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    Entries in Australia (55)

    Sunday
    Apr182010

    MasterChef 2010 Madness!!

    Dan & I were talking about the horror of the 'real story' on the lower third of the page juxtaposed with the brightly coloured image jolly MasterChef judge. However there is a lot of pros to the whole MasterChef insanity... including; it's weeknight show that is family friendly & that's hard to come by nowadays, it's good for the economy with not only the big guns like the supermarkets & media making money but all the small food producers/retailers too. Adults & children are learning to cook healthy homemade sustainable food. As escapism goes it could be a whole lot worse ;) Below the MasterChef Australia phenomena.....

    When in 2009 newspaper headlines screamed the final episode of MasterChef Australia makes 'MasterChef finale the highest rating non-sport program since 2001' you knew something extraordinary was going on; especially when it actually beat some sports in the ratings & for a sports loving nation like Australia that's practically sacrilegious!

    MasterChef Australia is a cooking reality show, based on the long running British show of the same name and Australia is in the grip of what could only be termed as "MasterChef Madness". Inspiring a nation to dust of that saucepan and learn to cook, a recipe featured on MasterChef causes chaos in the food stores the following day as fans buy up that essential ingredient for the dish. Step son Dan's Mum and Step Dad own a butcher shop, after a lamb shank recipe was shown on MasterChef they found themselves so inundated with customers buying lamb shanks that they had to madly rush around to find extra supplies. 

    Julie Goodwin MasterChef 2009 Winner

    In a move that would do the merchandising department of Disney proud, you can't turn on the radio or TV, pick up a magazine or a newspaper without seeing "MasterChef". You can buy MasterChef the Cookbook, Julie Goodwin's book 'Our family table', buying the Women's Weekly to read her column perhaps your pre ordering run up Poh's Kitchen DVD or asked your newsagency to keep you a copy of MasterChef the magazine at the start of May & don't forget the current and upcoming cookbooks from the judges.

    MasterChef  the Cookbook

    You'd be hard pressed to find an Australian that doesn't know that tomorrow evening Monday the 19th of April the show returns for season two at 7.30pm on Channel 10. I'll definitely be featuring desserts and baking from the show.

    Let the games begin!! 

    Official MasterChef Australia website, for recipes, video and news about MasterChef.

    In Melbourne and looking for fabulous free range, bio dynamic meat then give Daniel's Step Dad Anton a call at McAdams Meats... 

    McAdam Meats

    Shop 18, McAdam Square, Croydon, Victoria

    (03) 9723 3322

    also carrying a range of fish, free range eggs, leg hams smoked on the premises.

    You might also be interested in...

    Half a MasterChef

    Monday
    Apr122010

    Martha, Martha, Martha.... Martha Stewart Living

    You may have read on my blog previously about how much "I love Martha Stewart", but there is a cost to loving Martha Stewart in Australia particularly if you want to read Martha Stewart Living magazine.

    Can you believe the cost of a 12 month subscription in Oz... $245.00!!


    If I lived in the US and could buy it through Amazon the same 12 month subscription $28.00!!

    Current exchange rate of the Australian dollar doesn't explain it.

    Borders Australia sells individual copies somewhere between $17 and $21.95 depending on how our dollar is trading. If I want to wait a month I can get Canadian copies of Martha Stewart Living for around $15 each. 

    *Sigh* I only get the "occasion issues"; Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving & Halloween but I do love my Martha and treasure every copy. 

    Tuesday
    Apr062010

    Golden Apple

    apple & raspberry cupcake, raspberry pink glacé icing and golden apple topper

    The myth of the golden apple...

    Zeus held a banquet in celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. Left off the guest list was Eris (goddess of discord), and upon turning up uninvited, she threw or rolled a golden apple into the ceremony, with an inscription that read: καλλίστῃ or, "to the fairest." Three goddesses claimed the apple: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.

    Zeus deemed Paris as the judge as he knew that Paris would be a fair and equal judge. He gave the apple to Hermes and told him to deliver it to Paris and tell him that the goddesses would accept his decision without argument, and so the goddesses appeared. Each of the goddesess offered Paris a gift as a bribe in return for the apple. First approached Hera who offered to make him a famous, powerful king; next came Athena, who offered to make him wise, above even some of the gods; and last of all came Aphrodite, who said she would give him the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife, Helen at that time, of Sparta (later to be titled Helen of Troy). Paris chose Aphrodite, which would ultimately lead to the start of the Trojan war. Paris soon went to celebrate the marriage of Helen and Menelaus with his brother. They spent the night there, and Menelaus was called to Agamemnon, and thus Helen and Paris were left alone. In this time they made love, and Helen left Menelaus and sailed to Troy with Paris, thus initiating the Trojan War.

    Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter break with family & friends, back to cupcaking today with beautiful Golden Apple toppers. I've always thought of the Zeus myth when creating these apples, but when I went to get the story from the net today the first Google results showed 'Golden Apple' as being a brothel in Sydney. That gave me something else to think about ;)

    I've made these apples (& pears) in the past to surround a large Christmas cake, they work equally well topping a cupcake. Super easy to make, start with by rolling balls of white fondant or modelling paste to create your apples in a size appropriate for your cupcakes, set aside for 30 minutes and get your stalks ready. I used the dry parts of mint stalk pieces from an unsprayed mint plant, and insert pieces into the centre of the balls to create a stalk. Set aside to dry for 24 hours.

    The leaves; I used tiny sprouting mint leaves to create an imprint on modelling paste. Pick your leaves, lay them out with the rear side facing upwards. Press and shape a small piece of modelling paste onto the leaves. Set aside for 30 to 60 minutes (don't leave it on any longer or the moisture from the leaf will dissolve the modelling paste), gently peel away the leaf. There will be a slight discolouration from the leaf, but that will be covered by the edible paint. Set aside to dry.

     

    finished dried and painted leaves can be stored long term in a sealed airtight container

    cake decorators edible paint available in nail-polish like bottles in metallic shades from cake decorating stores

    Next day, paint your apples and leaves with edible food paint, I use light gold. Set aside to dry.

    Attach your leaves to the stalks with a tiny pieces of modelling paste, this is a bit fiddly but not difficult. 

    Set aside to dry, paint the seam where you have joined the leaves to the stalks. Next... you guessed it... set aside to dry!

    All finished and ready to use as cupcake toppers.

    *Any edible unsprayed leaf can be used as a template. Make sure your 'stalks' are from the dried woody part of the herb/flower plant.

    golden apple myth wikipedia 

    You might also be interested in...how to make glacé icing

    Saturday
    Mar272010

    'The Cupcake Bakery' Cupcakes Review

                                Custard Tumble cupcake $4.50

    Daniel teenage stepson of The Lone Baker;

    Greetings! Welcome to the first, of hopefully many more reviews of Dan and Eliza’s to be featured on The Lone Baker.

    To start us off, we decided to visit one of ‘The Cupcake Bakery’ stores, inside Melbourne Central.

    Okay, no lies here… this was an extremely embarrassing experience… firstly, I was way too indecisive to actually place the order for the cupcakes, and had to ask Eliza to kindly ‘do the honours’. This was an entertaining decision, as I was privileged enough to hear Elly awkwardly ‘Fumble’ around with the Cupcake names ;)

    As I handed the bakery employee the money however, thinking I had given her a $20 note, I stood, and stared at her waiting for my change for a substantial amount of time. I was asked strangely if I wanted anything else, to which I replied; ‘My change would be good’. An awkward pause, and some puzzled moments of following explanation revealed that I had indeed given her the EXACT change… The Cupcake Bakery’s staff are kind, willing to laugh, and joke. We found this out quickly!

    I did mostly enjoy the cupcakes, for aesthetic reasons at least. The shop window revealed quite a vast selection of  ‘butter frosting swirled’, ‘glittery’ and ‘ridiculously chocolate-y (in a good way!) cakes, all of which leaving the customer a very strong desire to scoff down some cupcakes fast.

    Elly and I selected 3 to taste test, ‘Red Velvet’, ‘Vanilla Strawberry’, and the ‘Custard Fumble’- I mean, ‘Custard Tumble’, which was a decadent cake from the stores more ‘deluxe’ range, with a debatably difficult to read label in front of the product.

    red velvet, strawberry vanilla & custard tumble

    -So, this spot right here, was initially where I was to have my cupcake review. Though, due to self-consciousness and fear of having the ‘inferior’ review of the two, I have stepped down and given Eliza this position. But in all seriousness, hers was naturally way better than mine, and covered everything awesomely. Thanks! :P

    Eliza teenage friend of the the teenage stepson of The Lone Baker;

    They say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but in the case of The Cupcake Bakery’s window display of all their different styles of cakes, it was hard not to. A good five minutes were spent by Dan and I just looking at and admiring the fancy little treats. The Vanilla Strawberry cupcake, topped with a swirl of icing and pretty pink sugar, and the Red Velvet with its colourful cake and cute-as-a-button, heart-topped icing looked so good I wanted to hang them from a necklace or smear them on a T-shirt, or something equally as unorthodox. While the pièce de résistance of our cupcake quest, the Custard Tumble (or the Custard ‘Fumble’ as I incorrectly read AND ordered) with its miniature mountain of profiteroles and caramel sauce looked so good you wanted to eat it… which I guess was the point.

    vanilla strawberry $3.50

    And the icing and decorations certainly didn't disappoint when it came to eating it; but while the icing didn’t, the cakes themselves did. The Vanilla Strawberry cupcake was a nice enough vanilla buttercake, but its ‘strawberry filling’ was really nothing more than a dollop of strawberry jam on top of the cake- more of which was on my half than on Dan’s. But to be fair, I’m sure The Cupcake Bakery hadn’t anticipated a pair of teenagers buying a bunch of cupcakes and dividing them in half for one another using an expired metcard, and purposely put more on my half.

    metcard; public transport ticket & makeshift cupcake divider

    Who would have known, though, that the quaint little Red Velvet cupcake was meant to be a ‘red coloured chocolate cake’?

    I certainly didn’t. To be honest, I just thought it was ‘red’ flavour at the time, and it wasn’t until a few days later that Dan pointed out to me that it was meant to be chocolate. You couldn’t have picked it. I didn't. The Red Velvet was the only cupcake of the three we tasted that I really had a problem with. Again, my half was fine, but when I tasted some of the larger half that Dan snuck for himself, there was something horribly bitter about it. It was almost as if there was an ingredient that shouldn’t have been there, or the baking soda wasn’t mixed in properly. It didn’t make the whole thing overly appetizing. It did look really cute though.

    inside a red velvet cupcake

    Then there was the Custard ‘Fumble’. This little slab of decadence kind of proved to be a bitch to cut in two using our metcard-knife, and most of the toppings ended up smeared on my leg. Beneath the pile of choux pastry, there was a concealed pool of custard embedded into the top of the cake, which I guess is where the ‘custard’ part of the name comes in. Like all the others, though, the garnishes on the cupcake turned out to be better than the actual cake itself. The ‘vanilla almond buttercake’ was really no different to the vanilla buttercake of the Vanilla Strawberry cupcake, and nothing extremely special. The mini profiteroles and caramel sauce made the $4.50 paid for the cupcake all worthwhile though.

            review & photos; Eliza Nicoll & Daniel Paxton-Zahra

    The Cupcake Bakery can be found at...

    shop GD006, Menzies Lane, Melbourne Central, La Trobe Street, Melbourne

    Friday
    Mar192010

    Grind and Bake Tuile technique

    ANZAC biscuit Tuile; a 'tuile' is technically a thin curved cookie, typically made with almonds & in French literally means 'tile'. However the term is commonly used nowadays to describe any thin cookie that is usually served sticking out of plated desserts.

    I was reading Johnny Iuzzini's Dessert Fourplay last night, when he wrote about Graham Crackers saying "I love the flavour of graham crackers, but I have always thought the crackers are too thick. So I grind them, rebind them, and make them thin and very crisp." it struck a chord with me. Now, I don't know what a graham cracker is but I feel exactly the same way about Australia's national biscuit (cookie) the ANZAC. 

    I like the oat, coconut and golden syrup flavour of the ANZAC but it's too... ummm, "robust" perhaps, it's the biscuit you take on camping trips.

    I'll be making ANZAC's & covering their history for ANZAC day in a few weeks, but for today's playing around with this Johnny Iuzzini's technique I bought Unibic ANZAC biscuits.

    Unibic ANZAC biscuits are sold in Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Canada, the United States and New Zealand – with a percentage of total sale proceeds to various war veterans and community support groups. More importantly, the legacy of the ANZAC Spirit is being passed on to new generations of the public.

    I popped the biscuits in the food processor and ground them to this stage, added a few whole rolled oats, 1/4 tsp of salt and a tablespoon of golden syrup to make sure the ANZAC flavour wasn't too diluted.

    The ground biscuit mix was combined with simple/heavy syrup. I added enough syrup to make a thin batter, I wanted very lacy free form tuiles for cupcake toppers.

    I spread the batter thinly in free form shapes & baked them for 20 minutes.

    Thinly spread batter baking

    Happy with the finished tuiles (you'll see them topping a cupcake some time soon), I'll be definitely using the technique for leftover cookies in the future, I can imagine it working well with hard almond, coconut or oat cookies. Next time I'll use stencils for precision shapes.

    Grind and Bake Tuiles, fabulous to serve with ice-cream, plated desserts & as cupcake toppers, but not robust enough to take camping ;) 

    Saturday
    Mar132010

    Rainbow Serpent Cupcake


     

     I love Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, with my favourite being the 'Rainbow Serpent'

    The Rainbow Serpent is a common theme in Aboriginal mythology. The story shifts and alters depending on where the tribe is located, tribes living in monsoonal areas depict epic interaction between the sun, serpent and the wind, whereas tribes living in the central desert areas have a less dramatic retelling.

    The Rainbow Serpent story can be as simple as the serpent moving from water hole to water hole in control of the most valuable life giving resource 'water'. Or it can be more dramatic like my step-sons and husbands favourite version of the story....

    Far off in Dreamtime, there were only people, no animals or birds, no trees or bushes, no hills or mountains.

    The country was flat. Goorialla, the great Rainbow Serpent, stirred and set off to look for his own tribe. He travelled across Australia from South to North. He reached Cape York where he stopped and made a big red mountain called Naralullgan. He listened to the wind and heard only voices speaking strange languages.

    This is not my country, the people here speak a different tongue. I must look for my own people. Goorialla left Naralullgan and his huge body made a deep gorge where he came down. He travelled North for many days and his tracks made the creeks and rivers as he journeyed North. Goorialla made two more mountains, one of the Naradunga was long made of granite, the other had sharp peaks and five caves and was called, Minalinha. One day Goorialla heard singing and said, "Those are my people, they are holding a big Bora." At the meeting place of the two rivers, Goorialla found his own people singing and dancing. He watched for a long time, then he came out and was welcomed by his people. He showed the men how to dress properly and taught them to dance. A big storm was gathering, so all the people built humpies for shelter.

    Two young men, the bil-bil or Rainbow Lorikeet brothers came looking for shelter but no one had any room. They asked their grandmother, the Star Woman but she had too many dogs and couldn't help them. the Bil-bil brothers went to Goorialla who was snoring in his humpy but he had no room. The rain got heavier and the boys went back to Goorialla and called out that the rain was heavy. Goorialla said, "All right come in now." The Bil-bil bothers ran into Goorialla's mouth and he swallowed them. Then he began to worry about what the people would say when they found the boys missing. He decided to travel North to Bora-bunaru, the only great natural mountain in the land. Next morning the people found that the boys were gone and saw the tracks of Goorialla and knew that he had swallowed them.

    You may never see these lakes or mountains, but after the rain you will see his spirit in the sky , which is the rainbow. This is the reason why he is called Goorialla the Rainbow Serpent.

    Sources: Aboriginal art online  rainbow serpent story from Didjshop your one stop shop for didgeridoos. 

    Flecked fondant topped chocolate wattle-seed cupcake with the serpent being made from the leftover starburst fruit chews from the fruit chew post.

    You might also be interested in:

         Fruit Chews

    Tuesday
    Mar092010

    Liquid Sweeteners & Syrups

                                                              Golden Syrup

    Liquid sweeteners and syrups are often used in your baking and candy making, today a quick look at the most popular.

                                 a selection of liquid sweeteners

                                          Treacle

    Treacle is a twice boiled syrup made from a by-product produced in the process of refining sugar cane.

    Treacle is called Molasses in the US. However, black strap molasses (the same syrup boiled a third time during processing) is called Black Strap Molasses in the US, UK & Oz. 

    If you love Harry Potter, you will know 'Treacle Tart' is his favourite dessert, but treacle tart is not made from treacle... it's made from Golden Syrup (see below).

    Availability in Australia: Common, most supermarkets carry treacle. Black Strap Molasses is available in health food stores. 

                                 Golden Syrup

    Golden syrup is the syrup produced in the process of refining sugar cane. The first boiling in production produces the light coloured syrup, which is a variety of treacle.

    The essential ingredient for Treacle Tart in the UK and in Australia for our national biscuit (cookie) the ANZAC.

    Golden Syrup can be replaced by honey in recipes, though this will alter the flavour. Golden Syrup has a distinct "lightly burnt sugar" taste. 

    Availability in Australia: Common, all supermarkets carry Golden Syrup

                                    Glucose Syrup

    Glucose Syrup is a clear thick sugar syrup and a purer form of corn syrup (see below). Glucose syrup is derived from honey, fruits (usually grapes) and some vegetables.

    Used in your confectionary work to help prevent crystallisation of sugar.

    In most cases you can substitute light corn syrup. 

    Availability in Australia: Common, most supermarkets carry glucose syrup.

                                Corn Syrup

    Corn syrup is a glucose syrup derived from corn with some additives. Karo Light Corn Syrup is the most popular brand and has according to the manufacturer 'is a mixture of corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup , flavored with salt and vanilla'. Also available as Dark Syrup. 

    There has been some bad press coming out of the US about corn syrup, it seems to be focused around obesity and the use of corn syrup in processed food. Any of liquid sweeteners mentioned today will cause obesity if over consumed. For anyone following a healthy diet & limiting processed foods the occasional consumption of corn syrup isn't a problem. 

    Corn syrup is used to help prevent the crystallisation of sugar in candy/sugar work, in frostings & some desserts.

    Availability in Australia: Difficult, some supermarkets do carry it, otherwise you will have to hunt it out at delicatessens & speciality grocers. Consider substituting for glucose syrup if unobtainable.

                                     Honey

    Honey a sweet syrup food produced most commonly by Honey Bees. Most honey in Australia is mixed honey, however do try single varieties of honey in your baking for a flavour treat. Clover leaf honey is the best mild tasting honey for baking.

    With the same relative sweetness as sugar, honey adds a distinct flavour to your baking. Cakes containing honey brown more quickly.

    Availability in Australia: Common for mixed honey, single variety honeys are available in some supermarkets, speciality food stores & farmers markets will often have varieties such as lavender honey.

                               Maple Syrup

    Maple Syrup is a thin sweetener syrup made from the sap of maple trees. Most commonly used on pancakes, waffles & in desserts.

    Availability in Australia: Limited to good, pure maple syrup is in some supermarkets... it's usually always CAMP brand. Avoid the less expensive artificial syrups, the flavour is not comparable. 

    Thursday
    Mar042010

    Microplane Zesters & Graters

    Our lime tree is full of limes which lead me to pull out my Microplane zester.

    Tool Time the kitchen tools & gadgets I love.

    What started out as a wood working tool in 1990, is now the top selling Kitchen zester/grater tool in the world. Of course I'm talking about Microplane's zesters and graters. 

    Super sharp, yet safe to use I find my Microplane Premium Classic indispensable when baking with citrus.

    The Classic Premium Microplane is for the Grating/Zesting of Chocolate, Hard Cheese, Citrus Zest, Coconut, Ginger and Garlic. Available in a choice of colours.

     

    Fine lime zest

    Cons: If making custard desserts or citrus curd where you need to remove the zest, the Classic Premium Zester/Grater produces zest that is too fine to be removed. I put my lemon curd through my finest strainer twice and it still had zest in it.

    The Classic Premium Zester/Grater is not a garnishing tool, you won't get attractive topping threads of zest.

    Pros: Microplane do make other tools in a range that includes the Premium Classic range, paddle shaped zesters, rock salt graters to name to few. So you can find the perfect tool for the job.

    Extremely sharp, easy to hold soft grip handle, easy to use, easy to clean, with an included safety guard for storage. 

    Rasp sizes available in the Premium Classic Microplane

    The Microplane is one of those tools that once you have it you'll be asking "How did I live without it!". 

    In Oz you can get Microplane online at Everten or Peters of Kensington

    Elsewhere... Amazon

    Tuesday
    Mar022010

    Chocolate Hot Cross Buns

    Chocolate Hot Cross Buns

    Yes, I know it's kitsch but I'm a sucker for those little fluffy chickens!! Each year for Easter we bake at least one batch of hot cross buns, I like mixed fruit with citrus peel, Mark likes fruit and no peel & Dan likes chocolate hot cross buns. I went with Daniel's choice, I didn't have enough chocolate chips so I chopped dark eating chocolate to make up the amount. "Whew" lucky Daniel isn't here today he doubles the amount the chocolate!!

    I got a subscription to the Australian Women's Weekly magazine as part of resigning with our internet provider, I've been pleasantly surprised by the recipe content. This month the magazine contains, Easter Cupcakes, Hot Cross Buns, a French menu from Shannon Bennett (I LOVE Shannon Bennett!), plus slow cooking recipes, a low fat laska & reader recipes.

    Today's Chocolate hot cross bun recipe from...

    Chocolate Hot Cross Buns

    Australian Women's Weekly, March 2010

    Ingredients

    4 teaspoons (14g) dry yeast

    1/3 cup (75g) caster sugar (superfine)

    1 cup (250ml) warm milk

    4 cups (600g) plain flour

    1 teaspoon mixed spice

    1 teaspoon cinnamon

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    80g butter, chopped

    1 1/2 cups of choc chips or chopped chocolate

    1 egg, lightly beaten

    1/3 cup (80ml) of warm water (approximately) 

    Flour paste for crosses

    1/4 cup (35g) of plain flour

    1 tablespoon cocoa powder

    2 teaspoons of caster sugar

    2 tablespoons cold water (approximately) 

    Glaze

    I tablespoon of caster sugar

    1 teaspoon powdered *gelatine

    1 tablespoon of water

    Method

    Combine the yeast with one tablespoon of the sugar and all of the milk in a small bowl; whisk until the yeast is dissolved. Cover bowl and stand in a warm place for about 10 minutes until the yeast mixture is  frothy. 

    Sift the flour, spices and salt into a large bowl; rub in the butter. Stir in the remaining sugar, chocolate, yeast mixture, egg and enough water to make a soft dough. Cover your dough with oiled plastic wrap and stand in a warm place for about one hour or until mixture has doubled in size.

    Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes (you can use your stand mixer with a dough hook for 5 minutes if you prefer) until the dough is smooth and elastic.

    Divide the dough into 20 portions and roll each portion into a ball. Place the balls, almost touching, on a large greased oven tray. Stand in a warm place for about 20 minutes or until dough has doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 220c (425 F) or 200c (395F) if your using a fan forced oven.

    Method Flour Paste Crosses

    Sift flour, cocoa & sugar into a small bowl; gradually stir in enough water to make a smooth thick paste. Place the flour paste into a piping bag with a small tube or put in a zip lock bag and snip off the corner. Pipe crosses.

    Bake

    Bake buns for about 15 minutes or until they sound hollow when tapped.

    Method Glaze

    Combine all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over low heat, without boiling, until the sugar and gelatine dissolves. Transfer the baked buns to a wire rack, brush the tops with glaze. 

    Eat warm & enjoy!!

    Tips and variations

    *Cooled buns are suitable to freeze. Wrap well and store in freezer for up to three weeks.

    *For a vegetarian version, replace glaze with warm sieved apricot jam, use a pastry brush to brush over the tops of buns.

    *You can if you prefer make the buns the day before up to the shaping balls stage, cover the balls on the tray with oiled plastic wrap, refrigerate and the next morning bring to room temperature, pipe on the crosses, bake & glaze.

    *Omit cross paste and pipe on melted chocolate crosses if preferred.

    Australian Women's Weekly magazine available from Supermarkets, News-agencies, Borders and subscriptions on line from Magshop

    Thank you Cindy for the fluffy chickens :)

    Sunday
    Feb072010

    Vanilla essence, extract, beans, paste and sugar.

                                                Pod Wars

     

    Vanilla, the most popular flavour in the world! There are three major varieties of vanilla, Mexican, Tahitian and the most common Bourbon Bean (the islands not the alcohol). Second in price only to saffron, vanilla beans aren't really beans at all, but rather the cured fruit of vanilla orchids.

           Vanilla Orchid

    In Australia vanilla essence & extract are both pure forms of vanilla, imitation vanilla is clearly labelled 'imitation'.

    Today my husband Mark and Step-son Dan participated in a blind vanilla taste test, I did try to convince them to chew on pods but alas they would only taste test four brands of liquid vanilla extract/essence. 

    Some of the vanilla products available in Australia:  Essential Vanilla Extract 50g $21.95, Queen Vanilla Essence 100ml $6.53, Herbie's Vanilla Extract, Queen Vanilla Extract 200ml $10.52, home made Vanilla sugar with Bourbon Bean pod, Queen Vanilla bean paste 65g $10.88, Herbie's Mexican Vanilla Bean pod (top) $3.00, Herbie's Papua New Guinea 2 bean pack $4.75

    Now as you can imagine, tasting essence & extract when it's not in your baking isn't the most pleasurable way to experience vanilla but they dutifully tried them and this is their observations...

    The candidates; Queen Vanilla Extract & Queen Vanilla Essence; Queen is the brand in all supermarkets in Australia, Essential Vanilla; a French import sold by the Essential Ingredient, Herbie's 2 Fold Mexican Vanilla Extract; imported and packaged by Herbie's a small company specialising in herbs and spices.

    Queen Vanilla Extract; both Daniel & Mark thought this was not very strong in flavour or aroma with Mark describing it as "bland".

    Queen Vanilla Essence; Daniel said "I'd guess artificial, tastes and smells slightly bitter", Mark described it as mild tasting & plastic aroma.

    Essential Vanilla Extract; Daniel said "Smells natural, with a natural smooth taste", Mark described it as mild, with a natural aroma.

    Herbie's; Mark "This one tastes salty", Daniel "Stronger than the others, leaves a strong vanilla aftertaste"

    Hmmm, slightly worried about my husband Marks jaded palette, he thought they were all mild & there is no salt in the Herbie's! Me and what I bake with; I use Bourbon Bean pods, Queen Vanilla Extract when Vanilla isn't the predominant flavour, a jar of vanilla bean paste for the emergency "I've run out of vanilla bean pods" moments. Essential Ingredients Essential Vanilla Extract when making our favourite vanilla desserts & baked goods, the aroma & flavour is what you expect to vanilla to be, it always reminds me of vanilla milkshakes from childhood. Though at the moment I'm am loving the Mexican Vanilla extract from Herbies too.

    After organic? Then Neilsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon Organic Vanilla Bean Extract is the most well known brand. 118ml bottle is going to set you back $44.75 from Simon Johnson... you have just fainted if you are American haven't you? Seems to be a bit of an Australian import tax problem with the high quality organic extract, the same size bottle on Amazon is $7.49. In Australia, also check your local organic food store as there are organic brands coming out Vanuatu. Favoured by television chefs & cooks Neilsen Massey Organic Pure Vanilla Extract

    Make you own Vanilla Essence/Extract

    Ingredients

    6 vanilla bean pods (choose the plumpest softest beans you can find)

    2 cups vodka

    Method

    Split the pods and scrape out the seeds, put the pods and seeds into a jar with a tight fitting lid, cover with vodka and leave for 2 months before straining and use as per normal. 

    If you don't mind the seeds you can skip the straining step and the essence will continue to mature with storage. 

    Alcohol free; vanilla essence & extract are not suitable for Muslim consumption, whilst there is alcohol free extracts they aren't known for having the same flavour. Obviously you can use vanilla beans, but for adding a quick vanilla burst to your baking look into vanilla powder & definitely have a jar of vanilla sugar on hand.

    Vanilla Sugar

    Ingredients

    1 vanilla bean pod

    2 cups of sugar or one cup caster sugar

    Method

    Seal the sugar and the vanilla bean pod (either chopped or whole) in an airtight jar, store for two weeks before using.

    Stockists; Queen all leading supermarkets (Australia) Herbie's from Gourmet Shopper, Essential Vanilla Essential Ingredient