::: I was busy writing, I was overcome by a sudden desparate need to bake a loaf of bread from scratch (a sourdough rye loaf if you’re interested). All that mixing and kneading, getting the hands alternately sticky and flour-covered as I worked the dough, is calm therapy for an overactive mind.

The finished loaf

::: I was hungry and the loaf was still warm from the oven, I couldn’t resist accepting the invitation to partake. So (after eating the end crust) I took a knife to that delicious crunchy exterior and cut two thick slices.

The first few slices

::: I am Australian, and it makes perfect sense, I spread one side of those slices first with butter and then with vegemite. It didn’t take me long to fill my stomach and return that plate to empty.

The perfect serving suggestion

::: I associate this meal with being a child on holidays from primary school, reading a book at the dining room table while waiting patiently for my dad to bring home a fresh loaf of bread (he works for a bakery you see). In thinking of this memory, I felt nourished and comforted in ways that go well beyond the simple act of satisfying a hungry appetite.

Mocha Macarons

This was a first for me … I’ve never before played around with the dark art of macaron making. It was a lot of faffing about with different things and precise instructions (not my favourite way of cooking), and while my mocha creations tasted delicious I’m not sure I’d hurry to make them again. But it’s OK macarons of the world, I’ll still love you forever more.

Mixing and Melting IngredientsMaking RoundsMmm ... macarons with chocolate and coffee

Other recent happenings:

Making … Anzac biscuits (thick & chewy), lemon yoghurt cake for a certain special someone’s birthday.

Watching … The Avengers (hello RDJ, hello Chris Hemsworth), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol again (lots of fun – an easy watch), X-Men First Class again (why hello Mr Fassbender). Clearly it’s been a month for blockbusters and handsome men (hello husband!).

Writing … lots and lots.

Reading … Frankie, Casual Days (makes me miss Singapore), Super Natural Every Day (lots of delicious meals).

Enjoying … the cool and rainy weather (autumn is so lovely).

After finishing my couch-to-5k running program a while ago, I’ve since embarked on a half-marathon training program just for the hell of it. I’m only in week two, but I’m falling more and more in love with my treadmill, so it’s been going really well so far. Before I go, I must also say thank you for your very sweet comments on my previous post … you guys are the best! :)

PS. Don’t forget to pop over to lucent imagery to see what macaron loveliness she came up with for this month’s foodie challenge.

Living dangerously in the kitchen …

… (and I’m not talking about the knives). Do you play it safe in the kitchen? Are you a must-follow-the-rules kind of person? I always thought I was pretty much like that, but I’ve come to realise that I’m actually a bit of a risk-taker when it comes to cooking and baking. Shhh, don’t tell anyone …

Butter cake ... the high risk version

At high school and later at Uni I studied science – physics, chemistry, biology, botany, zoology, geology … I’m probably missing a few, but the point is that I studied a whole range. Out of all of them it was probably chemistry which taught me the importance of precision in both following instructions and the measurement of liquid chemicals. A lot of that knowledge found its way into my cooking habits … well, to a certain extent anyway.

I still measure liquid ingredients properly and even invested in some scales a few years back so I could weigh the solid stuff! But apart from that I seem to apply a much more relaxed attitude towards my cooking … Here’s a little taste of what I get up to:

  • Once I’ve made something by carefully following the recipe, every time after that I tend to just ‘play it by ear’.
  • I don’t always sift flour.
  • Near enough is sometimes often good enough for me. For example, if something has a teaspoon of salt, I probably won’t measure it and just guess at the amount.
  • When a recipe calls for melted butter I never use a stove-top saucepan, instead I melt my butter in a glass bowl which I place in a sink filled with boiling water (it involves less cleaning and requires less effort).
  • I always replace dairy milk with soy milk (there’s no cow milk in my house).

Goodness, my high school ‘Home Economics’ teacher would be so proud (not). I never really liked her much, but I’m sure she’d be happy to know that I still follow two of her kitchen rules of thumb – ‘always gradually add liquid to dry’, and ‘be mean with the dry and kind with the liquid ingredients’ … what a strange subject that now seems to have ‘studied’ at school.

Perhaps my dangerous approach to cooking can mostly be put down to laziness or convenience, but I like to think that some of it’s due to the rush of adrenaline that comes from not playing by the rules and still achieving a great end result. Care to join me in a little culinary risk-taking?? (I’ll even let you share in the finished product).

Long weekends … time enough for baking

Did you have a lovely extra long weekend? As this wonderful collection of public holidays draws to a close, I found a moment to sit down with a piece of chocolate slice and a cup of tea … it also seems like the perfect time to catch up with blog friends and reflect on the weekend that was.

For me, it seemed to be the weekend for baking, and lots of it. Apart from indulging in a few different chocolate slices, I decided to try my hand at baking ‘Hot Cross Buns’ for the first time. While my first batch turned out to be particularly crude and ugly, they tasted rather lovely. But boy oh boy, they took a lot of hard work and a huge investment of time. Have you ever made your own?

Making 'Hot Cross Buns' at home

While I don’t think I’ll be rushing into making another batch of ‘Hot Cross Buns’ any time soon, I hope that next time I’ll be much better at it and perhaps end up with a ‘prettier’ result. I have newfound respect for the work that bakers do each and every day.

Making 'Hot Cross Buns' at home ... the finished product

As I have a few left-over hot cross buns, I’m thinking of turning them into a version of bread and butter pudding for tonight’s dessert … (that’s if my baking motivation holds out).

How about yourself? Did you fill your weekend with loveliness and perhaps bake something sweet? Or maybe you ended up eating a little too much chocolate?

Cookies vs Biscuits

Do you ever find yourself contemplating the big questions of the universe? After all, there’s plenty in this world to think about. For instance … Why do pets always need to be let out the back door as soon as we sit down? … Why does chocolate never break evenly into equal parts? … and just what did Bill Murray whisper into Scarlett Johansson’s ear at the end of ‘Lost in Translation’? Such deep and meaningful reflections bring me to yet another of life’s (possibly contentious) mysteries … Are cookies the same thing as biscuits?

Perhaps it’s that strong historical connection between Britain and Australia which saw me grow up with people eating ‘biscuits’ rather than ‘cookies’. I may even be able to point a finger at the literary influences of my childhood, like Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, who no doubt indirectly educated me on the distinctly British terminology of ‘biscuits’. Whatever the cause, those sweet and crispy treats of my youth such as Iced Vovos, Monte Carlos, and Scotch Fingers, were all most definitely biscuits.

Growing a few years older, and following several years of American cultural education via eighties TV shows like Family Ties, Who’s The Boss? and The Cosby Show, I then came to know more about similar sweet and crispy treats known as ‘cookies’. While I happily welcomed cookies into my life, one thing has always been clear – in my mind a biscuit is quite different to a cookie. However I have come to realise that some people seem to use these terms interchangeably.

Based on my own personal sweet classification system, the top image is of biscuits while the bottom image showcases the delicious choc-chip cookies I made last week. While I definitely know the difference between the two crispy treats, I must admit I struggle to eloquently define just what those unique criteria are … perhaps it is something just innately understood from childhood?

What do you think? Is there a difference between biscuits and cookies for you too? (it’s probably best if we stay well clear of that whole cracker vs crispbread debate … at least for now).

The BEST EVER Choc Coconut Slice Recipe

Are you a choc coconut slice aficionado like me? If so, do read on as I’m about to share the recipe for the greatest Choc Coconut Slice of all time! … That’s a big claim I know, but please believe me when I say you must make this slice for yourself, consume said slice, and then glory in its rich and wondrous goodness. It’s crispy on the outside and just slightly gooey on the inside – in other words, it’s fantastic!!

Feeling a bit down in the dumps and generally blah given all the bad stuff that’s currently happening in the world – both close to home and far away, I sought comfort in the warm arms of baking. In my opinion you just can’t go past a chocolate slice on such occasions, and I firmly believe that chocolate and coconut should unite together as often as possible.

Heading to Mr Google for inspiration, I came across this recipe and decided to make it my own. It took hardly any time at all to make, and didn’t last much longer once it was out of the oven. While the original recipe was pretty good, I did make a few minor modifications of my own along the way. Please note, if you’re doing your best to be healthy it’s probably best to overlook the massive amounts of butter and sugar used …

After you’ve preheated your oven to 180°C, you’ll need to grease a baking tray and line it with baking paper (you know how sometimes you don’t bother with baking paper even though a recipe says to … in this case it makes all the difference to slice failure or success).

1. Mix all these dry ingredients together in a bowl:

  • 3 crushed wholewheat breakfast biscuits (Vita Brits or Weet-Bix)
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 2 (generous) tablespoons cocoa

2. Melt 150g butter and pour it over the dry ingredients. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence and mix it all together. Spoon the mixture into your chosen baking tray and press it down until roughly level (it makes the icing so much easier to apply).

3. Bake the slice for roughly 15 minutes. Then it’s time to make the icing – strangely enough, this slice is actually iced while it’s still hot (I don’t think I’ve ever come across that before).

4. To make the icing, mix together: 1 1/2 cups icing sugar mixture and 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa in a small bowl. Add 2 (generous) tablespoons of hot water and 1 tablespoon of melted butter and mix. I found that I needed to add more hot water to get the icing to ‘spreading’ consistency, but this is more of a ‘follow your instinct’ kind of situation. Just keep adding hot water gradually until a spreadable paste is achieved. Don’t worry if it feels a bit too stiff, as you begin to spread the icing on the still-hot slice it will become more malleable.

5. Leave the slice to one side until it cools further and the icing sets. So now you’ve got your finished and beautifully iced slice, there’s little more to do apart from eat it!

Now the original recipe suggested this slice makes 24 serves … hahahaha … they obviously don’t know how the slice portioning process works in my household. But needless to say, this slice was very satisfying even if we didn’t come at all close to achieving 24 serves.

Perhaps you’d like to make this slice for yourself? Or make it for someone who’s feeling a little worse than ordinary? The fabulous Digella is currently coordinating ‘Baked Relief’ in Brisbane – a wonderful way to bring baked goodies to those either impacted by recent floods, or who are helping out with the clean-up process. Makes you feel all warm inside just thinking about the goodness of the human race … don’t you think?