Sunday, 13 June 2021

Barney, four years on

This very long post is an ode to Barney, my sourdough son, who turned four last week.

Random facts about Barney:

Date of Birth:  11 June 2011 

Place of Birth:  Darwin

Number of progeny: Unknown.. at least a hundred? 

Places he lives in: every state & territory of Australia; Canada; USA; China; Italy

Number of near death experiences: 3 (fridge death in Darwin, war with Romanian yeast, and battle with white mould)

Humble beginnings...

Barney was born in Darwin. I grew him on my kitchen bench. There were two strains to start with, Barney & Barnet - I fed them with different flours, and eventually they became one. This was his first home, before he moved to his current Dorito salsa jar.  

The very first loaf Barney ever made, 24 June 2011. I always laugh when I see people on instagram with their "perfect" first loaves. 

Over the last 4 years, I have eaten a LOT of pancakes... almost every week on the day that I feed Barney, I will have pancakes with the discard.

Gaining confidence...

This loaf was made in September 2017 - 3 months in. Good progress, but still pretty messy!

This loaf was made about a year into baking, and I was understanding the sourdough process more. Probably the best resource and the best single change that I made was following the steps in Emilie Raffa's book - it is the best sourdough book I have found. 

My first foray outside my comfortzone - I baked this camembert wheel for my (then very new) string quartet for our first Christmas together in 2018. 

 It was a hit! So I made them again as Christmas presents, in the form of small cranberry wreaths. 

Travels with Barney...

I took him on a trip to Hungary and Romania where he picked up some exotic European yeasts. I thought cross pollinating my home Barney with the European Barney was a good idea - it was a disaster! He went flat and still with an awful smell. Dejected, I went to Sonoma and bought some bread there. The baker came out and encouraged me to keep feeding him - don't worry, it will come back! She said, and she was absolutely right. 

One of the loaves I made in Hungary, incidentally one of the first times he rose super well - I think it's the excellent European flour!

Barney also went to Timor Leste as cheesymite scrolls for my homesick friend. 

 I will always associate Canadia with challah, as it became a bit of a tradition for me and Emily. 

When in China, have Chinese style buns with sourdough!

Obsession with animals...

Now, I'm not sure how the idea started, but one day I baked a crocodile, which looked like a puppy - hence it was called a puppodile. 

I made these adorable cat buns for my friend from Kim Joy's recipe. 

And one day, I just had to take a lobster to work. 

My favourite animals so far were these hippo brothers!

This traditional easter dove Colomba di Pasquale was made for the Italian celebration of easter this year, it was an extremely rich dough full of fruit!

More celebration-y food...

For the second year with my string quartet in 2019, I made this pesto and tomato Christmas tree. 

And our third year together in 2020 was marked by this beautiful pesto and cheese star. 

We also have Turkish style pides every year because our inaugural string quartet foundation was on Anzac day 2018. 

And we usually have hot cross buns too for Easter!

Me and my brioche...

 I love brioche-y things. This was my first attempt in 2018 with a pumpkin dough. The dough was so soft and hard to handle (I don't have a mixer) that I didn't try it again for ages!

This was Barney's birthday last year, a wonderfully rich challah. 

My current obsession with wool bread - this one is vegan. 

I just love plaiting dough, it's one of my favourite things in the universe. 

I'm also learning how to make the brioche dough into Chinese style pull apart breads - these are made with tangzhong and extra soft. The plain ones stuffed with a salted coconut condensed milk filling, and the matcha ones stuffed with red bean. 

Other things Barney has been...

Shanghai style moon cakes filled with pork


Rosemary focaccia, here on the boat of the cellist 

Baguettes - how I love a baguette with soup in winter!


A matcha scroll made for my friend's housewarming


A pumpkin

My temporary flirtation with a garden pictorial focaccia 

One of my favourite things - cinnamon scroll giant apple cake !

A sourdough fruit cake for one of my dad's birthdays 


And finally... Today's Barney

Wow, that was quite fun looking back over four years of photos! People who know me now think I've been a long term baker, but it's been just four years since I started using my oven not as a storage space but to bake! What a long way I have come. Barney continues to amaze me with his resilience and flexibility, so much we can learn from dough!


Most of my loaves look like this now - decent rise, excellent flavour and an open crumb.

For Barney's birthday this year I made an apple cinnamon scroll and took it to work to share with the nurses. I love eating bread, and I also love sharing it with others!

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

In My Kitchen: June 2021

May was a turbulent month for me. I went to Broome for a wonderful week's holiday with two friends from Melbourne - and how timely that was, now that they are in lockdown again! I wrote a piece for the Sydney Morning Herald which summarises my inner turmoil about Fortress Australia. It was an incredibly complex feeling to read your own words in black and white - I am so proud to be Australian, but I feel so trapped right now. 

Let's take a look in the kitchen.. 

On the garden front...

While I was in Broome, the chillies went crazy! I ended up making a big jar of chilli jam that should last me through the winter.

Radish is a surprisingly excellent grower! They seem to grow all year round and are still strong in the garden. The lettuce has self-germinated from last year's growing and are just starting now. 

I delayed all the planting this year knowing I would be away for two weeks. It's a bit late but everything is coming along now. I love this picture of the emerging snow pea bud, gently pushing the soil out of the way.   

On the baking front...

I went to a tart class! It was so much fun, my favourite part by far was decorating them. The large tarts are passionfruit curd with lemon meringue; and coffee chocolate ganache with coffee chantilly cream. The little tarts were made with the leftover fillings, and the pink ones are filled with raspberry and topped with white chocolate cremeux! I was super grateful to share them with a few different friends and my dad's neighbours. It's amazing to see people's faces light up when you present them with baked goods! 

I made this apple and almond cake for the medical team one morning when I was feeling particularly restless. I didn't want to make the cake or eat the cake, I just wanted to decorate something with my hands! It's a simple but beautiful tea cake with caramelised apple on top, based on the recipe from Butter and Brioche.

This wool bread stuffed with cranberries was on my mental "to bake" list for a while. I changed the recipe to sourdough of course. It was beautiful, fluffy and soft - but didn't quite rise enough to meet in the middle to get the wool effect. Next time I will try it in a smaller baking dish!

Onto the Food and Music series...

I baked these cutesy dinner rolls for an impromptu soup dinner with my piano duet friend. The plain sponge cake was also just for funs, since the oven was going anyway. Her friend was staying over and had just turned 80, so we turned it into a birthday cake with some cream. We accompanied this with 2 Mozart violin sonatas (No. 2 and No. 7) and the Bruch Romanze in F which I am currently obsessed with. It is scored for both violin and viola, and the effect is remarkably different. 

Our string quartet celebrated the cellist's birthday. Everyone in the quartet adores the flourless orange cake where you boil 2 oranges whole and blitz the lot peel and all, ending up with the richest orange flavour. I divided the batter to get 2 layers and made a dark chocolate ganache. I had planned to set the orange cooking water into a bittersweet jelly, but there was no gelatine, so we made do with Aeroplane jelly! Musically we celebrated with the Dvorak Piano Quintet and Elena Katz Chernin's The Offering, a really cool modern piano quintet. 

Pengy came back from his holidays in Wollongong to join our quartet for roast lamb with all the trimmings, and my favourite was the brussel sprouts with bacon! We ate this with a few snippets of the Razumovsky quartets - the 2nd movement of the third Razumovsky is my current favourite, and the Mendelssohn Op. 12 string quartet.

Finally, the curveball this month...

My mousepad finally retired after 12 years of service. In 2009, I was a junior resident in ICU. The Gillard government had given a huge funding boost to Donatelife (the organ donation agency in Australia) and they had set up offices in my hospital. The nurses were so kind and lovely, and I learned so much from them. When I left the term, they gave me a mousepad which I took with me everywhere - it later lived with me in Canada and in Darwin. Recently, 
I mentioned this antique relic to one of the donation nurses I currently work with and she was gobsmacked it had lasted this long! I now have the current version of the mousepad. Seeing the logo change was an incredible reminder of how far we have come in organ donation awareness, both in the medical and general community in the last 12 years! It is a real privilege to be caring for people at the end of life, and I hope I never forget this till the day I die. 

I'm sending this to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings who hosts the monthly In My Kitchen series - Thanks Sherry for this opportunity to look through our food diaries!

Monday, 17 May 2021

An eventful weekend

I believe in having a voice. 

I also believe strongly in baked goods. 

So I was absolutely delighted to have my opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald this weekend. 

It has been a strange week in Australia - first the budget was announced including a hidden statement that Australia will not open its borders till mid-2022, then there were different perspectives and new words like "Hermit Kingdom" and "Fortress Australia" were hurled into Australian consciousness. 

I had written my own piece in the forty minutes before sunrise on Thursday. The pandemic has changed my sleep pattern drastically and I often wake in the dark now. I thought about the days and months stretching into the future, it felt like a grey amorphous mass. When will we open up again and rejoin the world? Why are we locked up in Australia like we are criminals, and treated like criminals if we want to return home? I felt waves of despair, hope, overwhelm, and confusion. So I decided to get up and write down my thoughts. 

For me these feelings had been percolating for some time, but the straw that broke the camel's back came when the government threatened Australian citizens who return from India with imprisonment. Let's get this straight: 

1. Australian citizens of Indian descent gave up their Indian passports to become Australians. 

2. They cannot hold dual Indian and Australian passports and do NOT have another "home".

3. Citizenship as defined by human rights is the right to reside in and return to that country. These people have become temporary refugees by the law of Australian government. 

4. What kind of country imprisons its own citizens for returning to its own country?

The most incredible thing was not just this extraordinarily racist law that was introduced, it was the fact that the government representing the majority voice expected this to just slide right in and potentially win them more votes. Many people thought this was fantastic and the government was doing great to keep the Indians out.

I have been boiling with rage for a couple of weeks now about this and the opinion piece slid out from my soul effortlessly. I don't know what motivated me to send it to the newspaper, it was a small impulsive moment. I hit "Send' without proofreading it and went to work. I was surprised to hear the same day from the SMH Opinions editor.  

This is my voice, and I am proud to speak the minority voice. 

I was also stoked to go to a tart course at the Australian Patisserie Academy and work with dough! 

They have some serious machines for mixing here... 

It all starts with pate sucree, the traditional sweet shortcrust pastry for tarts. Our teacher gave up heaps of tips and it came together like a dream. We made a plain one and a cocoa one for two large tarts. Once blast-freezed, the dough rolled quite easily, much easier than my previous attempts at home!

They had also an industrial rolling machine, but I wanted to try it by hand. It worked out pretty well and she gave us lots of tips on how to get the tart shape just perfect. 

And of course she was right! most of our tarts did not even shrink even though we did not blind bake them, apparently if you make the shape properly it is not necessary!

Here is my cocoa crust after baking, I was pretty happy with the evenness of the crust!

We filled the plain crust with a passionfruit filling and the cocoa crust with a chocolate coffee ganache - so yum but we were not allowed to lick the spoons! 

We also made these little tarts with the leftover filling, and the pink one is a raspberry filling that we made separately. The passionfruit mini tarts were topped with a passionfruit gelatine glaze, and the raspberry one with piped white chocolate mousse and fresh berries. Don't they look divine! 

And here the piece de resistance - the passionfruit tart with Italin meringue. I'm not the biggest fan of meringue so I did a decorative border. The passionfruit filling was intensely tart! 

And the second  piece de resistance - the chocolate coffee tart was topped with coffee chantilly cream, dollops of dark chocolate and hazelnuts. 

What a great day's work!