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Chocolate Babka

Have you ever tried a chocolate babka? They’re great fun to eat, and possibly even more fun to make!

Our latest batch came about when I uncovered a half empty jar of Nutella in the pantry. Coupled with Jane’s lovely eggs, Pete and I turned out six loaves to share with the neighbours recently. We used a modified version of our butter-enriched hot cross bun dough

  • 1kg bread flour
  • 20g instant yeast
  • 16g fine sea salt
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 180g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 large free range eggs, plus an extra one for the egg wash
  • 500g full cream milk, heated gently and then cooled to blood temperature, or UHT milk, unrefrigerated
  • Nutella
  • chocolate chips
  • caster sugar and water for the glaze

1. Whisk together the dried yeast and bread flour in a large, wide mixing bowl.  Add the salt and sugar and whisk in well.

2. Add 3 eggs, cooled melted butter, and milk, then mix together with a spatula or a clean hand until it forms a shaggy dough.  Cover with a tea towel and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

3. Uncover the bowl and give the dough a brief knead. I usually fold the dough onto itself a few times using a scraper.

4. Cover the bowl and allow to rise until doubled in size. Sweet dough can take longer than most, so don’t rush it.

5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and using your dough scraper, give it a couple of gentle folds. Divide the dough into three equal portions.

6. Flatten out each portion into a rectangle and smear over Nutella and sprinkle on chocolate chips. Them roll it up to form a long sausage…

7. Cut the sausage in half, and then weave it, cut sides facing up, over and under itself. Photos explain this better than words…

8. Now squish the ends together and pop the loaf, cut sides up, into a loaf pan that’s been lined with a greased paper liner (I usually spray it with a bit of oil). Repeat with the other two portions of dough. Cover and allow to prove until doubled in size…

9. Preheat your oven to 200C with fan. Once risen, brush the loaves with an egg wash (beat the extra egg with a little water) and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until very dark brown but not burnt. You’ll need to keep an eye on it, as the sugar makes this dough brown up very quickly. Turn the heat down a bit if you need to, and rotate the loaves halfway through to ensure even baking.

10. While the dough is baking, prepare a sugar and water glaze by boiling together equal portions of caster sugar and water until thick. I ask Pete to do it as I usually end up burning myself on the hot syrup. You want the glaze to be thick enough to stick. Any leftover works well in cocktails!

11. Take the baked babkas out of the oven and give them a couple of coats of sugar glaze…

These were a huge hit on our street! I made two raspberry jam filled ones as well – one for our neighbour Faye who is nut allergic, and one for Pete who isn’t a fan of Nutella. They were equally as delicious…

Best of all, that night we discovered the perfect way to eat chocolate babka – sliced very thinly and sandwiched around a sheet of crispy feuilletine-filled dark milk chocolate. Definitely worth making these again, if for that reason alone! ♥

 

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Chicken Bones

It seems that every few years, I’ll write the same post about chicken bones.

I can’t help it. I’m always just so blown away by the frugality of them.

If you live in Sydney’s Inner West, let me give you a tip. The chicken shop in Marrickville Metro – the one opposite Service NSW – will sell you a bag of chicken carcasses for $2. Three bags for $5. When Pete was getting his licence renewed recently, I picked some up. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised that each of the bags I’d bought had three carcasses in it, meaning I had nine to play with.

We immediately froze four of them, and then washed the remaining five. I carefully trimmed off all the fat, which went into a small saucepan with a little water to render down. We ended up with nearly a jar of schmaltz (chicken fat)…

The carcasses went into a 180C fan oven until golden brown, then into our giant stock pot with four litres of water, a tablespoon of salt, a chopped onion and a thumb of peeled ginger. The pot was brought to a boil, then covered and reduced to a simmer for 30 minutes. I turned it off after that and let it sit, covered for a further 30 minutes. Surprisingly, that was enough to infuse the stock with oodles of flavour (I think the roasting really helps).

I pulled out the carcasses and carefully stripped any remaining meat off the bones…

We strained the stock and stashed three boxes full in the freezer…

…then Pete turned the remaining stock and all the picked meat into the most delicious chicken noodle soup ever. It fed three of us for dinner, with enough leftover for lunch the following day…

. . . . .

So for about $3 (we used five of the nine carcasses), we ended up with chicken soup for dinner, three boxes of homemade stock and a jar of schmaltz.

I’ve always said that when times are hard, we could thrive on soup bones. Times aren’t hard now, but they have been in the past. And I think it’s wise to practise and hone our frugal life skills so that we’re ready for whatever the universe throws at us! ♥

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Cheat’s Chicken Curry

I used to make Malaysian chicken curries the way my mother did – starting with a good curry powder, adding extra spices, minced onion, garlic, lemongrass and curry leaves, frying the resultant paste in oil first…you get the idea. It wasn’t exactly from scratch – very few Malaysian curries are – but it was still a process.

Then one night a few years ago, Will and Bethany were over for Friday night dinner, and we started drinking champagne. I can’t remember why now, but we’d knocked off a bottle on empty stomachs before I realised that I’d forgotten to cook dinner. I’d had chicken prepped for a curry, but it was all going to take too long. Then I remembered a packet of curry paste that my cousins had insisted I try…

Even to my tipsy brain, the instructions were simple enough to follow…

I threw the paste into a wok with boiling water from the kettle (we were getting hungry), then bunged in the chicken pieces and peeled potatoes. Once the meat was cooked through and the potatoes tender, I added a carton of coconut cream and let it simmer a bit longer. Then we ate it, and it was the best curry ever. And since then, I’ve never made Malaysian curry the old way again.

I went searching for A1 sauces here, and found them at the Asian grocers in Flemington for $3 each, so I keep a good supply on hand these days. The only downside is the packaging – sadly, I haven’t found a way to recycle or repurpose it yet. One tip – be sure to get the right “A1” paste – there are a few brands using that name.

Then two years ago, just when I thought this curry couldn’t get any easier, I discovered that I can use my Römertopf to cook it for me while I’m out!

Last week, Pete and I visited Cockatoo Island to view the recently reopened Biennale of Sydney (there’s a post coming on that soon) and before we left I rubbed chicken pieces with the curry paste and sat them in my pre-soaked Romy pot with potatoes, coconut cream and a little water. As you can see, I literally just threw them all in…

I put the covered pot into a cold oven, set it to 200C with fan for two hours, then went out. Our oven has a timer to turn itself off after the designated time. This is what we came home to…

I marginally prefer the dish cooked in the wok, but using the Romy makes it even easier. Best of all, the dirty clay pot goes straight into the dishwasher and comes out almost perfectly clean. Definitely a simple solution for days when we’re out and about! ♥

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We have a very prolific lemon tree, and at the moment, it’s completely laden with fruit…

So I adapted a tried and tested recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple to work as a tray bake. It made a large batch to share for our weekend neighbourhood bake!

  • 300g unsalted butter, softened
  • 380g castor sugar
  • 4 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 60ml lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used homemade)
  • 6 large eggs, beaten
  • 180g self-raising flour
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 220g ground almonds
  • 400g frozen mixed berries, defrosted on a plate
  • 140g icing sugar, SIFTED (it’s important to sift it!)

Step 1: line a 23cm x 33cm baking pan with parchment paper, and preheat the oven to 175C with fan.

Step 2: beat together the butter, sugar, zest,  30ml of lemon juice and vanilla extract until smooth, then gradually beat in the eggs. The batter might split, don’t panic. Scrape down the sides.

Step 3: combine the flour, almonds and salt in a bowl and whisk together until combined. Add this to the batter in three batches, beating well after each one.

Step 4: spread half the batter over the base of the prepared pan and scatter over half the defrosted berries. Dollop on the remaining batter and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Bake for 15 minutes.

Step 5: remove the tray from the oven and scatter over the remaining berries and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Step 6: remove the tray from the oven again and cover it loosely with foil. Return the tray to the oven to bake for a further 20 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer into the centre (not through a berry) – if it comes out cleanly, then it’s ready. Allow to cool briefly in the pan, then remove and allow to cool completely on a wire rack…

Step 7: make icing by mixing the SIFTED icing sugar (yes, I know I go on about it, but if you don’t sift you’ll get lumpy icing that can’t be fixed) with the remaining lemon juice to form a smooth icing. Spread it evenly over the top of the cooled cake and allow to set.

This recipe is basically a double batch of Ottolenghi’s Blueberry, Almond and Lemon loaf cake, slightly adapted for sharing. The original recipe has the blueberries folded into the batter, but my defrosted berries were too soft for that to work well, so I added them in between two layers of cake batter instead.

We particularly love this recipe because it doesn’t have extra added dairy – so many berry cake recipes include yoghurt, sour cream or buttermilk – and because it uses lots of lemons. Having said that, we had enough juice from one lemon for the whole cake (the original recipe would have had us using four). Do try this one, it’s delicious! ♥

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Having two freezers and three pantries takes the concept of a “thrown together” dinner to a whole new level. Add in a reasonably productive veg patch full of leafy greens, and we’re good to go!

Last week, I went excavating in the freezer and found half a kilo of pork mince, some homegrown basil pesto that we’d made in 2018, frozen Parmesan, and a box of fresh rye bread crumbs (not dried). Rather than feeding leftover bread to the chickens and worms, I’ve started blitzing them up in the food processor and stashing the crumbs in the freezer.

The fridge turned up a week-old fennel bulb, in pretty near perfect condition thanks to its beeswax wrap, a carton of Jane’s eggs, a bottle of Lou’s home-made passata, and a jar of Graeme’s dark chilli paste (seriously, my neighbours are the best). In the pantry, we had a tin of Italian tomatoes and a packet of spaghetti. Dinner was sorted!

I made meatballs using the pork mince, breadcrumbs, grated onion and an egg, then bake them in a covered dish on a bed of sliced fennel and onion, topped with the passata, a little chilli paste, and the tinned tomatoes. It was baked with the lid on for 25 minutes, then with the lid off for a further 10 minutes. Pete thickened the sauce a little before serving it on spaghetti. We’ll often cook dinner together, each preparing a different stage of the meal, and it really is the best thing.

The pasta was topped with some parsley from the garden and a spoonful of the pesto. It was seriously so good. And it was wonderful to be able to eat such a simple meal that brought with it such a sense of connection and economy and community. I realised after we’d stuffed ourselves that dishes like this really are the taste of home. ♥

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