Cook this: Cadbury Creme Egg Easter Brownies

Being a chocoholic, Easter is obviously my favourite holiday, and Cadbury Creme Eggs are my favourite holiday treats. The big ones are getting too sugary for me, but I find the little ones just right – they have a much better chocolate to filling ratio.

 

Ingredients:
– 250g milk chocolate
– 150g butter
– 1 cup brown sugar
– 3 eggs, lightly beaten
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 cup plain flour
– 1 packet of mini creme eggs, wrappers removed

 

Method:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a rectangular cake tin with baking paper.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pot of simmering water, stirring continuously.
3. Once melted, remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the sugar.
4. Stir in the eggs and vanilla next until fully incorporated, then the flour.
5. Lastly, fold in the creme eggs and pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
6. Bake for 30 minutes and cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to finish cooking.

Cook this: Almond Amaretto cake

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Growing up, Sundays were always “family days.” They were spent with grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins. I’m sure this will ring true for a lot of others with an Italian background. As I’m getting older, that’s changing; I’m needing a little more time alone, time to look after me. The one thing that won’t ever change, though, that still makes me as happy and comfortable and safe as it did when I was a child, is seeing my grandparents. My paternal grandparents are two of the most incredible people I know. Well into their eighties, they are so self-sufficient it almost defies belief. That my beautiful little Nonna is still growing all of her own produce (literally everything from carrots to strawberries, zucchini to tomatoes, figs to grapes grow in their ENORMOUS garden – see below for a little bit of it), spending hours on her hands and knees digging up the sweetest carrots and that Nonno is still climbing up small step ladders to pluck me a small bowl of the figs I’ve loved since I was a tiny little person is both crazy, and at the same time, I can’t imagine it any other way.

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But don’t think it’s limited to fresh produce; Nonno does his own alcohol, too. A genuine purveyor of quality home brew. Wine and spirits, thank you very much. And every time we visit, we get sent home with half a car full of fresh fruit and veggies, as well as a little bit of whatever’s just been bottled; last visit was Amaretto, a sweet, almond-based liqueur. I really like Nonno’s Amaretto, particularly for use in baking. It’s insanely strong (really, I shudder to think of the alcohol percentage…), so you don’t have the problem of it all being baked out when you add some of the home brewed stuff to your cakes, which means it’s still got that distinct flavour and kick that I remember so vividly (and fondly) from all the cakes and biscuits that I used to eat when I was younger.

I didn’t really have a recipe in mind to use when I got the bottle from Nonno the other week, so I had a flick through one of my older cookbooks, the Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking Around The World (1975 edition), purchased for change at the Grub Street Book Shop a few years ago. I found this recipe which I screwed around with a little and ended up with a cake that Nonna and Nonno would have been pretty happy with, had husband and I not eaten it all within 48 hours.

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What I changed:

– Swapped the walnuts out for toasted, slivered almonds (left whole, not ground)

– Used the juice and peel of an orange instead of a lemon

– Added a standard shot glass of Nonno’s Amaretto

 

Other than that, I used the recipe and method as printed in the cook book, and got a great result – it was somehow dense, yet light and moist all at the same time, with the almonds really bringing out the flavour of the Amaretto, and the orange flavour sitting nicely with the almond. A bit of whipped cream would have been perfect with it (note to self for next time), and a little icing sugar dusted lightly on top wouldn’t have gone astray either (if I’d had any in the pantry). It’s one I’ll definitely make again (don’t think husband is going to give me much choice there), and I’ll double the recipe next time so I have some to bring to Nonna and Nonno!

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Cook this: Gingerbread men!

Because we’re missing Christmas at home this year, a number of Christmas traditions, such as gingerbread men, have needed to be moved forward. Other traditions, like my husband’s repeated viewings of Chevy Chase’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I’m not pushing quite as hard for an early start on.

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I’ve tried so many gingerbread recipes and it has taken batch after batch after batch to finally come up with a version I love – hope everyone else enjoys them, too 🙂

INGREDIENTS
– 125g butter, softened
– ½ cup brown sugar
– 100g golden syrup
– 100g maple syrup
– ½ tsp vanilla extract
– 2½ cups plain flour
– 3 tsp ground ginger
– 1 tsp baking soda

 

METHOD
1. Combine the flour, ginger and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer for 4 – 5 minutes, until pale and creamy. Add in the golden syrup and/or maple syrup and honey, as well as the vanilla, and beat for another 30 seconds, until combined.

3. Add in the dry ingredients, and beat on low speed until a dough comes together. Don’t worry if it is crumbly, you’ll be able to bring it together with your hands.

4. Roll the dough out to your desired thickness between two pieces of non-stick baking paper and put it in the fridge for half an hour.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C and line 2 large oven trays with baking paper.

6. Take the cold dough out of the fridge and cut out gingerbread men of your preferred size. You can see from the photo below that I made quite little ones – for your reference, I got 90 (yes, 90) little gingerbread gentlemen out of the dough made from the ingredients above. Re-roll the dough as necessary until it’s all been cut and placed onto the oven trays.

7. Bake for 7 – 10 minutes until lightly golden.

8. For a softer cookie, remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the trays for 10 minutes before moving to cooling racks. If you like them a little crunchier, turn the oven off and leave them in there to cool completely.

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Cook this: Oktoberfest Pretzels

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It’s not Oktoberfest without pretzels, and if you’re going to do something like this, you do it properly. As soon as decided to host our own backyard-Oktoberfest, I decided home made pretzels were going to happen, too. I was going to make them myself, from scratch, and they were going to be awesome (God willing). Guess the baking gods were smiling on me, because they were perfect. Despite my reservations, there was nothing complicated or scary about this recipe. I wish I could claim I’d slaved away for hours but actually, the process isn’t as impressive as the end result. Once they’ve sat out of the oven for a while, they harden up like a proper, legitimate Brauhaus-style pretzel. They’re crunchy on the outside and impossible soft and airy on the inside. Let’s get stuck into this…

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To make 12:
– 525g plain flour
– 375ml lukewarm milk
– 1tsp caster sugar
– 7g sachet dried yeast
– coarse salt to sprinkle on top

 

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl with around 1tsp salt.

2. In a small bowl, combine the milk, sugar and yeast, stirring to dissolve.

3. Pour the milk mix into the flour and stir it to combine. Then, using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, knead/mix the dough for around 10 minutes; it should form a soft and smooth and very elastic dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 5 minutes.

4. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and divide into 12 equal pieces. Gently roll the dough pieces into long, thin logs (around 40-50cm long).

5. Twist the dough into pretzel shape by laying it in a U shape, then cross the ends over and and bring both ends back to the curve in the U. Dab a little water onto the two ends before you press them down onto the U to join them. Place them on a large plate or baking tray lined with baking paper as you go.

6. Let the pretzels sit uncovered for 30 minutes, then cover them in plastic wrap and refrigerate preferably overnight, but no less than 3 hours.

7. After they’ve rested, pre-heat the oven to 220°C.

8. Combine 1L water, 1tbs salt and 1tbs bicarb soda in a large pot. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Immerse each pretzel, one at a time, in the solution for 10 seconds, then return to a baking paper lined oven teat. Sprinkle each with salt, and bake for 15 minutes, or until nicely golden. Eat them warm with a little butter and mustard. Or cold, with butter and mustard. Just eat lots of them, they’re so, so good!

 

Cook this: Spinach & feta gozleme

This is one of my favourite market foods – cheap, delicious, and easy to eat while you’re walking around. I’d always been curious about trying to make them myself, but thought the dough would be too complicated… But a while ago I was flicking through some cook books and found a recipe in my Lonely Planet Street Food cook book (amazing book, by the way); turns out the dough isn’t so complicated, and it’s just as delicious made at home!

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This recipe makes about 8 decent sized gozleme – I usually halve the recipe if I’m making a few to put on the BBQ when we have a few people over for a catch up! I’ve made this quite a few times now, so here’s my version, adapted from the Lonely Planet recipe.

Ingredients:
– 5¼ cups plain flour
– 2 tsp salt
– 2 tsp dried yeast powder
– 1 tsp sugar
– 1¼ cups warm water
– 2 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped
– 2 cups crumbled fetta cheese


Method:

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl (reserve ¼ cup), add the salt and create a well in the centre.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar and ¼ cup water, then pour it into the well in the bowl of flour, and sift the remaining quarter cup over the liquid. Sit it aside for 10 minutes.

3. Add the rest of the water to the bowl and stir together well to combine. Knead the dough on a floured board for around 5 minutes, then put it back into the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel, and set aside for an hour to rise.

4. In another bowl, combine the spinach and fetta, and set aside.

5. After rising, take the tough out of the bowl and divide into 8 equal portions. Shape each portion into a rough ball and roll out of on a floured board into a rectangular shape – you’re aiming to have it thin enough that you can just about see through it if you hold it up to sunlight, but not so thin that it easily tears.

6. Sprinkle some of the spinach and fetta mixture onto one half of the rectangular piece of dough, fold the uncovered half over and press the edges together to seal.

7. To cook the gozleme, heat a large, non-stick fry pan over high heat, or fire up the BBQ as I prefer to do. Spray a little cooking oil and cook for a few minutes on each side, until the dough becomes speckled with brown spots.

8. Slice up your gozleme with a pizza cutter or sharp knife and serve hot with lemon wedges, and chilli flakes if you’re spicily inclined.