Salted caramel and kouign amann…need I say more?!

Many years ago on a trip to Paris, I came across one of the most delicious cake/pastry/baked good/sweet goodness I had ever eaten at La pâtisserie des Rêves.  That day my life felt a little more complete as I fell in love with this rich, buttery, sweet, crispy but soft cake called Kouign Amann.

My french vocabulary only consists of names of baked goods (which is rather important), numbers one to ten and the obligatory pleases and thank you.  I can order a drink and pastry but cannot ask for a bus ticket…so you can see what the priorities are in my life. I learnt a long time ago that french words are hardly ever pronounced the way they are spelt, so figuring out how to pronounce kouign amann became very important if I ever wanted to find this again.

Along with learning how to pronounce it, I spent a little bit of time researching the history, recipes and method of making these delightful morsels of yumness…this was only the start of my obsession.  Once I deemed it too tedious and hard to make at home, I made sure it was a priority to find this cake on every trip I made to France. My obsession wasn’t just buying it to eat there and then, I would also take empty plastic containers with me on my trip, just so I could take a few away to prolong the happiness.

When I was planning my last trip to Paris, I knew I had a few spare days and it was then I decided that a trip to Brittany was a must…but where to? After much deliberation (with myself) and searching through the minefield that is the SNCF website, I decided on Rennes and Saint Malo. Primarily because these were cities that are easily accessible by train and being time poor they seemed to be the best options.  To be honest, I would have been happy to go anywhere in Brittany, since it is the region that gave the world salted caramel, kouign amann and other delicious things which I discovered later.

Rennes was an easy choice when I was planning this adventure, because it is the capital of the region so getting in and out of this city wouldn’t be a problem.  This French city like most, has beautiful architecture, cobble stoned streets, a Hotel de Ville, beautiful churches and cathedrals, a high street and of course a cultural precinct.

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A dear friend of mine who is also obsessed with food, decided to join me on this French adventure. Upon arriving in Rennes, the first order of business was to locate any patisserie that sold kouign amann. Any sights that we would come across would be secondary to that…that’s just how we roll.  While we were wondering through the cobblestone streets of Rennes, we came across a little boulangerie and patisserie called Mahieu Christiane and the kouign amann was mine (ours).  The kouign amann was just as spectacular as it looked. I was quite sad that I had to share and I still don’t know why I didn’t buy two.

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While I was researching what to eat in Rennes, many websites and blogs mentioned breton galettes as a must eat.  These are crêpes made from buckwheat flour and usually have a savoury filling.  I’m not sure if I ever told my friend that I’m not the biggest fan of crêpes…but when in Rennes…

The first evening we had dinner at Crêperie La Gavotte. It’s a small, cosy and quaint crêperie with an extensive menu in French.  The waitress was lovely and helped us through the menu, along with google translate.  My crêpe was actually quite delicious, it was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside with a nutty flavour.  To my amazement, I rather enjoyed the crêpe and if this is what I have to look forward to over the next few days, I say…bring it on!

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The next morning we decided to take a day trip to Saint Malo, which is about 30 minutes north of Rennes by train.  It is a small sea side walled city on the English channel and is one of the major ferry ports in that part of France.  Being so close to the sea means seafood! So, not only was I loving the abundance of salted caramel and kouign amann right before me, I was now searching for some sort of delightful seafood dish.

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Saint Malo welcomed us with rain, wind and a whole lot of gloom, so the only thing to do was to find shelter and eat, eat, eat to pass the time.  We ended up at the highly rated Salon de thé Bergamote and it didn’t disappoint.  I ordered the galette St. Jacques and it was extraordinary.  It was one of those dishes that has simple ingredients, but the execution was nothing short of amazing.  This was my favourite and most memorable plate of the trip…hands down!

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Dessert was also a must to finish off this wonderful experience…salted caramel ice cream of course!

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As we were leaving Saint Malo, the school kids and the sun decided to come out and play.  This is probably the first time I have ever got onto a bus and my feet didn’t even touch the ground…kinda like crowd surfing standing up. We made it just in the nick of time to the train station, and we were off back to Rennes.

That evening in Rennes we went in search for another crêpe and we ended up at Crêperie Ouzh Taol.  This crêperie had a more modern layout and my first impression was that it would be like a tourist trap, as it is located on one of the main restaurant streets.  I was wrong…the galette was just as good, if not better than the one from the previous night…just so delicious!

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On our last day in Rennes, we did a bit more exploring of this city and to my surprise (putting it mildly) we found a salted caramel kouign amann! My heart definitely skipped a beat…or two.  I think my friend thought I was going to have a heart attack when I came across these wonders and I’m pretty sure I frightened a few by standers with my reaction. Just look at the pictures and you’ll understand why…they have pick n’ mix kouign amann!! So, of course I needed these in my life…like right now!

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When people mention France, it’s without a doubt Rennes and Saint Malo would not be on the list of places to visit.  Even my French friends asked my “why?” on several occasions. But if you have the time to explore, I would definitely recommend travelling to these two beautiful cities…just so you can eat what I have, and maybe a little bit more!

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Fairy Godmother

So it has been quite a while since my last post…days just seem to disappear and then it’s 7 months later.  To be honest I haven’t had much motivation to blog since my last post…been busy trying to find my “happily ever after”.  Not only am I eager to find this “happily ever after” but it seems everyone around me wants to know as well.  By “happily ever after”, I mean my life after London.  Even though I officially left in October 2013, I have made 3 long haul trips back to the magical city, so it really doesn’t feel like I’ve actually left.  Now with no more planned trips in the near future…I think it’s time to “grow up”…for now.

As I sit here in my room typing away…it makes me think how much I actually miss my London peeps and life.  But that’s a story for another time.  So, since my last post my work life has been a little hectic.  Creating and developing new and exciting recipes for the last instalment of the Primrose Bakery cookbooks (for now).  My December deadline meant many baking experiments, finding guinea pigs for honest feedback, last minute recipe changes, and typing and formatting recipes.  Then in February, I made my final trip to London (for a while) to work on the photo shoots with the creative geniuses from the last book.  When I left…it was a bittersweet moment.  I know this book is going to be nothing short of awesome!  Primrose Bakery Everyday due out 8th October..mark it in your diaries!

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This “work” trip was followed by a quick jaunt over the channel to France to visit one of my favourite cities…Paris to inhale some much needed buttery goodness.  To mix it up a little a quick stop over was taken to Rennes and Saint Malo in the Brittany region.  This region is renowned for salted butter, crepes, galettes, breton biscuits, kouign amann and of course SALTED CARAMEL!  Needless to say there was a lot to eat in a short span of time and I’m always up for a challenge.  The eating didn’t end there, a quick stop over in Hong Kong to take one of my favourite people on a tour of this magical foodie wonderland.  I will write posts for these soon.

Even though I have had the opportunity to do these wonderful things in the last little while, nothing has been more amazing and humbling then being asked to be a godmother…or fairy godmother as I like being referred to.  In a span of 12 months, I was not only asked once…but twice!  I guess it means i’m responsible?

So, I now am officially the fairy godmother to two beautiful children…a handsome boy and a gorgeous girl…my life is now complete!  The hard work has been done and now it’s only fun times ahead…lots of giggles…sugar highs…kisses…noisy toys…drool and then I can hand them back when they cry, smell or need a nappy change!  I even get to sleep uninterrupted…Perfect!  The way I see it, I now have two children that can wheel me into a nursing home when the time comes!

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These sausage fingers are famous!

Before leaving my dream job behind…in a city I grew to love so much, I was asked if I would be interested in contributing and being apart of the bakery’s next couple of cook books.  I knew instantly that it would be an amazing opportunity, that I could not and would not refuse!  I mean how could I say no to doing what I love the most…create and bake!

The journey that consisted of planning, managing, creating, testing, food styling and now being able to see the finished product, it still sends shivers down my spine when I flip through the pages.  I cannot find the words to describe how amazing this opportunity has been for me and how many talented people I’ve met along the way.  So, on the eve of the launch of the MOST AWESOME Christmas cook book to ever be released in the whole wide world (Can you tell I am so so so so so super duper excited!), I thought I would take a little time out to tell everyone 5 reasons why you should buy the book.

1. Because I am in it!  My photograph and of course my sausage fingers!  I am now allowed to tell people I am a hand model.  These sausage fingers have done me proud…and to think that all those people who made fun of them…they are plus size models…but models nonetheless!

2. The recipes work!  I know they work because there was a team of wonderfully skilled people who worked very hard on the recipes to ensure that they work without over complicating the baking process.  I’m sure you will all like to know that the recipes in the book is what is used by the chefs in the kitchens to prepare the cakes for the shops…true story!  So there are no alterations to the recipes…which is so common in many other kitchens.

3. The cakes taste fantastic!  This is because the taste testing process is done by many people who are apart of the bakery and their feedback is taken very seriously so, it’s not just a one person tasting team!  Even though it is a Christmas themed book, you will find some recipes that you’ll bake all year round…because they are so good!

4. The photography is brilliant!  Even if you don’t bake, you will be inspired to bake after looking at the photos…well at least get someone else to bake it for you.  Unlike many other cook books on the market, this one has a beautiful photograph for every recipe.  Isn’t it all about the photographs when you look through a cookbook…well at least for me it is.

5. This book belongs to a brand that I love and believe in.  I may be biased when it comes to this topic, but I cannot say I have ever worked for someone that genuinely cares about their staff as much as the owner.  It may sound child like but someday in the future, if I ever have the opportunity to own my own business I hope I will be half as inspirational as she is to me.

So what is this book you ask me…

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Even if you don’t buy a copy, I hope you all have the opportunity to have a flip through this cook book just so you can admire (and drool over) the beauty!

P.s. This will make a fabulous Christmas gift for your loved ones…where you will also reap the rewards!

 

Back in town!

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It has been a while since I updated this blog. Not really sure where all the time has gone. In the next few weeks I will be updating it with more of my food adventures as I’m back in London for a few weeks. My food adventures…has turned into an eating schedule where I’m trying to fill up my meal time catch up with friends with restaurants I’ve never visited before. So I guess…watch this space!

Lets go on a cheese binge…like its nobody’s business

A few months ago I wrote about making a conscious effort to find more local eats in Brisbane.  After I wrote the blog post, I was discussing this with my cousin Michelle, and she suggested we try out a pizza restaurant  in the valley because “IT HAS THE BEST PIZZA IN BRISBANE!”.  I must admit, I was a bit hesitant about it only because I love pasta more than pizza.  I mean 10 out of 10 times I will choose pasta over pizza.  I appreciate a good pizza, my type of pizza is a crisp thin base and crust topped (not overloaded) with simple and delicious ingredients.  I think there’s no need to complicate things on a pizza, you have to let the ingredients shine.  When making a pizza…I do believe less is more.

The exact origin of Pizza is not clear and is often disputed, but its humble beginning as a dish for poor people has come a long way.  It is now one of the most recognisable and popular dishes around the world.  Pizza, like many dishes can and will change and morph into something that reflects its surrounds e.g. new york pizza, Chicago deep dish pizza, Lahmajun (Turkish pizza).  I’m pretty sure you won’t be finding any satay chicken pizza for sale in Naples any time soon.

Ristorante Tartufo is a fine dining Italian restaurant located in the Emporium complex in Fortitude Valley.  It is owned and run by talented Chef Tony Percuoco, who you do catch glimpses of in the restaurant.  This restaurant has an area towards the front that is the pizza section which has a more casual and relaxed feel.  The first thing you notice will be the magnificent wood fired pizza oven.  It’s not just any type of wood fired pizza oven…it is a beautiful piece of equipment that has made the journey all the way from Naples.  I was told that this pizza oven is only one of a few in the world that is built to make pizza the same as what you will find in Naples (i’m not sure if this is true but I may have to make a trip there to compare?).

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From the time we sat down to the time we left, I cannot fault the service from all the staff members.  They were knowledgable when asked about the menu, they made many helpful suggestions and delicious recommendations which made my night that much more enjoyable.  I was pleasantly surprised at the menu prices for the pizzas which I thought was reasonable considering the location of this restaurant (range between $16 – $28).   You can also watch the pizzas being made whilst you wait, and the guys are more than happy for you to take photos and to entertain you in the process.

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We started off with the arancini which were rice balls stuffed with fresh peas, parmesan and mozzarella.  These were crisp but they lacked seasoning and were a little bit on the dry side for me.  I personally like my arancini to be cheesy and packed with flavour.

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As there was only 4 of us having dinner, we were limited with the number of pizzas we could try…this time.  I can only carbo load so much in one night.  A little tip we were given was not to have all the pizzas served at the same time (which they were more than happy to oblige).  This is so every pizza we eat will be hot and crisp…the way it should be eaten!

The first pizza we ate was the Mimosa.  It is a pizza that is topped with mozzarella, champagne ham, sweet corn, basil and extra virgin olive oil.  For those that know me well, they would know I have kind of an obsession with sweet corn.  I just LOVE it!  I eat it straight from the can…that’s how much I LOVE it!  This is why, there was no question I would order the Mimosa.  I may be biased (because I’m a sweet corn lover) but the pizza was deeeelish!  It had the right balance of sweet and salty and you could taste each ingredient when eating it.  I recommend this to anyone that plans to go to Ristorante Tartufo.

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The second pizza was the Quattro Formaggi, this is one for all cheese lovers out there ready for a calcium overload!!!  It is a pizza topped with the cheesy goodness of gorgonzola, emmental, fontina and provolone.  My picture of this pizza was not very good so I haven’t included it into this post.  I thought it just wouldn’t do this pizza justice.  You really have to love your cheese to eat this pizza, it is rich, aromatic and flavourful.

The last pizza we ate was recommended to us by our waiter which was the Pizza Tartufo.  Tartufo in Italian means truffle, so it goes without saying that this pizza contained truffle.  This pizza was topped with mozzarella, pork sausage, prosciutto, porcini mushrooms, truffle paste, shaved parmesan, basil and extra virgin olive oil.  When I read it on the menu, I thought it would be a fancy version of a supreme pizza.  I don’t think I was too far off.  This pizza is beautifully presented with the truffle past in the little pockets that make it look like a big star.  I had to come up with a strategy to eat this pizza and get all the flavours in one mouthful without dropping any ingredients onto my plate.  As with any pizza, it is best eaten with your hands (there should be no need to use a knife and fork).  The best way I found was to wrap the tip of the piece of pizza around the pocket of truffle and make it like a little roll.  This pizza was definitely the most aesthetically pleasing of the night with strong flavours and bright colours.  I think it’s a must for any truffle lover.

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I hate to admit it, but my favourite dish of the night was not any of these.  They were definitely great pizzas and I would recommend anyone in Brisbane to go and try it, but as I said earlier…I LOVE pasta.  So, it goes without saying, we ordered a pasta dish which was the Mafalde al Ragù.  This dish was a house made short curly pasta served with a slow cooked beef and pork ragù finished with fresh ricotta and parmesan cheese.  Simple and delicious!  The pasta was cooked al dente, the ragù was soft, delicate and well seasoned, then the third component of cheese added a lovely and smooth creaminess with a sharp and salty after note.  I couldn’t have enough of this dish…I just wanted more!

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This was the first of the many restaurants I will be visiting soon as part of my foodie fix and I’m glad I did decide to go.  Ristorante Tartufo was definitely a good starting point for me and if my future visits to other restaurants  are anything like this…I am excited!

Ristorante Tartufo

Emporium, 1000 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

http://www.tartufo.com.au

Open 7 days for lunch and dinner

 

It just happens to be gluten free…

With all the flavour and food trend research I’ve done so far…everyone is predicting that the demand for gluten free food items will continue to rise…and quite dramatically over the next 12 to 18 months.  I’m sure you would have noticed that gluten free options are becoming more prevalent in cafes and restaurants menus. Whether you choose this diet (or it chooses you) for health reasons, I don’t think that your senses should suffer in the slightest.

That’s why, when I decided to make gluten free treats, I didn’t want it labelled as “gluten free”…I wanted it to be a cake or cookie, that just happens to be gluten free.  I have spent the last few weeks focusing on creating and testing new and exciting flavour combinations to tickle the senses of my guinea pigs.

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Roasted Sweet Potato Cake with Brown Sugar Icing.

This is a roasted sweet potato cake with brown sugar icing.  The cake turned out to be a very dense almost mudcake like cake and when eaten with the icing, it tasted like candied sweet potato!

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Roasted Sweet Potato, Coconut and Walnut Biscuits

These are roasted sweet potato (I had a lot left over from a BBQ), coconut and walnut crispy biscuits.  These took longer to bake than I first thought, but it was well worth the wait.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well coconut worked with the sweet potato.  I think I’ll be definitely making these again…for testing purposes, of course!

I am very lucky and grateful that I don’t have any serious food allergies or intolerances.  So, I would like to add to my repertoire the ability to create treats for those that do, that not only look good, but taste great as well.  I still have a lot to learn about ingredient substitutes when it comes to baking for special dietary needs, but this is a journey I’m looking forward to.

Calling all foodies!

So I’ve been back in Brisbane for just over a month now…and I am finding it difficult to “slow down” back to the lifestyle that I once had.  I never thought I would have this problem of “settling” back to a more relaxed environment…if anything, I thought it would be a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of London life.  I guess it was for a while…but now I’m finding that my “while” is coming to an end…to put it simply…I’m getting bored.  Working part time and studying is just not enough to keep myself busy.

I’m finding that to cure my boredom, I am baking a lot more…and needing to find more guinea pigs.  Some say it’s not a bad thing…but I think I need to get out a little more…or else cabin fever will kick in severely!

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Since returning, I find that the one major thing missing from my life is going out with like minded people and exploring the local food scene.  From what I’ve seen and read, Brisbane’s food scene has flourished since I left over 2.5 years ago.  There seems to be a lot of great places out there that must be tried…so I’ve decided that I’m going to go and find some like minded people to go and check them out!  So I guess…I’m going to start a foodie dining out group.  Knowing me…I’m sure it’s not only going to be a dining out group.  I am also keen on getting back to teaching…so that is on the books too.

So I guess if anyone out there is interested…let me know…because I’m always keen for a good feed with  good people!

LOVE Salted LOVE Caramel LOVE

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Most people who know me, will know how much I love this delightful sugary goodness that is called Salted Caramel!  I guess this blog post was bound to happen sooner or later.  Some may say the love I have for this liquid gold is bordering on stalker obsession, but I like to think of it as simply a love affair.  Who would have guessed that when salt met caramel, it would cause such a stir all around the world.  Everyone from Heston to Häagen-Dazs to Starbucks and now Arnotts are creating their salted caramel tidbit to contribute to this long lasting food trend.

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I was first introduced to this sweet and salty pleasure when I was at pastry school in France over 3 and half years ago.  Ever since then, I have made it my personal mission to find salted caramel treats anywhere I may be.  Even though I had eaten many salted caramel treats, I didn’t start making them until my first Christmas in London in 2011.  I made these salted caramel chews to give out as Christmas gifts to my friends and colleagues…all the stirring was well worth it!

Those chews were just the very start, then came the cupcake, layer cakes, pies, tarts, brownies, milkshakes, popcorn, chocolate truffles, cheesecake and now cookies.  The flavour combinations I am yet to try, will keep my love affair with salted caramel alive for quite a bit longer…I think.  So if you haven’t already jumped on this bandwagon…I think you should!  At least give it a go and try it to see if you like it.

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#Happinessday

When I walked into class this morning, the teacher announced it was International Day of Happiness…it made me think…what makes me happy?

There have been many changes in my life over the last few months and I still question myself on a regular basis, whether or not the decisions I’ve made were the right ones for me.  Unfortunately the jury is still out on this matter.

However, I did start thinking what is it that makes me happy?  When I say happy…I mean fundamentally…deep down inside…happy.  Then I flash back to all the smiles I’ve received over the many years of family and friends tasting my baked goods…I am happy!  As a chef, I think some of the best compliments you can receive is firstly hearing the “music” one makes when eating your food, a clean plate and of course asking for more.

In my life right now, I feel very lucky that I am doing what I love…baking!  I have an amazing family and friends network that support me and allows me to follow my sugar filled path.  Being able to share my happy place journey through food with my nearest and dearest, takes me to a doubly happy place!

So in honor of International Day of Happiness, I did what makes me happy…and I hope to keep doing this for a long time to come…as I have a lot more happiness to share!  I hope you take the time out to think about what makes you happy, and go and do it!

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So far…so good…

It has been a while since my last post…I seriously don’t know where all the time goes!  So, since my last update a lot has happened.  I not only made it home to Brisbane for a quick three week stay but then jetted off on a 24 + hour journey back to London for three fun filled weeks.

During the three weeks, I managed to squeeze in 9 days of photo shoots for the upcoming cookbook but also prep days before the shoots and also catch ups, brunches, lunches, dinners, sight seeing and a little bit of sleep.

The photo shoots were so much fun and it was so nice to be able to work with such a fantastic photographer.  The photos of the cakes turned out brilliantly and I can’t wait for the book to be published!  At the moment the tentative release date is the 2nd October…put it in your diaries!

So what’s next?  Well, I’ve already started work on the 5th book for the bakery and I’m excited!  New recipes to create and develop and guinea pigs to find.  Anyone interested?  Food for your thoughts…pretty good deal, I think.

Then to fill in my extra time and to avoid making the grown up decision on what to do with my life next…I signed up to finish my certificate 4 in Hospitality at Tafe.  The department has decided to condense 12 months worth of work into a short 6 months.  So, with only a few months to go…the handing in of assignments has started…exams to follow.  I must say, it has been quite hard trying to get back into writing in a formal manner and referencing all my work.  Not sure how I managed before!  I will also have to stop using exclamation marks so much!!!!