What a big month!

I resigned from my job.  Started another.  Prepared for Christmas, our special visitor and all our festive entertaining.  Oh, and somehow managed to squeeze in some Christmas baking in between!

The beginning of the month hailed the end of my job for six years.  I returned to work from maternity leave at the end of August, but quickly started to search out a part-time alternative – as the work-life balance in the Mélanger household lacked the necessary harmony, to say to least!  Fortunately, a few months later, I secured the perfect part-time alternative at a brand new company, and immediately made the switch.

But there was no time to dwell on leaving my old job, as Christmas was fast approaching.  Much to organise and prepare!

I have to say, this year has been one of my best Christmases yet, thanks to my pint-sized minature.

It may technically have been baby Melanger’s second Christmas, but it certainly felt like her first.  With bub only a few months old last year, the day came and went without much fanfare.  This year, however, was bursting with endless shrieks, giggles and laughter at the endless stream of everything ‘new’.

The tree attracted the greatest attention.  There was nonstop pointing and ‘talking’ with lots of fast hand movements.  And there were quite a number of dances in front of the tree, including the odd twirl or two for added effect.  It seems to have made quite an impression!

Our visit from bub’s Ukki, also added much to the festive cheer.  It was such a delight for baby Mélanger to meet her grandfather face-to-face for the first time, and for her Ukki to see her BIG personality first hand.

I also had a lot of fun baking up some new traditions this year.  The Joulutortut and Joulupulla were the firm favourites.  And I have no difficulty visualising baking these goodies up year after year (whilst trialing some new flavours and ideas, too!).  Many thanks again to my friend Celina Laaksonen who was an enthusiastic guide in this month’s menu.

I hope you all enjoyed the selection this month, too?  I may or may not take a little break in January, but I hope to post a new exciting theme again soon.  In the meantime, here is the round up of this month’s recipes.

:: I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday and that 2012 brings much joy and happiness to you all xxx ::

{ Joulutortut :: Finnish Christmas Stars } For some time I have greedily eyed off these tender butter pastries, simply shaped as a festive star, and dotted with a small kiss of sweet prune filling in the centre.  This recipe produces a soft, cream based pastry.  It is incredibly simple to put together, and fairly easy to work with.  These little Finnish Christmas stars got an immediate thumbs up from Mr Mélanger{ Read more here…. }


  { Jouluriisipuuro :: Finnish Rice Pudding & Joulupiparkakut :: Gingerbread } Traditionally, this Christmas rice pudding can be served alongside a dried fruit soup (sekahedelmäkeitto), and there is always a whole blanched almond hidden inside (a bit like hiding a sixpence in a Christmas pudding!).  But I could not resist sharing this combination as a tribute to Celina!  The idea is genius.  The creaminess of the pudding, goes deliciously with the spicy, crunchy gingerbread.  I particularly love the gingerbread.  As soon as you warm up the spices with the syrup, the entire kitchen starts to smell a little of Christmas.  { Read more here …. }

  { Taatelikakku :: Finnish Christmas date cake } Finland has some light, fragrant and curiously bundt shaped Christmas cakes.  Far different from my Christmas cake memories.  I selected to bake up the taatelikakku, as part of this month’s experiment.  This is a wonderfully light yet moist cake.  The addition of coffee to the mixture adds a lovely depth of flavour against the sweetness of the dates.  And in my opinion, this cake should not be reserved just for Christmas.  It is simply too delicious!  { Read more here….}

  { Joulupulla :: Finnish Christmas buns }  This is really just a basic pulla dough shaped into the special festive shape.  I have made pulla more times than I can remember, and I have ultimated adapted this recipe from a few different sources (Beatrice Ojakangas, the Nordic Bakery Cookbook plus my friend Celina Laaksonen).  My father-in-law mentioned his mother’s pulla was less sweet, but he preferred the extra sugar in this recipe.  So feel free to experiment! { Read more here….}

It was only a few short weeks ago, whilst enjoying a weekend luncheon (and a delicious bite of quiche!) with my sister and her family, that I remarked how much I love pastry.  My sister simply nodded in agreement.  A nod that conveys many years of recognition and understanding.  No words needed to be uttered.

It is then very surprising that it has taken me so long to bake one of the stars of the Finnish Christmas table.  For some time I have greedily eyed off these tender butter pastries, simply shaped as a festive star, and dotted with a small kiss of sweet prune filling in the centre.  The recipe has long been bookmarked with a clear yellow post-it-note in my copy of Beatrice Ojakangas’, The Great Scandinavian Baking Book.

Beatrice explains that when these prune-filled stars are baked and served, it signals the beginning of the Christmas holidays.  Apparently the day after Christmas is a day for visiting and comparing the quality of the stars from one household to the next.  Everyone has their own favourite recipe, varying from a flaky puff pastry, to a rich and tender butter pastry.

This recipe produces a soft, cream based pastry.  It is incredibly simple to put together, and surprisingly, in the humidity and the heat that is Brisbane this time of year, fairly easy to work with.  A trial run before our Christmas guest arrives, proved very successful.  These little Finnish Christmas stars got an immediate thumbs up from Mr Mélanger.  I will definitely be baking a fresh batch of Joulutortut to surprise my father-in-law on his visit!

{ Joulutortut  :: Finnish Christmas Stars } Recipe by Beatrice Ojakangas from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

* Ingredients *
2 cups pitted prunes
Water to cover
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped
1 cup softened butter
Beaten egg, for glaze

* Directions *
Cover the prunes with water and simmer slowly until very soft.  Puree and add the lemon juice and sugar.  Cool.

For the pastry, mix the flour and baking powder. Stir into the whipped cream and knead in the softened butter.  Shape dough into a ball and chill overnight.

On a floured board, roll out pastry to 1/4 inch or 6mm thickness. Fold dough into third, folding first one third over the centre, then the opposite third over the centre.  Roll out to seal the layers.  Turn dough and fold again into thirds, making the dough into a perfect square.  Roll out, retaining the square shape, to make an 18 inch or 45 cm square.  Cut into 3 inch or 7.5 cm squares.  With a sharp knife, make cuts from the corners towards the centre of the squares about half way along.  Place a spoonful of the prune filling onto the centre of each square. Shape into pinwheel stars by lifting every other split corner towards the centre onto the filling.  Cover baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400F / 200C.  Place filled stars onto the baking sheets, and brush with the glaze. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes 36

Experimenting with the techniques of baking an Indian flat bread (without a tandoor!).

Testing new flour blends in some gluten free baking recipes.

Playing around with a Mélanger household staple to introduce new flavours and textures to rye bread.

And daydreaming of future travel plans creating a sweet Moroccan tradition.

This month it has all been about fruits and nuts.  Each and every single recipe fundamentally relying on the clever combination of the two.

I hope you enjoyed the selection!

{ Peshwari Naan } A combination of pistachios, almonds, dried coconut and sultanas are at the centre of this popular Indian flat bread.  ‘Baked’ quickly and simply in a non-stick fry pan, you can make beautiful naan in a matter of minutes.  You could also omit the fruit and nuts and experiment with a range of other fillings.  { Read more here … }


{ Gluten free Linzertorte } Here the classic Austrian pastry is transformed by gluten free flours.  A combination of gram (chickpea) flour played the stable structure role, and then tapioca flour lightened the mixture. An interesting test of gluten free pastry.  Will not be the last, I am sure.  { Read more here … }


{ Orange date and walnut rye bread } This bread is lovely and soft and is perfect with both sweet and savoury accompaniments.  The flavour of the dates was fairly subtle so when I bake this bread again, I will eliminate the walnuts and boost up the quantity of dates – or vice versa.  The orange provided a lovely overall freshness to the bread but could be omitted if you prefer. { Read more here … }


{ M’hanncha :: Moroccan ‘snake’ cake } When cutting into this M’hanncha, the light, delicate crunch of the filo pastry is a glorious enticement.  The first taste will not disappoint either.  The texture is moist and the flavour is fragrant.  The rose water is subtle and works well with the confident citrus flavours.  Overall it is not overly sweet, which is as refreshing as the mint tea traditionally served with it! { Read more here … }


{ Raspberry lemon frangipane slice } The sweet bread dough base is much lighter than its tart dough or biscuit base counterparts, making it a more delicate sweet indulgence.  The flavours of raspberry and lemon are a classic.  The subtle almond flavoured frangipane helps retains a level of richness and moistness.  The arrangement altogether, is one very easy to eat treat.   { Read more here … }


{ Fig and raspberry hazelnut cake } A play on a Dorie Greenspan favourite.  This little fig cake is injected with ground hazelnuts, and the figs were matched with a handful of raspberries. The overall result was a very easy to make, moist and flavoursome cake that is perfect not only for autumn, but any day of the year really.  { Read more here … }



{ Gluten-free, dairy-free orange almond cake } If you are a fan of the rich, intense flavour of orange marmalade you should try this cake.  There is no hiding the essence of the core ingredient here.  It is bold and concentrated.  The cake is very moist and a delicate slice (or two) is delicious served with a coffee or tea for a bit of an afternoon pick me up.  { Read more here … }

{ Almond Berry Slice } This little nutty fruity sweet was the very first thing I baked after bringing Nina home from the hospital.  Chosen for its speed of assembly (only minutes to prepare!), and simplicity of ingredients.  There is nothing fancy or chic about this humble slice but it sure is wholesome and soul feeding – particularly knowing it is very likely to grace the lunchbox my baby daughter in years to come.  { Read more here … }



{ Bakewell Tart } This tart is very easy to make.  It is essentially a very simple sweet short crust pastry, topped with jam and then a deliciously rich frangipane (almond paste).  I made this tart with blackberry jam, but would love to experiment further.  Perhaps create little individual tarts next time that showcase a variety of flavours.  { Read more here … }

Quite some years ago, I made a list of all the new places around the world I would like to explore. But somehow, despite having travelled fairly extensively in my younger years, the list was visibly much longer than that of the countries I had already seen.

Hmmmmm, a bit of a predicament!

Now, as time is gently ticking away (and yes, it is), I know I must get serious about my exploration list.  Unless there is some sort of cash windfall in my future, I have serious reservations that I will accomplish a visit to all the desired countries on my original list (FYI, over 50!).

So I decided to do something extreme.  I set myself the goal to reduce the list to my absolute, critical and most essential must visit destinations.  I limited the list to … dare I admit … only five countries.

Do you know how hard that was?  I mean, it is simple to create a long, extensive, and a nothing-gets-left-out list.  But a brief, short, you really-have-to-think-about-it one?

After much deliberation though, I am happy with the final outcome – and, of course, looking forward to future travel plans!

Morocco will be one of the countries I visit.

Although Mr Mélanger has already been to this popular North African destination, he is more than happy to travel there again, with me.  Together, I hope we share one of these sweet M’hanncha delights from a local vendor – along with a range of other traditional Moroccan desserts, cookies, pastries and sweets!

{ M’hanncha :: Moroccan ‘snake’ cake }

When cutting into this M’hanncha, the light, delicate crunch of the filo pastry is a glorious enticement.  The first taste will not disappoint either.  The texture is moist and the flavour is fragrant.  The rose water is subtle and works well with the confident citrus flavours.  Overall it is not overly sweet, which is as refreshing as the mint tea traditionally served with it!

I was inspired by this recipe from Tess Mallos (The Food of Morocco) and Jamie Oliver (Jamie Does)

Ingredients *
150g ground almonds
50g pistachios, roughly ground
125g icing/confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon of plain flour
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon rose water
90g unsalted butter
8 sheets of filo pastry
1 egg
Pinch of cinnamon
Icing/ confectioners’ sugar, to serve

* Directions *
Preheat oven to 180C/350F.  Lightly butter a 20 cm/8 inch springform pan.  Set aside.  Separate the egg and place the egg white in a large bowl, and put the egg yolk aside for the end of the preparation.  Gently whisk the egg white, and then add the almonds, pistachios, icing sugar, flour, zests, and rosewater.  Mix to a paste.  Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions (around 50g each).  Roll each into a sausage shape about 20 cm in length.  Remove one sheet of filo pastry from your pile (keeping the remaining pastry covered with a clean tea towel), and place the sheet with the long side towards you.  Gently brush butter over the pastry and place another sheet on top, also brushing the top with butter.  Place two of your almond ‘sausages’ side by side at the front of the pastry leaving a gap of around 2 to 3 centimetres around the edges (sides and front).  Roll up to enclose the filling. Form into a coil and sit the coil, seam side down, in the centre of the tin, tucking under the unfilled ends of the pastry to enclose the filling.  Continue in this manner to make three more pastry ‘snakes’ shaping each around the smaller coil to make a large coil.  If the coil breaks, cut small pieces of some extra filo, brush with a little egg yolk and press the filo onto the breaks.  Add the cinnamon to the remaining egg yolk and brush over the coil.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Dust with icing sugar.  Serve with cream, ice-cream or a date sauce!

Serves 6-8

The Mélanger kitchen has been loaded up with flour, dairy and sugar alternatives.  Over the last few months, my days have been filled experimenting with a completely different blend of ingredients.  Whilst trying to identify a source of ongoing pain, Mr Mélanger has been instructed to eliminate a number of food groups by his doctor as part of the process.  So here we are.

I am determined to be fully prepared if the inevitable happens, and Mr Mélanger is crowned intolerant to more than just the known lactose.  In fact, I will be very pleased to roll my sleeves up to alternative baking, if that is the only outcome to this seemingly never-ending medical investigation.

Removing foods from your diet through simple ingredient avoidance is probably the easiest solution.  Enjoying a rich flourless chocolate cake versus a wheat flour chocolate cake would certainly not be a chore for me.

But on the other hand, removing foods from your diet through ingredient substitution is a little trickier.  Wanting to enjoy, say a humble piece of pie, starts to introduce some obstacles.  There really is no substitute for pastry.

Mr Mélanger is quite partial to a piece of pie, so experimenting with pastry is a priority for me.

I wanted to start with a gluten free pastry recipe that combined both nuts and flours, hoping for a little more stability.  The linzertorte came straight to mind.

Using my go-to linzer recipe as a base, I began the substitution process.  I have gleaned from my limited research thus far that a good gluten free flour mix includes both a flour that is ‘stronger’ to provide a stable structure, and a complementary flour that helps towards lightening and binding ingredients.

So based on the limited selection of flours I had on hand, I chose gram (chickpea) flour to play the stable structure role, and then tapioca flour to play the lighten and bind position – plus I used a little measure of xanthan gum to help provide more strength.

Overall, the pastry was fairly easy to work with.  It was stickier than your usual linzer pastry, but completely manageable.

In terms of taste, both within the raw pastry and the finished baked product I could detect the flavour of raw beans from the gram flour.  In something so delicate, I will probably look to use an alternative flour next time.  But in saying that, when the tarts came out of the oven, the aroma was unmistakably hazelnut.

The texture of the pastry was still relatively soft.  It crumbled nicely but was probably what I would describe as a little too chewy.

Have you made a successful gluten free pastry?  Would love if you could share your winning formula!

In the meantime, here is my first attempt at a gluten free linzertorte.

{ Gluten free linzertorte } Adapted from Andreas Stössel – pastry chef and principal lecturer in patisserie at the College of Tourism and Hospitality at Southbank Institute of Technology in Brisbane

* Ingredients *
60g ground hazelnuts
120g gram flour
60g tapioca flour
70g caster sugar
4g xanthan gum
Pinch salt
120g chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg
60g iced water
Raspberry jam

* Directions *
Process the nuts, flour, sugar, gum and salt until combined.  Add the butter and process until you achieve a chunky, large bread crumb consistency.  Then mix in the egg only until it combines.  Lastly, add only enough water until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Remove the pastry and set aside for 10 minutes to slightly soften.  Then roll the pastry out between two pieces of baking paper.  Cut rounds of pastry to fit for mini removable bottom pie tins (approximately 10cm / 4 in).  Gently line the pie tins, neaten the edges and pop back into the fridge for 30 minutes.  Re-roll the remaining pastry and cut out strips that will be used to line the top of the tart in a crisscross pattern.  Also pop the pastry strips into the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.  Remove the pastry shells and strips.  Add enough raspberry jam to generously cover the base of the pastry.  Line 3 strips of pastry in one direction, and then 3 strips of pastry in the other on top of each tart.  Pop all the assembled tarts back in the fridge for another 30 minutes.

With the oven heated, place the tarts on a baking sheet, and bake for approximately 25 minutes.

Makes 4 mini tarts

Cakes.  Cookies.  Pastries.  Breads.  Puddings.

The latest round up on Mélanger explores sweet recipes that exemplify comfort food.  Home baked goodies that provide a little nostalgia and feed your emotions.  Foods that lift your spirits and soothe the soul.   Old fashioned favourites that bring back fond memories.

I chose the theme of ‘comfort food’ as I was saddened by the extensive damage around me here in Brisbane and throughout Queensland with the recent floods.

But now I finish this theme faced with truly heart breaking images of the earthquake devasted city of Christchurch, New Zealand.  My heart goes out to everyone there.  My thoughts are with everyone and their family.

{ Cinnamon apple Danish braid }  This 5 minute Danish pastry is nothing short of spectacular! Perfect for a quick sweet breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up.  Filled dough with diced Granny Smiths and a hint of cinnamon, this braid is simple and comforting.  { Read more here … }


{ Fleur de sel chocolate sablés }  Sweet and salty and melt-in-your-mouth.  Baked exactly per original instruction.  When a recipe is inspired by a Pierre Hermé creation, and developed by Dorie Greenspan, really, who needs to make changes?  { Read more here … }


{ Plum and white rose tea cake }  There is something comforting about a simple teacake topped with fruit.  With blood plums in season, inspiration for a flavour partner came from the floral scent of rose to add a subtle perfume to the entire cake.  A delicious combination with the sweet plums.   { Read more here … }


{ Chocolate Babka Bread Pudding }  Slices of lightly toasted chocolate babka are soaked overnight in a simple custard then baked until golden.  The resulting pudding is soft, creamy and chocolately!  Very comforting (and filling!), indeed.  { Read more here … }


{ Omenapiirakka :: Finnish Apple Pie } You need to try this pie.  The best part for me was how easy the pastry was to make.  And even better than that, how delicious it was.  I actually made the pastry a day ahead and was able to quickly roll out, top with apple and then bake in less than 45 minutes.  To keep it simple, I served with a light dusting of icing sugar and some rich vanilla ice cream to complement the gooey caramelised apple centre of the pie.  { Read more here … }

{ Rhubarb, strawberry & ginger crumble tarts } Rhubarb is synonymous with English desserts.  Growing up, I recall my mother creating a number of desserts that incorporated rhubarb.  Not to the extent that I eventually had to throw a hand to cover my eyes, and gesture any oncoming fruit ladened dish away, but to know that this humble fruit was versatile, practical and a hint towards winter.  { Read more here … }


{ Sticky toffee bread & butter pudding } Combining the essence of two favourite British desserts, the essence of the bread and butter pudding was sustained  using a homemade spice ladened bread, and the rich, buttery butterscotch sauce, made for a slightly more self-indulgent pudding.  A perfect treat for the cooler Brisbane winter evenings.  { Read more here … }


{ Marmalade & golden syrup steamed puddings } The sweet, steamed pudding descends from the traditional boiled pudding – a favourite at Christmas time.  The basic steamed pudding recipe is easy to play around with. It is one of the most simple and comforting desserts to make.  { Read more here … }

{ Mustikkapiirakka :: Blueberry Tart } This simple, rustic style tart is a snap to make and a treat to share.  The blueberries piled high look as inviting as they are delicious.  The simplicity of the tart is the winning secret.  Fresh berries sweetened ever so slightly with a sprinkling of sugar, and topped on an easy to prepare, flaky pastry.  Perfect for any time of year.  { Read more here … }


{ Banana pudding ice cream } A creamy and rich ice cream base injected with custard powder and cinnamon, along with a healthy dose of tropical bananas, produces a refreshing dessert reminiscent of banana pudding.  A winter pudding, with a summer twist. { Read more here … }


{ Chocolate pecan & maple scrolls } Soft, rich and sweet bread is layered with chocolate, pecans and drizzled with maple syrup.  Straight out of the oven it is hard to resist not pulling them apart and enjoying straight away.  Fill with your own flavour combination to personalise your own scrolls.  { Read more here … }


{ Mini doughnuts with homemade dulce de leche } Mini balls of fried yeasty goodness.  The distinct aroma of the cinnamon s ugar on the warm doughnut.  The unbeatable taste of that just cooked doughnut.  These fluffy yeast style doughnuts are a lovely reminder of old fashioned doughnut shop confections.  { Read more here … }




When I become fixated on something, there is an obsessed air of compulsion running riot within me.  When I am truly focused, I will explore every possible avenue before reaching my goal.  The target of my obsession does not even have to be significant.  Big or small, if I am determined enough, I do not discriminate in my manic treatment!

A recent object of focus was tracking down … wait for it … pearl sugar.  Okay, sounds pretty simple, right?  It should be, but here in Brisbane, not an easy feat.

Not content with simply contacting some local gourmet and speciality providores (and after checking if they stocked pearl sugar, and being asked “what’s that? – clearly you can guess the outcome of those phone calls!), I commenced the internet hunt.  Sydney.  Check.  Melbourne.  Check.  Seems this sweet little product is readily accessible down south, but how to get my hands on some?

Instead of continuing further in the gourmet food store route (where many stores do not appear to be set up well – or cost efficiently – for interstate shipping), I decided to start contacting a slew of Nordic/Scandinavian retailers and wholesalers.

In the end, I found my pot of white gold, from a small retailer in Sydney (it was not even promoted on their website), and they were happy to send me up a couple of boxes.  (YAY!)

I have been feeling somewhat of a fraud baking a range of Scandinavian/Nordic goodies without pearl sugar.  So by tracking down this requisite baking ingredient, I feel a (probably a disproportional to most!) sense of accomplishment.

All in all, it really did not take that long to find – far quicker than the commercial food grade bees wax I hunted down to experiment with the custardy goodness of Cannelés Bordelais.  Now that was a challenge!

But now, with pearl sugar on hand, it was time for another Viking conquest, of the baking kind.  The famous Danish.   I researched a range of recipes to investigate ingredient proportions, techniques and approaches.  I was on the lookout for some shortcuts that would work with the much reduced time I now have for baking.

In the Great Scandinavian Baking Book, Beatrice Ojakangas provides a quick Danish recipe.  She implores readers that using this speedy version is not only common in Denmark, but produces almost identical results.  Sounds good to me!

Using Beatrice’s recipe as a guide, I slightly adapted the ingredients (reduced the butter quantity, switched all the fluids to milk and added a good dose of cardamom) as well as the directions (I ditched the food processor and simply used a pastry cutter, keeping this to a one bowl dough).

It literally took five minutes to put together, and only about the same to roll and prepare the following day.

I do not think it does actually produces results similar to the more labour intensive Danish pastry (because really, why would you spend all that time with the traditional approach if it was not superior?), but what it does produce, in the very short time it takes to pull together, is nothing short of spectacular!

As Mr Mélanger has a weakness for anything baked with apple, I filled this dough with some diced Granny Smiths and a hint of cinnamon.  Simple. Comforting.

I see plenty more Danish in my future.

{ Cinnamon apple Danish braid  }

{ Quick Danish pastry } adapted from the Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

* Ingredients *
7g / ¼ oz active dry yeast
¾ cup milk (45C/110F)
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
190g / 1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 2 cm (3/4 inch) cubes.

* Directions *
In a small jug, lightly mix the yeast, milk, egg, sugar, salt and cardamom.  Set aside.  In a bowl, add the flour and cubed butter.  With a pastry cutter, blend together gently until the butter is cut to the flour but still is visible – you want some butter pieces still around 1cm in size (¼ – ½ inch).

Pour the wet mixture gently into the dry mixture.  Fold together only until everything is just moistened and starts to come away from the edges of the bowl.  Cover with plastic and pop in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, lightly dust a work surface and roll out the dough into a 30x20cm (12 x 8 inch) rectangle.  Fold the dough into thirds, and roll out again to the same size.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Repeat the folding and chilling process.  The dough is now ready to use.

{ Danish braid }

* Ingredients *
½ recipe of quick Danish pastry
4 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into small cubes
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
To finish:
Egg wash
Pearl sugar
Sliced almonds

* Directions *
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.  Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place onto baking paper.  Mix the apple, sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Sprinkle the apple mixture down the centre of the dough.  Cut about 8-10 strips (on a slight angle) evenly down each side of the mixture.  A pizza cutter works well.  Fold the strips over the apple filling in a crisscross pattern.
Let pastry rise for 30 minutes until it looks a little puffy.  Brush the pastry with the egg wash, then sprinkle the pearl sugar (across the entire top of the pastry) and sliced almonds on top (almonds just down the centre).  Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden.

:: Yeastspotting ::
I am submitting this cinnamon apple Danish braid to Yeastspotting.

What a baking journey this has been!

This month I ventured into (very!) unfamiliar baking territory and discovered egg free, dairy free, gluten free, and nut free ingredients and recipes.

Wheat flour was replaced with potato flour, soya flour, tapoica flour, rice flour.  Butter was replaced by vegetable/canola oils, dairy free spreads or vegetable shortening.  Egg was replaced by a heated flour/water thickening technique.

I have not even scratch the surface of all the possibilities, but I am glad I have challenged myself to bake with some new ingredients and food substitutions.  To give myself a greater appreciation of what people with allergies face every day.

Thank you to everyone that also trialed some of these recipes – appears as though the Dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free oat crunch biscuits (aka ‘Arnotts Kingstons’) were not just a hit in my household!  (Hint, hint….)

Big thank you as well for some of the other great ingredient substitution and technique ideas.  I am blown away by the wealth of ‘allergy-free’ knowledge out there.  It really is such a specialised area of baking.

Here is a round up of the recipes I tackled this month, plus a few from the archives that are more allergy-free by way of omission rather than substitution.

{ Dairy-free, egg-free brownies } This recipe highlights dairy-free and egg-free baking techniques. These brownies are sweet, rich, and chocolately.  They are moist in the centre and have a lovely crusty surface.  And best of all, they are a snap to bake.  5 minutes preparation and 25 minutes baking.  Simple. { Read more here … }

{ Gluten-free, dairy-free fig jam tarts } This recipe highlights a favourite of mine.  Pastry.  Just a simple tart pastry.  I adapted a previously used pastry recipe and switched out regular flour for a gluten-free flour mix, and used vegetable shortening to replace butter. The pastry seemed to work but warning … it is much more fragile than regular wheat pastry.  { Read more here … }

{ Dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free oat crunch biscuits } You must bake a batch (or two!) of these biscuits. For me, these biscuits are an example of how you do not have to sacrifice taste, flavour and texture, to accommodate an allergy.  If you have not already, I hope you bake some for yourself, very soon!  { Read more here … }

{ Gluten-free, dairy-free orange almond cake } If you are a fan of the rich, intense flavour of orange marmalade you should try this cake.  There is no hiding the essence of the core ingredient here.  It is bold and concentrated.  The cake is very moist and a delicate slice (or two) is delicious served with a coffee or tea for a bit of an afternoon pick me up.  { Read more here … }

{ Chocolate Chunk Coconut Macaroons } Gluten-free and dairy-free.  These little hay-stacked cookies are a simple little biscuit perfect for a sweet indulgence any time of day.  They are simple and quick to make.  The perfect allergy-free Petits fours to whip up at a moment’s notice.  { Read more here … }

{ Calisson d’Aix}  Gluten-free and dairy-free.  Calisson d’Aix is a speciality of Aix-en-Provence.  A tiny diamond shaped sweet, made with ground almonds and candied fruits and finished with white royal icing.  They are traditionally served with coffee after dessert.  A lovely little treat. { Read more here … }

Chocolate chestnut cake small{ Chocolate chestnut cake } Gluten-free.  This cake is dense and rich, but not too sweet. More appropriately a dessert cake rather than afternoon tea cake. But in saying that, it certainly it is quick to prepare and bake.  Recommend serving a healthy dollop (or two!) of thick cream.  { Read more here … }

Triple chocolate macarons small

{ Triple Chocolate Macarons } Gluten-free.  Chocolate is my ultimate weakness in the world.  Thus, in honour of the chocolate macaron, I create a triple chocolate macaron treat.  A chocolate macaron shell, filled with a bittersweet chocolate ganache, and a healthy dusting of cocoa to finish.  { Read more here … }

I have never baked with gluten-free flour before.

When I starting reading about gluten-free flour substitutions for the theme this month, I was overwhelmed.  Very quickly I uncovered a range of different flours people use in substitution for standard wheat flour – potato flour, rice flour, tapioca flour, soya flour.

And, even more interestingly, I discovered that people had their favourite blend and mix of these flours to achieve a certain result.  I was so impressed by all the baking trial and error that obviously had gone into finding those special combinations.

But these are all new considerations for me, someone who lives unaffected by allergies.

For my ‘Allergy-free baking‘ month, I wanted to include a favourite of mine.  Pastry.  Just a simple tart pastry.  I looked to adapt a previously used pastry recipe and switch out regular flour for a gluten-free flour mix, and use vegetable shortening to replace butter.  I figured that would be a good place to start in this gluten-free voyage.

I admittedly did not find making this pastry that easy.  The texture and consistency of the pastry was significantly different, and much more delicate and fragile to handle.  But, with an injection of patience, I managed to create some sweet fig jam tarts.

This is turning out to be an interesting (and educational!) baking journey.

{ Gluten-free, dairy-free fig tarts } adapted from Star Topped Mince Pies by Nigella Lawson

* Ingredients *
1 1/2 cups of gluten free flour
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
Zest of 1/2 orange
Juice of 1 small orange
½ cup fig jam
Gluten free icing sugar for dusting, optional

* Directions *
Measure the flour out into a shallow bowl or dish, and using a teaspoon, dollop in little mounds of shortening.  Add the zest.  Combine with your hands and put in the freezer for 20 minutes.  Measure out the orange juice and put in the refrigerator.  Empty out the flour and fat into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until you have a pale pile of oatmeal-like crumbs.  Add the juice down the funnel, pulsing till it looks as if the dough is about to cohere; you want to stop just before it does (even if some orange juice is left).  If all your juice is used up and you need more liquid, add some iced water.  Turn out of the processor and, in your hands, combine to a dough.  Then form into two discs.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator to rest for 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 220/425.  Roll out the discs one at a time as thinly as you can without exaggerating.  Out of each rolled out disc cut out circles.  Press these circles gently into moulds and dollop in a scant teaspoon of jam.  Then cut out your stars and place them lightly on top.  Re-roll pastry as required.  Bake pies for 8-10 minutes.  Cool on a rack and dust with icing sugar (optional) before serving.

Makes 2 dozen finished pies

Rhubarb is synonymous with English desserts.  Growing up, I recall my mother creating a number of desserts that incorporated rhubarb.  Not to the extent that I eventually had to throw a hand to cover my eyes, and gesture any oncoming fruit ladened dish away, but to know that this humble fruit was versatile, practical and a hint towards winter.

Given its tart flavour, rhubarb adapts well when cooked with sweet fruits such as apples and strawberries.  It also loves to be spiked with a little hint of spice, be it cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger.  Stewed, in a pie or made into a delicious jam, the strength of the rhubarb will ensure it remains popular for quite some time.

As soon as I decided on ‘British Desserts’ month, the idea of including rhubarb and a crumble was fait accompli, in a way.  But knowing the rhubarb crumble was a dish many had already seen, how could I give it a little Mélanger twist?  Just a little ….

I originally decided to sweetened my rhubarb with orange, and add some uncrystallised ginger for a little zing.  But after walking by my local fruit store recently, and catching the subtle aroma of the new season strawberries, I knew the orange had to be parked.  (Just for a while.)  So rhubarb, strawberry and ginger was decided!

Given the weather has cooled here slightly, I was also itching to make some pastry.  In particular, a zesty cream cheese pastry that complements fruit fillings perfectly.  But I admittedly did hesitate.  The crumble apparently was created as a way to compensate for war time rationing in Britain.  A way to replace the impossible quantities of flour, butter and sugar required to make a traditional sweet pastry shell, but still provide some melt in your mouth, buttery texture.  The traditional crumble topping, using just a fraction of the very same ingredients (note – no oats included), was the clever solution.

Although this crumble tart, with its rich pastry casing, really defies the idea of the humble crumble, I create this dish in celebration how blessed I am to not face the same rationing that sparked its origins.

Enjoy.  Cheers!

{ Rhubarb, strawberry & ginger crumble tarts } Original recipe by Julia @ Mélanger

Plan ahead and almost on a whim, you can produce this tart, bubbling with hot, delicious fruit, in a snap.  The pastry can be made ahead, and the good news is it does not need to be blind baked.

Baking uncooked rhubarb allows some shape to be retained through the cooking process, but still provides a soft texture.  Switch the strawberries for apples if you choose.  And feel free to omit the ginger.

It also would not be a British dessert without a serving of homemade custard on the side.  Recipe follows.

* Ingredients *
1 ½ cups of plain flour
½ cup caster sugar
125g / 1 stick of cold, unsalted butter, cut into small squares
240g / 8 oz cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon chilled ice water
600g / 20oz rhubarb, cut into small chunks
300g / 10oz strawberries, quartered
45g / 1 ½ oz uncrystallised ginger
2 tablespoons cornflour / cornstarch
¼ cup sugar
1 cup flour
¼ cup sugar
125g / 1 stick of cold, unsalted butter cut into smalls squares

* Directions *
For the pastry, combine the flour and sugar into a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine.  Next add the butter and pulse gently until the mixture starts to resemble very coarse breadcrumbs.  Immediately add the cream cheese and blend until the pastry starts to come away from the sides.  Add the chilled ice water as needed to bring the pastry together.  On a floured board, knead the pastry gently into a ball.  Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  For the filling combine the rhubarb, strawberries and ginger into a bowl.  Add in the cornflour and sugar and combine well.  Set aside.  For the crumble, mix the flour and sugar into a bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, or the tips of your fingers, blend in the butter so you achieve a very rough texture.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.  To prepare the tarts, divide the pastry into six equal portions.  Roll out each piece separately to measure larger than the size of your tart tins.  Cut a neat circle and line the tin with the pastry.  When all six are completed, pile in the fruit mixture remembering that as the fruit cooks, it will reduce in volume – so be generous in your portions.  Finally, liberally spread over the crumble mixture to fully coat each tart.  Pop the tarts onto a baking tray and bake in the centre of the oven for 45-50 minutes.

Makes 6 mini tarts

{ Vanilla Custard } Original recipe by Julia @ Mélanger

* Ingredients *
¾ cup milk
¾ cup heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

* Directions *
Prepare a bowl filled with ice and top the ice with another clean bowl.  Put to the side together with a fine sieve.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.  Set aside.  Gently heat the milk, cream and vanilla in a saucepan until small bubbles appear around the edges.  Remove from the heat, and add ½ cup of the mixture to the eggs whisking together immediately.  When blended, add the egg mixture back to the milk over a low to medium heat.  Keep whisking as the mixture starts to thicken.  Be careful not to overheat the mixture or the eggs will curdle.  For accuracy, measure the temperature and remove from the heat when you reach 80C /176F.  Without delay, pour the hot custard through the sieve into the prepare bowl.  The ice will help cool down the custard and ensure it does not overheat.  Allow to cool, and then refrigerate.

Makes 1 ½ cups

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