Sunday, 15 September 2013

Finding Satisfaction in Simplicity (A double recipe post)

Friday night. My mission is simple: I need two batches of baked goods. But Im in a perfectionist, impatient sort of mood. Earlier in the day, I plan to make savory muffins, tasty and brimming full of veggies, but when I get home to realize I have hardly any of the main ingredients, my plan goes south. Now what? I turn to the cookbook cupboard, the overflow stored in a bookshelf in the lounge, the internet. But again and again I close a cookbook disappointed, yearning for that perfect taste that is just out of reach: "I use this book way too much. Don't have the ingredients. Too complicated. Boring. Not crowd-friendly. Won't transport." For a seldom occasion, I felt dejected. Baking didn't seem fun anymore. A chore. But I pressed on, determined not to let my pursuit, my craving for that one particular kind of recipe trump me.

The first recipe was an easy decision, more or less. A banana, bourbon and chocolate chip loaf from Joy the Baker's book would be made into muffins. Easy and delicious, but is taking alcohol-spiked food into an event a a school the most PC? I reasoned that all the alcohol would be evaporated during cooking anyway, and if I called them 'banana chocolate chip', what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. I still had the smallest doubts when they came out of the oven, and then I tried one. It was perfect. All soft and fluffy on the inside and choc-full of chips, with a crisp sugary top. Yes, I was rather happy with that.

Finding the second recipe was a little tougher. I was nearly at the end of my patience when I pulled down Bill Granger's 'Bill's Open Kitchen' and with little hope flipped through its 'Afternoon Tea' section. My family used to love Bills recipes for their simplicity and fresh flavors, but for one reason or another moved away from his books in recent years. I now regard Bill with a renewed enthusiasm as I am reminded of this easy-going fresh-is-best food philosophy, which is so effortlessly reflected in this recipe: apricot slice. It is so simple to make, but the finished product offers a satisfying contrast between sweet spongy cake and the zingy apricot. Mine wasn't the prettiest, but it certainly tasted fantastic!

Chocolate Bourbon-spiked Banana Bread

Makes one 8x4 inch or 9x5 inch loaf or about 18 muffins

2 cups plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1½ cups ripe mashed bananas (about 3)
1 tsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp bourbon
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and flour a 8x4 inch or a 9x5 inch loaf pan, or line two muffin trays with patty cases. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, three to five minutes.
Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute between each addition. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add bananas, lemon juice and bourbon. Beat until well incorporated.
Turn the mixer on to low and add the flour mixture all at once. Beat until almost incorporated. Stop the mixer and remove the bowl from the mixer. Add the walnuts (if using) and the chocolate chips and incorporate the rest of the ingredients with a spatula.
Spoon mixture into loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. If making into muffins, divide mixture between patty cases and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow loaf to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely. Muffins in patty cases can be removed from trays when cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes, before cooling on a wire rack. Serve with milky coffee and enjoy.
Banana bread will keep for up to five days, well wrapped, at room temperature.

Apricot Slice

Makes 14 slices. I cut my slice into smaller pieces, which results in 30 slices.

185g (1½ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
75g (¾ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp baking powder 
pinch of salt
3 eggs
60 ml (¼ cup) milk
2 tsp natural vanilla extract
180g (6½ ounces) butter, softened
14 apricots, pitted and halved (this may vary depending on the size of the apricots)
2 Tbsp caster (superfine) sugar, extra

Preheat the oven to 160°C (315°F/Gas 2-3) Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Place the eggs, milk and vanilla in another bowl and mix to combine. pour the egg mixture and butter into the well in the dry ingredients and beat for two minutes until smooth.Spread the mixture evenly into a greased or non-stick 20x30 cm (8x12 inch) lamington tin.
Push the apricot halves, cut side up, evenly into the cake mixture in four rows of seven. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, sprinkle over extra sugar and cook for another 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cut into fingers with two apricot halves per slice.
NOTE: If fresh apricots are out of season, you can use bottled or canned ones. Drain preserved fruit well of juice or syrup.

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