Monthly Archives: July 2011

Cranberry Orange Bundt Cake

I have to ‘fess up to the fact that I am suffering from Post Tour de France Fatigue Syndrome.  Three weeks of sleepless nights due to the time difference was all  worth it for this cycling fan, particularly as I got to see a perfect podium with my favourites standing atop it on the Champs-Élysées – Cadel Evans alongside Andy and Frank Schleck.

Congratulations to Cadel Evans for a fabulous three-week campaign to win the Tour!  Not to mention a historic day for Australian Cycling.  Yay!

But, egad, I haven’t been capable of anything too complicated this past week.  It’s been hard enough just to remember which day is which.  Need sleep 😉

Now I have to endure the annual August TDF Withdrawal Phase.  I really enjoyed TourdeFrancing.  Hey, it’s a verb.  Sure it is.

This week it’s about simple comfort baking.  Nothing too mentally challenging or requiring manual dexterity.  We are smack in the middle of winter here.   That strongly suggests citrus and dried fruits … in this case, oranges, cranberries and sultanas (or raisins).  Whipped up into a moist, buttery, and totally yummy bundt cake.  It practically yells out MANGIAMI!

I’ve been badgered by the family to make a fruit cake for a while.  But, hey, that’s so blah boring … well, maybe I’ve been wrong.  Not so blah when you are feeling totally blah yourself.  Plus, now I am SO in the good books at home.  Big fat grins and happy faces all round.  Top spot on the podium 😀

This cake is a variation on a plain light fruit cake I’ve made for years.  Instead of using just sultanas or raisins, I substituted cranberries for half the sultanas and ramped up the orange flavour.  Very glad I did … the result is fabulous.  Buttery, sweet and tart, and full of fresh orange sunshine.  Do not be tempted to use anything but fresh oranges for this!

Where’s the CHOCOLATE?

There isn’t any … if you really want to, drizzle a little melted dark or white chocolate, or ganache, very lightly over the top, instead of the icing sugar.  But honestly, this cake is best enjoyed for what it is.  Save the chocolate for another day … or later when you get a craving.

You can double the recipe to bake it in a 23cm bundt tin for a larger cake and crowd.

This is great on its own with a cup of tea or coffee.  It is also really good served with a dollop of yoghurt or cream with a little orange zest mixed in.  Put on the kettle, or get your coffee machine humming and cut a slice of buttery fruit cake goodness.  😀

Yields  1 x 18cm bundt cake, serves 6 – 8

120 grams dried cranberries
100 grams sultanas
150 millilitres orange juice, freshly squeezed*
185 grams unsalted butter, softened
150 grams sugar
grated zest of 2 oranges
3 eggs
225 grams plain flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder

icing sugar, for dusting

*Two large juicy oranges should be about right

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF.   Smear an 18cm bundt tin with a little extra softened butter and dust out with a little flour.  Make sure to tap out any excess flour.  Set aside.

Place the cranberries, sultanas and orange juice in a saucepan over a gentle heat.  Bring to a simmer and take off the heat immediately.  Stir and set aside to cool.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, orange zest until light and creamy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Sift together the flour and baking powder.  Add to the batter and beat until smooth.

Add the dried fruit and juice mixture to the batter and beat until the batter is smooth and creamy.

Place the batter into the prepared bundt tin and bake for 50 – 60 minutes at 180ºC/350ºF.  It is cooked when a skewer, inserted into the centre, comes out with just crumbs attached to it.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.  Once cooled, remove from the tin and place on a serving dish.  Sift over some icing sugar, if desired, before serving.

This cake can be stored for several days at room temperature, in an airtight cake tin.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Cakes, Fruit

Mayan Mousse Cake Bliss

Can you hear that?  That’s the sound of crickets … it’s been rather quiet around here lately.  Life takes over and it’s hard to find the time to post anything.  Not that I haven’t been baking and cooking up a storm.  I have!  A bizarre number of visitors last weekend consumed the equivalent of a buffet of scrumptious goodies.  But as a result, there just wasn’t time to take photos, write anything, post anything, blah.

Most of what I’ve baked at home recently has involved chocolate.  No big surprises there.  But I’ve had an overwhelming need to melt it, inhale the aroma, and stand there stirring it with a stupid smile on my face.   OK, so I watched Chocolat a couple of weeks ago and the scenes where Viane is working in her chocolaterie always get me going … there have been ganaches for macarons, cakes, even tempered couverture enrobing for protein bars, and occasionally I melt a little just because I feel like it.  It puts me in the zone.  Bliss.

In the last few days I’ve been overcome by an incredible sense of sadness.  Not depression.  Definitely not chocolate induced.  Don’t even suggest it!  Just plain straight up sadness.  I have no idea why.  I can’t even think of a reason.  It isn’t noticeable.  I work.  I play.  I train.  I laugh.  All is good.  But inside, there’s this thing.  This morning, I picked up some of my favourite coffee beans on the way home from a couple of work meetings.  Lucky for me, the afternoon was all mine.  No commitments.  Quality time.  There was nothing for it.  I got home, and blended a couple of my favourite couvertures.

I want chocolate cake. 

I need to make a chocolate cake.   

So I did.  This is one of the cakes I made recently but didn’t have time to photograph.  In fact, I barely got a chance to eat any of it myself.  So I made it again.

For me … and to share with you.  Because that’s what it’s all about, right?

Plus I had just brought home the most wonderful fragrant coffee beans.  Into the grinder with some of those babies …

This is really more of a baked mousse than a cake.  When cooked, it remains a little gooey in the centre so it makes for a fabulous chocolate dessert.  There is none of that rise, fall, and crack shenanigans either.  If I’m making it for a party, I’ll smooth the top perfectly before baking, to allow for decoration later, and because it looks more elegant.  But if I make it for myself, I like to swirl the top as this seems to encourage the very thin crust that forms at the very top, which I love.  Do as you wish.  It’s all good 🙂

I can’t explain the sadness, but I can say that stirring the chocolate, folding the batter, and cutting a slice to eat while it is still warm leads to a very bearable lightness of being.  The wonderful aroma of melting chocolate and freshly ground coffee didn’t hurt either.   Scent is extremely evocative and emotive and there are no words good enough to describe the aroma of this cake as it bakes and when you take it out of the oven 🙂

The chocolate I used is a combination of two of my favourite Valrhona couvertures –  165 grams of Guanaja (70% blend) and 235 grams of Araguani (72% Venezuelan single origin).  The Guanaja is a little smoky, bitter, and very intense.  The Araguani is very nutty and smooth, also intense.   I’ve experimented with combinations of these two for a while and this ratio is totally OUT. OF. THIS. WORLD.  Calling Valrhona dudes … where’s the suggestion box?

The cayenne (or other chilli) is totally optional.  I occasionally add twice the amount in the recipe.  That’s undoubtedly too much for most people, or so I have been told.  😀  It is rather fiery for a dessert.  I do that if I want to keep the cake for myself.  Being evil is a tough job, but … I didn’t add any this time around, although a pinch of chilli does give this cake a little lift.  It could do the same for you.

Don’t like coffee?  I’d get that checked out if I were you, I’m sure there’s a cure.  In the meantime, you can leave out the coffee if you must.  Just don’t tell me.

Thank you Viane for the inspiration.  Enjoy.  It could become your favourite.

Serves 8 – 10

400 grams 70% dark chocolate/couverture
a generous pinch of sea salt
6 egg yolks
165 grams sugar
6 egg whites
25 grams finely ground coffee beans*
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne (optional)

*The coffee I used is Gridlock Columbian Santa Rita La Chaparral Special Reserve.

Pre-heat the oven to 140ºC.  Line a 18cm springform or plain tin with baking paper.  If using a springform tin that has any minor leaks, make a water-proof collar from a double thickness of foil and wrap this around the base and sides of the tin.  This will make sure that no water gets into the torte as it bakes.   Half-fill a larger tin with water and place this in the oven to heat up.  This forms the bain-marie, in which the cake will bake.

Chop the chocolate and place into a large heatproof bowl over simmering water.  Add the salt.  Stir occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool as you prepare the eggs.  Stir the chocolate from time to time as it cools.  If nothing else, it will make you happy.  There’s no bad in that.

In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale, doubled or tripled in volume, and the mixture forms a thick ribbon as you lift the whisk.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks.

Gently fold the ground coffee and egg yolk mixture into the cooled chocolate.  Include the ground cayenne, if using.  Finally, very gently fold in the egg whites.  Take care not to deflate the mixture too much.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin.  Smooth the surface with an offset spatula, if you wish, or swirl the top a little.  Place the tin gently into the bain-marie.  Bake at 140ºC for about 45 – 50 minutes.

Switch off the oven but leave the cake in the oven with the door ajar for another 15 – 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set carefully on to a rack to cool completely in the tin.  Once cooled, removed from the tin on to a serving plate.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Cakes, Chocolate, Special Diet

Vanilla Charm Quark Ice Cream with Blueberries

Maybe it’s because we are witnessing the end of the Space Shuttle era.  Maybe it’s the run of documentaries about space and the origins of the universe that I’ve found myself watching lately.  But I’ve got rather nostalgic about my time as a physicist.

While working on my thesis, I was stupendously lucky.  Lucky to have a wonderful supervisor, great collaborators and friends, and lucky enough to spend a whole summer at the Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik in Germany.  In a small town outside Munich, it was over-run with famous physicists from around the globe.  It was next door to the European Southern Observatory, controlling telescopes in South America.  I was star struck.  Awe-struck.  Call me a geek.  Call me a freak.  It was cool. 😀

My field of research could invariably be called astrophysics, plasma physics, or high-energy physics.  In fact, it was all three rolled into one.  Elementary particles and their interactions with gravity, intense electro-magnetic fields, radiation, and each other, were the order of the day … and always in star systems with massive black holes and x-ray pulsars.   Dangerous dudes to hang with …

I’ve always had a fondness for quarks.  Elementary particles have a number of properties like charge and spin.  But quarks also come in flavours.   Flavours?  Yep … six of them in fact.  Up and down, top and bottom, strange and charm.  My favourite is the charm quark.  It was so named because physicists were fascinated and pleased with the symmetry it brought to the sub-nuclear world.  Charming.

So I always thought it was funny that my first stay at the Max-Planck was also the start of my love affair with quark cheese (or topfen as it’s more commonly known in Germany).  A very low-fat tangy fresh cow’s milk cheese, I like to think of it as the German version of ricotta.  Truth is, it’s actually a dry cottage cheese.  Great to use in baked cheese cakes and fabulous on dark rye bread, or topped with berries.   I was totally charmed by it.  I used to scour the Munich markets for fresh berries and learned the names of most fruit and vegetables within the first few days of my stay 🙂  I especially loved the tiny forest blueberries, or heidelbeeren.  Sure, I also spent a great deal of time researching the city’s konditorei and bäckerei, tasting and documenting my thoughts on all manner of pastries and baked goods.  But, every night, dessert would consist of slices of fresh pumpernickel topped with really fresh quark and sweet blue heidelbeeren.  Sometimes just the quark and berries.  BLISSSSSS.

This is my homage to those sweet memories of a summer at the Max-Planck, mixing physics and foodie adventures around Munich.  Quark makes for a tangy gelato that’s fresh and light despite being very creamy in texture.  I’d say it’s like a frozen yoghurt but it isn’t.  It’s so much better!  (aside: I dislike frozen yoghurt).  The combination of the quark’s tangy flavour and the abundance of vanilla give this gelato its beautiful symmetry.  Its charm, if you will.   Add the blueberries, and I’m transported back to summer in Munich, way back when. 🙂

I remember standing at the bus stop at the end of a long day’s work.  A guy came rushing out of the ESO building waving a large piece of paper at my supervisor and me.  It was a print of the first photos taken by the Hubble telescope.  Hot off the press!  A historic moment and I was standing there waiting for a bus.  The photos were totally garbage though thanks to issues with the telescope’s lens.    I can empathise with the Hubble team’s plight.  Photography is a dicey business.  I’ve got a bitchin’ lens but photographing ice-cream is hard.  Because ice-cream isn’t … it melts.  Fast.  So please forgive the photos … the ice-cream looks and tastes totally charming and heavenly!

You can use fresh or frozen blueberries for this dessert with equally lovely results.  The liqueur is totally optional.  Go on, be charmed.

Serves 6

Vanilla Charm Quark Ice-cream
150 grams sugar
50 millilitres water
4 egg yolks
200 millilitres cream, chilled
300 grams quark (topfen)
2 vanilla beans OR 2 tablespoons pure vanilla bean paste

300 grams blueberries
30 grams icing sugar
20 millilitres Grappa ai Mirtilli/Blueberry Grappa liqueur (optional)

Make the ice-cream:  Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over a low-medium heat.  Let the sugar dissolve and bring to the boil.  Do not stir.  Place the egg yolks in a bowl nearby.  When the syrup has begun to boil watch it carefully.   Beat the egg yolks until light and keep beating as you pour the syrup into the egg yolks in a thin and steady stream.  Beat the yolk and syrup mixture until pale, tripled in volume, and it has the consistency to form a thick ribbon.

Using a hand-held whisk, whisk together the cream and quark until light and smooth.  Add the vanilla bean paste or seeds scraped from the vanilla beans.  Fold in the egg yolk mixture until fully incorporated.  Whisk the ice-cream mixture until light.  This will help it retain a light texture as it freezes.  Kind of like a “pre-freeze churn”.

Scrape the ice-cream into a container.  Cover and place in the freezer to set.  It’s best made at least 6 hours ahead or the day before.  It will keep for several days in the freezer.

Prepare the blueberries: Place the blueberries and icing sugar into a saucepan over a low heat.  Add the liqueur, if using.  Warm through until the sugar melts and the berries soften slightly.  Serve warm or at room temperature with the gelato.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Fruit, Ice cream & Sorbet, Special Diet

ABC Energy Bars

Look away now if you want pastries.  I promise something wicked for the next post 😀

Keep reading if you want a low carb snack after a workout that gives you your daily dose of heart healthy nuts and some quality protein.   That tastes good.

These are the first in what is likely to be an ongoing quest for the ultimate protein bar.  I can’t eat manufactured protein bars.  None of us should probably eat them.  They contain hidden sugars and lots of ingredients that sound more like Spakfilla and pesticides than food.  I rant about this all the time.  They also contain ingredients that are often off-limits to people with food intolerances (like me).   So in between making yummy treats, I obsess over what I can make to have after a workout when a protein shake just won’t cut it.

Pop two of these after a workout and you are getting your daily dose of 30 grams of nuts and just under 20 grams of protein and 24 grams of fat.  No trans fats and mostly heart healthy unsaturated goodness.   With a low 2.5 grams of carbs.  Sure, not as much protein as a shake, but they taste better!  They’re also good if you know you are not going to get a chance to eat for a couple of hours, keeping you going and not feeling hungry.

You can use plain old almond butter if you like but I’ve included ABC nut butter here because it forms a complete protein and it’s just so good!  You can use almond, cashew, or any other nut butter you prefer.  Make sure it’s pure nut butter, without nasty unwanted additives 🙂

There is no added sugar and they taste great.  If you want a little sweetness, be guided by how it tastes first and then add a little of your favourite sweetener to it.  I like them as is.  The texture is soft but not chewy, the flavour is nutty with a little spiciness.  Plus there’s all that fabulous chocolate coating.  Use good quality dark chocolate.  I used Valrhona Araguani (72%) but I’ve based the nutritional profile, below, on Lindt Excellence 85%.  Why?  It’s easier to find and would taste fantastic.

Frankly, I was totally surprised at how well these turned out.  SHAZAM!

Plus there is no baking involved so it’s pretty easy.  I haven’t even given directions for properly tempering the chocolate as we’re storing these in the fridge and, let’s face it, we’re not making moulded chocolates here.  Or pretty pastries.

Next protein bar instalment will be for a protein bar that packs a bigger protein hit but is much lower in fat.  That tastes good.  Watch this space.

In the meantime, these are helping me to get through watching stages of the Tour de France late at night.  My sporting tastes make it really hard to be in Australia at this time of year!


(Quick update: for version 2 of these fab bars, check out the recipe for Low Carb Protein Bars – lots of information and variations to suit everyone)

Makes 12 small bars

200 grams ABC nut butter (i.e. almond, brazil nut, and cashew or other favourite nut butter)
50 grams 100% whey protein powder
20 grams 100% pea protein powder
60 grams fat-free plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla bean paste or extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon roasted wattleseed OR the finely grated zest of 1 orange
60 grams dark chocolate (70% – 85% cacao)

Place all the ingredients, excluding the chocolate, into the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until combined.  If the mixture is a little too dry, add a little more yoghurt to achieve a consistency that can easily be rolled and patted into bars.

Form twelve small bars and place on a tray lined with silicon paper or foil.  Place in the refrigerator to firm up for about 20 minutes.

Melt 35 grams of the chocolate in the microwave or in a bowl over gently simmering water.  When melted and smooth, take off the heat and stir in the remaining 15 grams of chocolate until melted, smooth and cooled slightly.

Dip the bars into the chocolate and drain off any excess.   Place each bar on to the lined tray and allow the chocolate to set.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Nutritional Profile
The values here are a guide only as they will vary slightly depending on what brand of protein powder you use.  But it’s a good guide as they will vary only slightly if you use a good 100% WPI or whey protein complex that is low in carbohydrates and fats.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Protein, Protein Bars, Special Diet

Berry Chocolate Muscle Muffins

Muscle muffins?  Really?  Well, hey, if I wrote Berry Chocolate Muffins they’d just sound delicious.  Oh wait.  They ARE delicious!  But they are also really good for you.  But they are seriously yum too.

I don’t believe in adjusting my palate to strange and off-putting flavours in the pursuit of health.

So I don’t.  It has to be good for me, but I want it to taste good too.  No.  I want it to taste awesometastic.

But they are good muscle-building muffins.  Based on the nutritional profile provided below, you get a nice kick of protein and a good dose of healthy carbs and fats.  I like these for my pre-workout breakfast, meal, or snack.  Call it what you will.  I’d say they were great Iron-Man food but I remember a sugar-laden breakfast cereal makes that claim and has trade-marked it soooo … ditch the cereal.  These muffins will give you longer lasting and better quality energy than certain, un-named breakfast cereals. 😉

Coconut sugar features again.  Why?  It tastes unbelievable … like toffee and rich.  Yes, really.  Plus it’s really low GI (35) which is lower than agave and a whole host of other sugars.  It’s also a well-balanced sugar that doesn’t rely on an excess of fructose so better for your tummy and anyone on a low FODMAP diet.   Best of all it isn’t just empty calories either.  It has much more iron, zinc and trace minerals than most unrefined sugars.  You don’t need a lot of it to get a lovely sweetness that isn’t sickly.

I’ve also used walnuts as a change from almonds.  Lots of omega-3 type action plus they taste lovely and with the quinoa flour, these muffins are SUPER SUPER moist.  No added butters, oils etc.  Plus … strawberries … superfood.  Enough said.

I love them with a dollop of low-fat yoghurt.  More protein.  More calcium.  More yum.

Go for it.  Fuel up before that run or that gym workout.  Power on.  Muscle up.

Did I mention they taste wonderful?  There’s cacao involved.  Chocolate.  It makes everything AWESOMETASTIC.

Oh yeah, wheat and gluten-free yet again.  Aren’t I considerate???  😀

Makes 12 muffins

125 grams walnuts
75 grams organic coconut sugar
125 grams quinoa or coconut flour
25 grams raw cacao powder
50 grams whey protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
3 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
2 large egg whites
200 millilitres skim milk
1 orange, juice and finely grated zest
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or extract
250 grams strawberries (optional)
12 strawberries, extra

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC (190ºC if using a fan forced oven).   Line muffin tins with cupcake/muffin liners or use a silicon muffin sheet.

Place the walnuts and the coconut sugar into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground.  Mix together the walnut meal, coconut sugar, quinoa or coconut flour,  cacao, protein powder, and baking powder in a large bowl.  I use a fork to mix muffins as it allows me to have a light touch in mixing but also breaks up any lumps when mixing the dry ingredients together.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg whites, orange juice and zest,  and vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and mix lightly with a fork.   The batter will be mousse-like in texture.  Chocolate mousse-like.  It also tastes rather like chocolate mousse.   It already tastes fabulous and we haven’t even baked them yet!

If you want to add extra strawberries into the mix, hull and chop the 250 grams strawberries, and gently fold into the muffin batter.  Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins or moulds, making sure to divide the mixture evenly.

Hull the extra strawberries and cut in half lengthwise.  Place two halves on each muffin and press lightly into the batter.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted in to the centre comes out clean with just a few crumbs attached.
Cool on a wire rack before turning out.

These are best served warm.  You can freeze them, stored in an airtight container.  Pop them into a microwave oven for about 30 – 45 seconds to defrost and warm up before serving.  Great topped with yoghurt if you want some extra protein and calcium!

Nutritional Profile
I’ve provided the nutritional profile for both the original and the extra berry versions below.

Note that the fat content is made up of over 90% heart healthy mono and poly unsaturated fats as well as Omega complex.   A little over 50% of the total carbohydrate count comes from complex carbohydrates.  The muffins are also low GI and packed with iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and a host of other trace elements.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Breakfast, Chocolate, Fruit, Protein, Protein Muffins, Special Diet