April 28, 2010

Hazelnut Cupcakes with Nutella Swiss Meringue Frosting

Hazelnut cupcakes with nutella swiss meringue frosting 2

Its been so long since I've baked cupcakes. In a way these cupcakes don't even count as being baked by me, so I still haven't baked any cupcakes since the end of last year. These cupcakes were baked by V1 from the dynamic V duo, with me as the baking supervisor. Sadly I didn't get an official supervisor hat - I imagine it would have been in the shape of a cupcake.....one can only dream right? So before hand there was a feverish email exchange as to what flavour cupcakes to bake, we settled on Hazelnut cupcakes due to their moist crumb and nutty flavour, and Nutella Swiss meringue frosting because I had copious amounts of egg whites in my freezer.

V1 did an awesome job. When coming out of the oven the cupcakes all looked identical, a feat I am still yet to master and her piping skills are pretty impressive considering it was her first time. It took her a couple of go's to get the hang of it, but in the end she got it. I was well impressed, her first cupcake looked like a rose! You know what the best thing about having someone over to bake cupcakes? you get all the joy of baking them, but dont have to worry about eating them all yourself! Not that that would be an issue for me, its just that I've become TOO efficient at eating cupcakes!

frosting is hard to do

There are heaps of recipes for swiss meringue frosting on the internet. After making this frosting quite a few times I've come up with a recipe that doesnt use a tonn of butter. Sometimes if I feel inclined I'll add extra butter to give a more creamy finish. Its a little scary to make, it seriously looks like the mixture has split, but then buttery magic happens and it all comes together and become fluffy and just perfect. Just persist and you'll get there. For a step by step and VERY american video, go here. I remember the first time I bought these cupcakes into work, my workmates were eating the frosting as if it was an ice cream! If you're a little worried about the egg-whites and want to refrigerate the cupcakes just make sure to let the cupcakes come back to room temperature before eating - or else the frosting begins to take on the consistency of mock cream - some people like it, I'm not a fan.

Hazelnut cupcakes with nutella swiss meringue frosting

Hazelnut, Vanilla Cupcakes

Ingredients (makes 18)

* 170g unsalted butter, softened
* 100g caster sugar
* 3 eggs
* 250g plain flour
* 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 tsp baking soda
* 100g hazelnut meal
* 1 cup (250ml) buttermilk


1. Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a muffin tray with cupcake liners

2. Place butter and caster sugar in bowl of electric mixer, beat for 5 minutes until pale and fluffy.

3. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda and salt. Add hazelnut meal to flour mixture then fold into egg mixture. Stir in buttermilk, mix to form a smooth batter. Carefully divide evenly into cupcake liners.

4. Cook for 12-14 minutes, or until cupcakes are firm to the touch

naked cupcakes

Swiss Meringue Frosting


* 200 g egg whites
* 3/4 cups granulated sugar
* 200g (roughly) unsalted butter, cut into 1cm pieces, slightly cool but not at room temperature
* 200g dark chocolate and 1 small jar of Nutella


1. Melt chocolate over a baine marie, put aside and allow to come to room temperature

2. Add sugar to egg whites and whisk together over simmering water until egg-white mixture is hot to touch or a candy thermometer reads 60°C.

3. Pour hot whites into a room-temperature bowl and whip on medium-high speed until doubled in volume.

4. Continue to whip the mixture on low-medium. Add half the butter into the bowl and continue to whisk until all melted. Add the rest of the butter one piece at a time until all butter has been incorporated. Dont worry if the mixture looks sloppy, it will fluff up as the mixture cools and forms an emulsion.

5. Continue beating until the mixture begins to look light and fluffy. Replace whip with a paddle and add melted chocolate, and enough Nutella to make you happy and continue to beat. The chocolate adds colour while the Nutella will add flavour. Before frosting cupcakes, place in the fridge to slightly firm, this helps with pipping onto cupcakes. If the mixture becomes too cool, re-whip and use immediately. Any left over frosting can be stored in the freezer.

nutella swiss meringue frosting

April 22, 2010

Dead Man Espresso

35 Market Street
South Melbourne
9686 2255
outside deadman espresso

I enjoy a good cup of coffee, a few of the cafes around Melbourne serve some of the best coffee in the nation. On a particularly sunny day, Daz and I got together with Agnes and Alastair from Off the Spork and Agnes' brother Pat. To be honest we decided to go to Dead Man Espresso because of all the hype surrounding their coffee, yes I was totally lured in by all the talk. For me the coffee was not impressive, by I was pleasantly surprised by the food. The fresh flavours danced on my palate and I quickly forgot my disappointment regarding the coffee.

We ordered from the breakfast menu and got the "BLT" pork belly and spinach puree on brioche with gazpacho and the Crumpets with smoke salmon, mango and avocado salsa and orange sauce.

BLT dead man espresso

The BLT was pretty delicious. The brioche was buttery and fluffy, just like good brioche should be and the pork belly within was quite tasty. It had been cooked nicely so the pork was quite soft and broke apart easily with the very soft bread. I remember looking over at Daz's plate thinking "boy that looks like a big serve" then diverted my eyes to my own plate of food. I looked back at his plate hoping to score a second bite, but it was gone! Slow eaters are losers in our family, and I got the short end of the stick on this occasion. Daz's only negative comment on the dish was that the gazpacho tasted a bit like canned tomato juice, I didn't get to try it so can't comment.

salmon crumpet

I had the crumpets, I couldn't go past the smoked salmon. I hadn't had breakfast so the crumpets were pretty appealing to me, why not sneak a breakfast item in at any occasion? I try to work porridge and pasta into the same dish, but it hasn't scored any fans yet. So back to the crumpets. I adored the mango and orange sauce over the salad, it add some sweetness and a bit of zing, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The smoked salmon was thankfully well done, sliced a little thicker than normal and not greasy at all....unlike supermarket packet stuff.....there I said it. The crumpets were an item of discussion, to me they looked alot more like english muffins rather than the traditional crumpets I'm used to. Agnes suggested they might be a crumffin......a cross between a crumpet and a muffin, then I suggested it might be a muppet.......that didn't quite make sense, so we agreed to stick to crumffin.

chairs outside dead man espresso

I'll definitely be back to give the lunch menu a crack.

April 9, 2010

Results - Caramel Pecan Slice

caramel hazelnut slice

So before I get to the glorious results, I might let everyone know the little story behind my signed copy of Vanitas Gourmet Collection, The culinary stylings and splendour of an inspirational hotel. Not exactly a funny story, more like a series of strange occurrences. On the night of our dinner at Vanitas, the maitre de handed us the highly stylized cook book, a chance for us to flick through it and drool at all the beautiful photos. We were quickly informed that we could purchase a copy if we so pleased, and that Steve Szabo would sign it. Say no more, Maria has bought the line....hook and sinker. I let the maitra de know that I was interested in buying the book and getting a signed copy about half way through our meal. We had just received our 4th course out of 8 and were heading for a very full belly. The maitre de came back shortly after letting us know that Steve had left for the night and would be back the following day. I thought, hang on a sec, we're half way through our meal and the head chef has already gone home??....hmmm I wonder who's calling the shots in the kitchen right now. He let us know that if we wanted to return tomorrow night, before dinner service began, Steve would be happy to sign the book then. I thought, ok, that works out perfectly. We had planned to spend the following day at Sea World, which was only just up the road. So once we were done at Sea World we could make a quick stop in at hotel Versace before dinner begins.

caramel hazelnut slice from above

I was pretty excited to tell the truth. I was a shoe in for getting a signed copy and it was highly likely I might actually meet Steve. Considering we had been pretty friendly with the staff the night before, and they all seemed so helpful there was no reason for me to believe they wouldn't be exactly the same the next day. We walked into the hotel at around 5.30pm, not too early, not too late. We were wearing shorts and t-shirts, nothing strange in and around Surfers Paradise in Summer. Vanitas is towards the back right hand side within the hotel lobby. Since I could see the same maitre de from the night before we headed straight for the door. By the time we walked in the guy had disappeared, so we waited for someone to come speak to us. About 30 seconds later we were kicked out and told to stand on the other side of the door. I explained what we were there for and shortly afterwards the same maitre de greeted us. I had to explain the entire story to him, because some how in the last 24 hours his memory of us was completely wiped! Very strange I thought, considering the whole book signing thing and telling us to come back the next day. Once we had worked out what was going on he said he'd check the kitchen to see if Steve was in and would be right back, but left us standing on the other side of the glass doors, with a completely empty restaurant staring at us....mocking us with it plush seats. It felt like we were kids and mum had just mopped the floors and we were covered in mud from playing in the garden and weren't allowed in until either the floors had dried or we cleaned ourselves up. He returned a short time later, letting us know that Steve had not shown up yet. What!!??!! Its now pretty close to 6, when does this guy show up for work? Considering this place is supposed to be a top kitchen, I'm sure there would be plenty of prepping to do and apprentices to whip. He then let us know that Steve actually stays in the hotel, so it wouldn't be long until he came down. He took the book away and we waited. He returned a little while later, with the book signed and an unhappy look on his face. The whole ordeal was a little off putting. It completely ruined the whole experience for me, and in a way I wish I had just eaten my meal and never bought the book!

caramel hazelnut slice take a bite

So that's the story. More annoying rather than anything. But now I have many recipes I can attempt and miseries to live....hopefully in my own home kitchen, rather than outside a restaurant door.

So back to the results! I decided to make this slice for a work morning tea. So I left all the fancy stuff off and only made a slice, with a slight change. I used hazelnuts instead of pecans.

carame pecan slice

I have too things to say about this recipe. Sweet but delicious. The sugar content will rival any diabetics sugar high, but after one bite you'll always want more. I cut the slice into tiny portions, keeping in mind the sweetness of it. I couldn't imagine what it would taste like with the praline topping and vanilla syrup. As a complete dessert it would need something tart to compliment the sweetness.

caramel pecan slice out of oven

I would highly recommend trying this. The recipe is dead easy, and the pastry does exactly was it says it will and shrinks just a little. I keep getting requests to cook this again. I have an up coming blood test, so not until I get my results from that first!!

April 6, 2010

Caramel Pecan Slice

Restaurant: Vanitas (Queensland)

Recipe from book "Vanitas Gourmet Collection, The culinary stylings and splendour of an inspirational hotel" - Chef Steve Szabo

2010 Rating: Number 81, 1 Star

Last year in March Daz and I went to Queensland for a holiday involving copious amounts of eating and theme parking! Both activities were extremely enjoyable, and to be honest, its difficult for me to rate one above the other. One of our more notable experience was dinner in the luxurious hotel Versace at Vanitas. It was notable for a couple of reasons, both good and bad - to this day that scallop and rock melon soup sticks in my mind!

vanitas cookbook

I'm sucker for restaurant cook books, so I jumped at the chance to purchase their publication. Yes, it was VERY expensive, I probably could have had another nice dinner somewhere else for the price of the book, but then I wouldn't have the book. We trekked back to Vanitas on the following day of our dinner so I could get Steve Szabo to sign it. I never actually got to meet Steve, and to tell you the truth the whole signing ordeal was a bit strange - but thats another story.

signed vanita book

For twelve months this book has been staring at me. There are some very interesting recipes in there, some difficult, some extremely difficult. I thought I would start with probably the easiest one in there, a complete no brainer - the Caramel Pecan Slice. Heres the recipe, so stay tuned for the glorious results!!

book image
Apparently this is what the caramel slice is "supposed" to look like...pretty huh??

Caramel Pecan Slice
Serves 4


1 fig, quartered
4 fresh mint tips

Sweet Pastry
75g butter, softened
30g caster sugar
1 egg
1 cup plain flour

Caramel topping
1/4 cup golden syrup
75g unsalted butter
395g tin condensed milk
50g pecans, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

Pecan praline
100g sugar
1/2 tsp water
30g pecans, lightly toasted

Vanilla syrup
100g sugar
1 1/2 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp honey
1 vanilla bean, split length ways, seed removed and cut in half to make 4 batons
1/4 cup caster sugar

Preheat oven to 160C


Lightly grease and line a 2- x 30cm baking tin with baking paper

To make sweet pastry, cream butter and sugar in mixing bowl. Slowly add egg and flour and bring together, being careful not to overwork dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. When chilled, on a lightly floured work surface, work dough gently with your hands for 1-2 minutes or until soft enough to roll. Roll out to a thickness of 5mm and place in prepared baking tin, making sure that dough is pushed well into corners and comes about 1cm up sides of tin - this is to allow for shrinkage. The aim is to have a flat pastry base that covers the base of the baking tin only. chill for another 20 minutes then transfer to oven for 10 minutes or until pastry is firm but not coloured.

Increase oven temperature to 170C

To make caramel topping, combine golden syrup and butter in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat, add condensed milk and pecans and mix well. Pour caramel over pastry base and place in the oven for 10 minutes or until set firm. Return to refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours add slice into 8cm squares using a knife dipped in hot water. Line baking tray with baking paper.

To make pecan praline, melt sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan over low heat for 10-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat, add pecans, coat well with caramel and pour on to prepared baking tray. Allow to set at room temperature. Once cold, chop into small pieces or place in food processor and blitz until fine. Be careful not to over process as praline will heat up and stick together. Praline can be kept in an airtight container for 1 month in pantry.

To make vanilla syrup, bring sugar and water to the boil, add honey and cook for 5 minutes or until golden. Remove from heat and carefully dip vanilla bean lengths in syrup for about 20 seconds. Remove and roll in caster sugar. To finish syrup, add seeds scraped from vanilla bean and allow to cool.

To serve, sprinkle crushed pecan praline on top of 4 portions of caramel slice. Place each slice on a serving plate. Stand a fig quarter beside caramel slice and decorate with crystallized vanilla bean baton, mint and vanilla syrup.