2cm thickness.
6. Bake until cookies are deep golden brown, about 13 to 16 minutes. Straight after removing the cookies from the oven, tap their middles with the back of a spoon to flatten. Leave on the sheet for 2 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

I am told these cookies were still good upto 3 days after baking. None survived until day 4.

Do it yourself: pierogi

I love that food blogs introduce me to food and flavours that I am yet to try but equally it is sometimes frustrating to know about foods that are unobtainable where I live but delicious sounding. This includes most international dishes, anything molecular gastronomy, exotic fruits and elaborate baked goods. I remember yearning for macarons, imagining what bahn mi would taste like and frantically searching for Mexican-Korean fusion recipes on the internet. It is quite sad to watch, I'm sure. 

For the longest time I've wanted to try pierogis, dumplings with potato and cheese on the inside - why are they not the most popular food in the world? Unfortunately I don't have any sources of store-bought pierogi over here. This post caused me to finally crack and make the damned things myself.

The process was surprisingly easy, the dough was a joy to handle and the number - fifty dumplings - was quite manageable.  I made the potato and cheese filling this time but next time I will try the green onion filling suggested in the post, it sounds awesomely flavourful. I was beyond pleased with the way my pierogi turned out though, and the fact that I now have like, thirty pierogi in my freezer for midnight and other snacking purposes makes me happier than a squirrel with a tree full of nuts.

Pierogi - boiled then fried in butter

I recommend that you follow the directions in the link above, as this is a relatively long recipe that would not fare well with my slap-dash method of giving instructions.


Things that go crunch: chouquettes

Chouquettes are cute little balls of choux with a sugar topping, combining the ethereal hollowness of choux pastry with the satisfying crunch of sugar crystals. These ones have the added charm of a sugar syrup glaze, which turns into a thin layer of crisp caramel in the oven, it is downright magical. They are really addictive and if you don't keep count you can end up eating the ones you were planning on giving away - yes that did happen to me.

These little guys also turned out to be my most successful attempt at choux pastry, I think the step I finally got right is really letting the dough dry out in the step after adding the flour, about 3-4 more minutes after I thought the dough was starting to come together. This choux success makes me want to try my hand at croquembouche.

I did make 1 major substitution to the original recipe - I couldn't find the pearl sugar called for, so I just used the chunkiest sugar I could find. I think it is meant to be for coffee and also that it looks like drugs.


yield: about 40 chouquettes

75g butter
1/4tsp salt
25g white sugar
240mL water
140g plain flour
4 eggs, room temperature
Pearl sugar or a suitable alternative for sprinkling 

2Tb white sugar
2Tb water 

1. Combine the butter, salt, sugar and 240mL of water in a saucepan at medium heat, bring to a simmer.
2. Remove the pan from heat and mix in the flour until well blended.
3. Bring back to medium-low heat until the mixture forms a smooth ball of dough - it took me about 5 minutes. Cool for 3 minutes.
4. Mix in the eggs one at a time.
5. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. Combine the second measure of sugar and water in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 1 minute. This is the sugar syrup for brushing the chouquettes.
7. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and sprinkle with the pearl or other sugar.
8. Use a piping bag with a plain tip or 2 teaspoons to dole out walnut-sized peices of dough on the baking sheet. Leave about 2-3cm between them.
9. Brush the dough with syrup and sprinkle on more of the topping sugar.
10. Bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn off the oven and open the door a fraction and leave for 5 minutes.
11. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.


Oh gluttony: baked cheesecake

Cheesecake is awesome, but objectively it is a terrible terrible food and to me symbolises the whole 'this is why you're fat' aspect of Western diets. Cream cheese, cookies, butter, sugar, eggs - even as a treat it is not an easy food to justify. Not that I don't eat it, it just scares me a bit.

triumphant exit from the oven

What's worse is when you decide that cheesecake consumption is in order, buy a slice and discover it to be a subpar, gummy forkful of disappointment. You end up eating it anyway because by that point you're so depressed that you don't care that you're consuming a huge number of unnecessary and not delicious calories. With homemade cheesecakes, this is never a problem, so make your own!

This is my basic cheesecake recipe that can be dressed up in any number of variations: different fruit toppings, chocolate and vanilla swirl, different cookies for the crust - all ways to make a new and exciting cheesecake each time. I notice that using a waterbath results in a much creamier texture and fewer cracks so always opt to use that technique. To avoid the leaky cake tin phenomenon, I use a one-piece cake tin that I line with baking paper so that the cheesecake can be pulled out after baking.

The most recent version I made used coconut cookies for the crust, lots of vanilla for a noticeably vanilla flavoured cream cheese layer and an orange and passionfruit gel topping - I was aiming to create layers of tropical flavours.

Basic baked cheesecake
makes 1x 20cm round cheesecake , about 7cm in height

150g cookie crumbs
86g butter

2x 250g bricks of cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3c white sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2tsp vanilla extract
finely grated zest of 1 lemon (optional)

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees celsius and if you want to try out my method, prepare a 20cm round cake tin like so:

that's 4 strips of baking paper to make handles and a round of paper on top of that
1. Mix together the cookie crumbs and butter and press into the baking tin.
2. Beat the cream cheese with electric beaters until smooth. Gradually beat in the sugar, zest and vanilla, then the eggs one at a time.
3. Spread the cheese mixture on top of the crust.
4. Place the baking tin into a larger oven-proof vessel, I use a jelly roll tin. Carefully pour water into the larger vessel so that the water level reaches about 1cm from the top of the tin with the cake in it.
5. Cover the cheesecake with a tinfoil roof, ensuring that the surface of the cake does not touch the foil.
6. Bake for 40min. After 40min, turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake in the oven with the door slightly ajar for 1hr to avoid cracking on the surface.
7. After an hour, remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow to cool completely before running a knife around the edge of the cake to loosed it, then pull it out using the baking paper handles - this is much easier with 4 hands rather than 2.
8. Flavour using whatever topping you desire.


Review: New Vietnam Cafe

I think it is about time I back to work with this blog, I had a bit of a mishap where I lost hundreds of my to-be-posted photos which floored me for awhile but I am ready to start anew at last.

I learnt about the existence of New Vietnam Cafe in the unlikeliest of places, the free monthly 'lifestyle' magazine, the kind where the most riveting reading can be found in the real estate adds and the rest of the content is filler between vouchers for discounted tyres and such. Anyway, it was a review of this new local Vietnamese restaurant and I knew that I would have to make a visit soon when I read that they made Vietnamese sandwiches (bánh mì sandwiches). I was in love with the concept of Vietnamese sandwiches even before I ate my first one: crusty bread, sweet-sour pickles, creamy pate and aromatic meat/other proteins. It's like United Nations flavoured party in your mouth. The only other place you can get them in Auckland, as far as I know is the Vietnamese place on Lorne St and although I have done it a few times, is a bit far to travel for a sandwich so I was reasonably excited at the discovery.

It still took me almost a week to finally check out the place and I knew what I wanted to order straight away. I had an original pearl milk tea (another treat I travel way too far in order to eat much too often) and a lemongrass pork sandwich. 

The tea was from a big bag of instant mix but tasted passable, while the pearls although having a distinct brown sugar flavour, were obviously a bit aged, and clumped together.

You want this right now, trust me

Onto much more exciting things, the sandwich made an impression from the very first, being bigger than my face and adorned with visible slices of chili pepper. The flavours of the pork, vegetables and sauces were perfectly balanced and the crisp-factor of the crust was attested to by the blanket of crumbs that ended up on my lap. The addition of chili peppers, which I had not seen before, really helped keep the sandwich light and quite invigorating and I also appreciated the restraint shown in terms of the coriander, which is not my favourite herb.

Gratuitous cross-sectional sandwich shot

The only two things I thought could have improved the sandwhich would be slightly increasing the sour aspect of the sandwich, there was a conservative amount of pickled vegetables and they were sweet rather than sour - although this is just my preference. Also, the meat was cool - temperature-wise, likely having been taken straight out of a container in the coolroom. I might try asking for the meat to be hot next time.

Overall, I am quite smitten with these sandwiches, I'm not sure if I will get a chance to have an actual meal here in the near future, but I will definitely stopping by  to try all the different fillings. I probably won't get milk tea again but if they have Vietnamese coffee, I am definitely in.