Saturday, September 21, 2013

Crunchy Crackers - packed with flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts for a healthier treat

In our trip to Austria in July this year, one of our favourite snacks on the road was the yeasted crackers from Spar. It's from their range of Spar Premium house brand products and comes in a variety of flavors. I recalled that there's one with cheddar and sunflower seeds. Absolutely crunchy, savory and filling for a snack in between meals.

So when I saw the Bread Baking Buddy's September theme on crunchy crackers, I set out to try my hands on it too! Its a relatively quick process, a quick mix and knead in less than 30 minutes, then resting period of 90 minutes, roll out for 10 minutes and rest another 30 minutes, so total handling time is only 40 minutes. I didn't manage to roll out the dough totally even, so there were some parts that were really crispy and crunchy and some parts that were still slightly doughy but still crisp to the bite. No matter which thickness, me and Hub love it. It might not be as savory as Spar's but it was just as addictive and definitely healthier with no preservatives, plus they are packed with nutrient-rich seeds and nuts. Am gonna try the next bake of crackers with herbs and spices!

100g Whole Wheat Flour
170g All Purpose Flour (I ran out of whole wheat flour so I used AP flour and more almond meal)
50g Almond Meal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
2 tablespoon sugar (I used light brown sugar)
200ml warm water
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds and flax seeds
Topping - 100g of walnuts, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. Black pepper. (I only had roasted pumpkin seeds which is already slightly salted so omitted the salt for topping)

1.In a large bowl, combine the flours, almond meal and salt together. Form a well in the middle and add the sugar and yeast, then 200ml warm water. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
2. Add the 2 tablespoons seeds and form into a dough. Knead until it comes together into a smooth and relatively dry ball. It was pretty sticky to begin with, so I added another 1 tablespoon of flour.
3. Cover and let it rest for 90 minutes. My dough rose quite a bit, probably 1.5x the starting size.
4. Divide into 2 parts and roll each dough into a very thin layer. Sprinkle some water on the dough and spread the topping all around the dough. Press the topping into the dough.
5. Let it rest for 30 minutes and bake at 180C for 20 minutes. I used 2 trays and therefore used the oven fan mode, it turned out to be too hot and I had to lower the temperature to 160C and tent the top tier after 10 minutes.
6. Once the crackers are nicely browned, turn off the oven and let it cool inside the oven for at least 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely before storing in an air tight container.

Submitting this to Bread Baking Buddies, Yeastspotting and Bake Your Own Bread

Pasta Making Class in Parma, Italy - Il Filare - Part 3 (the dinner and surroundings)

What is an Agriturismo, you may ask. From, it is a combination of Agriculture and Tourism. "An Italian agriturismo will usually serve foods to guests prepared from raw materials produced on the farm or at least locally. Some will allow the guest to actually participate in the activities surrounding the farm" 

Il Filare is an organic farm and bed&breakfast and cooking classes all in 1. They are situated in the middle of what they called a small plot of land (Which is really big by my standards), with a large rustic house surrounded by their farm crops. The owner is very hospitable and asked us to freely roam their estate, giving us tips on how to identify ripe berries and giving us free rein to pluck and eat as much as we want! It's a beautiful estate and as we finished the pasta class, the sun was just setting; we walked around the berry bushes excitably! 

For blackberries to be sweet and ripe, they should be entirely black and breaks easily from the stem with a light pull. If there is resistance, it means the berries are not ripe yet and will be sour.

They are super yummy sweet! It's an organic farm, so we could just pop them into our greedy mouths without washing!

After roaming around the berries, tomatoes, zucchinis etc, we were famished as it's almost 9pm by then. The italians sure have their dinners late! 

Finally, it's time for dinner, with zucchinis and tomatoes freshly plucked from their farms and rest of the ingredients used are all from neighboring farms. 

Parma Ham and Melon - superb combination! Fresh and sweety tomatoes paired with a dollop of ricotta cheese. 

Their home-baked bread from their own flours with another huge plate of marbled ham from a neighbor producer. Very good, chewy, crusty bread and fantastic flavors from the meats!

Woohoo, our ravioli, cooked quickly in salted water then sauteed with butter, salt and fresh basil. Bouncy with a bite!

The Gnocchi and Tagliatelle in the Ragu Bolognese. Wow. The ragu was rich in flavors, the pasta chewy and with just the right thickness. We were stuffed to the max but yet managed to finished all our food!

We could not stomach any more food and had to reject the dessert of frozen raspberries sorbet, another item straight from their farm. It was 55 euros very well - spent!

Leaving the land of good food!  

Pasta Making Class in Parma, Italy - Il Filare - Part 2 (Pasta Dough)

The first question the chef asked was whether we have a pasta machine at home... we shook our heads and she gave us a wry smile. "Alright, then we will do it by hand!" Thus started a long but fun knead, roll, cut process. 

First, we started with 300g strong flour (high-protein), 3 eggs and 1 yolk. Making a well in the middle of all the flour, we placed the eggs and yolk in the middle. 

Then we slowly toss the flour into the egg mix, coaxing the flour to mix with the egg into a dough. In the process, the chef did push away a fair bit of the flour, asking for a consistency that is slightly bouncy and not dry nor wet. I think this will take many trials before we can get it right. To knead the dough, we have to use 2 hands, and turn the dough clockwise (or anti clockwise) with each knead so that all parts of the dough are needed. Once the dough is a smooth ball, set it one side and cover to rest for around 30 minutes. The dough can be used once an indentation to the ball stays indented. 

After dividing the dough into small portions, we then used a giant roller to roll the dough out into a very thin layer. This has to be really thin. So, roll and roll and roll away! 

Once done, fold the dough up and cut into thin strips as seen in the picture above, unroll the strips and set them to dry out until ready to be used. There should be at least an hour.

Alternatively, if you have a pasta machine at home, it can be easily rolled out, just like below!

The next pasta we tried our hands on was the ravioli. It's the same dough, rolled out into a very thin rectangle. Place the chilled filling onto the roll, flip the top part down, over the filling, press down tightly around the dough to ensure the dough is sticking to each other, then separate each ravioli with a pizza cutter. 

Again, set them aside in the fridge, until ready for use. 

For the last pasta, we made Gnocchi, a potato pasta. This is my favourite pasta as it's bouncy and chewy in texture, has more bite compared to normal pasta. We have absolutely no idea in terms of the quantity as it was purely her measuring them out by feel! So all we got were pictures and probably, we have to consult books or google for recipe measurements elsewhere. 

Making gnocchi required us to roll the dough into long skinny rolls, cutting them into small cubes, then rolling them over the fork to create an indentation.

All done using their own grown organic flour, which they kindly gave us a precious packet to bring back to SG!

On to 3rd part for the final cooked dinner!

Pasta Making Class in Parma, Italy - Il Filare - Part 1 (Filling)

One of the highlights of hub and my recent trip to Europe was the pasta-making class in Italy that we signed up with the B&B that we are staying with. Hub has always been a fan of pasta and he can seriously make a mean dish out of it! It's thus 1 of our tasks to learn to make authentic italian pasta when we go on this 2nd trip to Italy. However, pasta making classes are really expensive, research on various sites showed prices to be at least 60 euros per pax to the very expensive 120 euros per pax. It usually includes a visit to the market in the morning to buy the produce, then off to the kitchen for a hands-on session, and ends with a eating session to taste your own pasta. 

By a stroke of luck, I read that one of the agriturismos, Il Filare, that we are staying in also teaches pasta making! It cost only 25 euro per person and teaches a variety of pasta - Ravioli, Tagliatelle, Gnocchi etc, over 3 hours. However, this does not include the dinner that we partake in afterwards, it's another 20 euros per pax for dinner, which was a fantastic spread that not only includes our home-made pasta but also a variety of other courses made with ingredients all from their own or surrounding farms, very fresh, good quality and superbly tasty!

The only gripe that we have is that the teacher, the mom of the agriturismo is not able to define the quantity of the ingredients used, going by touch and taste for the dishes. She gave us a rough guide but along the way, swipe away lots of the flour, then added some back, sprinkle bits and pieces of ingredients that we probably have to really trial and error our own way when we make pasta on our own again (Which we haven't done so!)

We took lots of pictures though, to try and note the process. Below will be the pictorial outline of our pasta class, along with the rough notes that we took!

We started with making the ragu bolognese, which is to be the sauce for the pasta. It requires simmering over 2-3 hours so always start with the sauce.

Ingredients: (No quantity as we could not catch the amount)
Carrots, onion,  celery, garlic, dry white wine, rosemary, garlic, basil, salt, tomato sauce, ground beef and sausages.

Steps: Minced the carrots, onions, celery and stir fry until fragrant, add the garlic (whole or minced), and dry white wine, continue to stir fry. Add the beef and sausages and let it stew for a while. Finally, add the tomato sauce (which can be the bottled tomato sauce or fresh home-made pureed tomatoes), basil and salt and let it simmer until it becomes a slightly dry mixture, there should not be too much liquid in the stew, the final ragu is seen in below silver and black pans in the middle.

We then started on the filling for the ravioli - Swiss Chards, Feta Cheese, Parmesan shavings, Nutmeg, Basil, Egg, Salt and Black Pepper.

Boil the swiss chards (can be replaced with vegetable of choice such as spinach or kale) until soft and chop into a mushy mesh. Stir fry onion in butter, add swiss chards, pepper, nutmeg and salt, cook until the mixture is dry. Let it cool, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Read the next post for the dough process!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hummingbird Cupcakes - Full of delicious fruits and hearty with whole wheat

Did I already mention I love Bananas? And my all-time favourite cake is the Carrot Cream Cheese Cake from Cedele. Every time I think of the cake, I feel like having 1 huge slice immediately. Carrot cakes don't always taste strongly of carrots. What I love about carrot cakes is generally the crumbly, slightly coarse texture that provides bite, an earthy flavor that goes so well with a tangy sweet cream cheese frosting. Ooh and the generous doses of walnuts! So good.

Then I came across the Hummingbird. It's like my 2 loves in 1. It has the crumb structure of a carrot cake, the ooh la la sweet fragrance of ripened bananas and as an additional bonus - the juiciness of crushed pineapples. Made these 4x so far and it has always received good reviews from my kind audience. I've adjusted the recipes from the original in a few ways and also tweaked it in my first 3 attempts, finally arriving at a recipe that has a crumble that gives bite but wouldn't totally collapsed upon cutting, is not too sweet from being sugar-laden and has defined tastes of both bananas and pineapples.

I forgot to also add that it's very easy to make. ITS A CAKE EVERYONE SHOULD TRY TO MAKE! =)

2 cups cake flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup castor sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3.5 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh crushed pineapple
2 cups mashed roasted banana
1 cup roasted walnut pieces

1. Prepare the bananas and pineapples ahead of baking. Roast 6 mid-large ripe bananas at 200C for 8 minutes, flip and roast another 5 minutes. The skin will turn black, the banana will be mushy and your house will smell wonderful. Mash and keep 1 side. Peel and cut a ripe pineapple, chop 1 cup of pineapple into fine pieces and keep both the fruit and juices. Roast the walnuts at 200C for 5 minutes, be careful not to burn them.
Let the bananas and walnuts cool to room temperature.
2. Sift the flours together and add cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, soda and salt to it. Mix well.
3. In another bowl, mix the sugars together and add the eggs. Whisk well. Add the oil and vanilla, whisk to emulsify.
4. Add the flours into the sugar/egg mixture and stir lightly to just combine. Do not use electric mixers.
5. Stir in the pineapples, then bananas and walnuts.
6. Pour into 26 cupcake liners and bake for 20 minutes or 2 8-inch lined round pans for 30 minutes at 170C.
Note: Cakes will dome slightly so use less batter if cupcakes are not meant to be too high or use more to make into muffin style cakelets. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
I used a mixture of cream cheese and swiss meringue buttercream, added a good dose of lemon and vanilla bean paste, mixed well and piped a round dollop then added a dried pineapple flower piece on top. Or, just stick a whole walnut piece atop for simplicity sake.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB) from Sweetapolita.
5 egg whites + 250g fine grained sugar- in a clean mixer bowl over simmering water, whisk constantly until sugar has melted. Using the electric whisk, beat at high speed until mixture is thick, glossy and the bowl has cooled to room temperature. Switch to paddler attachment.
Add 340g unsalted butter (cubed and softened) gradually at low speed until buttercream is silky soft.
Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (or up to half a lemon), 2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste and a pinch of sea salt. Mix well to combine.

Weigh the above amount of SMB and measure out cream cheese equivalent to 80% weight of the SMB. IE: if the SMB weights 500g, the amount of cream cheese should be 400g. Beat slightly softened cream cheese (removed from fridge for about 3 to 5 minutes only) until light and fluffy, then add the SMB and mix well to incorporate.

Note: The above SMB will yield much more than the amount needed for this batch of cupcakes but I generally make this amount and take the amount needed, then freeze the rest. It can keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

For pineapple flowers, refer to this site for step-by-step instructions.