Introduction of biscuits/cookies

Just to clarify upfront, for the sake of simplicity I’m going to call them biscuits from now on since that’s the term we use in Australia (and UK).

I’ll admit now that I’m not a massive biscuit fan. My husband loves indulging in a chocolate chip creation whenever we go past a bakery but to be honest I’ve always been a bigger fan of cakes and tarts.

Biscuits can be categorised under any manner of criteria including the mixing method (sanding, creaming, sponge, one-stage) or texture (chewy, crunchy, crisp, soft).

According to Michel Suas, there are eight classifications of biscuits which is based on the formation and portioning of the dough:

  • Dropped – generally made from thicker dough, these biscuits are portioned out using a scoop or spoon. Examples include chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin.
  • Piped – made from softer dough, they are portioned using a piping bag and often decoratively shaped such as spritz cookies and sables a la poche.
  • Cut-out – a similar dough to dropped biscuits, cut-outs involve stamping out shapes from rolled out dough such as sugar or gingerbread biscuits.
  • Sheet – these biscuits are baked on a sheet pan, then portioned out individually afterwards. Think brownies, lemon bars and granola bars.
  • Sliced – the dough is baked as a long piece, then sliced afterwards and sometimes dried out in the oven again. The most well-known example is biscotti which literally translates to “twice-baked”.
  • Icebox – dough is rolled out into a cylinder or block, then refrigerated, sliced and baked.
  • Stencil – typically thin and crispy, these biscuits are often used as a garnish on plated dessert such as tuiles. The batter is spread free-form or onto a template and then baked.
  • Moulded – often using the sanding method, the most common type of moulded biscuit is shortbread.

So, over the course of the next couple of months I will be attacking each of these in no particular order as well as the dreaded Parisian macarons.

You never know, by the end of this section of my “curriculum” I could be converted.


Incredible flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake

Flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake
Flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake

I promised in my post last week to do a flourless chocolate cake, and this honestly goes down as the best thing I’ve made since Project Pastry began.

I looked at loads of recipes for flourless chocolate cakes and found the following key ingredients:

  • Eggs – separated or whole, eggs are generally whisked to add lightness and height to the cake
  • Ground nuts – almond meal was most common, but there was also ground hazelnuts and pistachios which create stability and act as a flour substitute. They also add flavour.
  • Melted chocolate and butter – for flavour and moisture
  • Flavour enhancers – including vanilla, liqueurs (e.g. Frangelico) and coffee
  • Fruit purée – not always, but I did come across date and prune purées which I’m guessing provide both moisture and flavour

The methods were pretty similar across the board as well, and usually comprised several steps.

First, the eggs (or egg whites) were whisked until light and fluffy. Chocolate and butter is melted together and then added to the egg mix once cooled. Dry ingredients are sifted together and then added to the batter. And that’s it!

It looks like a few processes, but it was all very simple and straightforward.

I decided to add some crushed hazelnuts as well as ground hazelnuts to mine for a bit of added crunch.

The result is an extremely rich, fudgy, delicious cake – the friend I served it to said it was the best thing she’d even eaten and I think I’d have to agree.

Please give it a go and let me know what you think!

Flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake
Flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake

Incredible flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake

200g good quality dark chocolate
200g dates
½ cup water
25-30 ml shot espresso
200g butter
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
Pinch salt
120g brown sugar
200g hazelnut meal
100g hazelnuts, crushed

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

Make the date purée by simmer the water and dates over a low heat until the dates are soft (around 8-10 minutes). Push through a sieve, then set aside to cool.

Melt the butter over a medium heat and stir in the chocolate. Remove from the heat and mix until the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool

Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar for around 5-7 minutes until the mixture is a ribbon consistency.

Pour in the chocolate and butter mixture, then add the date puree and hazelnut meal. Fold in the hazelnuts, then pour into a greased springform tin.

Bake for 45 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool in the pan.

Once completely cooled, cover in chocolate ganache.

Flourless cakes (and raspberry friand recipe)

Flourless cakes have become very popular recently, partly due to the number of gluten-free eaters we need to cater for but also because they’re delicious!!

Strangely enough, when I started researching flourless cakes I found loads of recipes (particularly for flourless chocolate cakes) but very little background or theory.

My “textbooks” have no mention of flourless cakes so I had to hit the web to pull together the info below.

The recipes themselves are pretty simple and most only have a handful of ingredients including butter, eggs, sugar, flour substitute and flavouring.

But I really wanted to understand how and why flourless cakes worked.

Flour substitutes

  • Firstly, I should just say that I’m no gluten-free expert and this is not meant to be advice on substituting wheat flour for other flours in regular cake recipes.
  • Flourless cakes will generally use nut-based subsitutes such as almond meal, hazelnut meal or ground pistachios which give great additional flavour as well as structure to the cake.
  • Some cakes won’t use a nut meal at all, and start bordering on being a set custard/mousse/fudge which is equally scrummy but very dense and rich.

Use of eggs

  • Because you can’t use a chemical rising agent in flourless cakes, you’ll often see egg whites whisked in to the cake batter to lighten the cake and give it some height.
  • This is almost a soufflé effect, so the cake can sometimes drop in the centre if you’re not careful.

Keeping in moisture

Some flourless cakes can be quite dry, so there are a number of tips and tricks to overcome this:

  • Citrus flourless cakes will usually be covered in a syrup that drenches into the cake itself. This not only adds lots of flavour, but also keeps the cake extremely moist.
  • Incorporating whole fresh berries into the cake batter (as per the friand recipe below) will add a moist burst of flavour.
  • Some flourless chocolate cakes will include a fruit puree made from fresh or dried dates or figs that help to moisten the cake. The recipe will call for you to cook the fruit slowly over the stove in a small amount of alcohol until you can mash it with a fork.

Quality of ingredients

  • This is most applicable to flourless chocolate bakes, but try to get the best quality chocolate you can and stay away from recipes that just call for cocoa (which will make the cake dry). Since you’re only using a few ingredients, and chocolate is the star of the cake, splurge on Valrhona or equivalent just this once!

I’ve included a recipe here for raspberry friands which I love, and will do a flourless chocolate hazelnut cake next week.


Raspberry friands

Friands are small cakes made from egg whites and almond meal that are recognised by their distinctive oval shape. If you don’t have a friand tin, you can use a muffin tin.

They are often flavoured with citrus fruit, coconut or berries and are a great way to use up leftover egg whites. The recipe does include a small amount of flour, but this can be substituted for gluten-free flour.

200g butter, melted
2 cups pure icing sugar
2 tablespoons plain/gluten-free flour
1 1/2 cups almond meal
6 eggwhites
150g raspberries (fresh or frozen)

Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees.

Sift the icing sugar and flour into a bowl, then stir in the almond meal.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the egg whites, mixing as you go.

Pour in the melted butter and mix until combined. Gently fold through the berries.

Fill greased friand tins and cook for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with icing sugar once cooled.

Salted caramel baked cheesecake

Salted caramel baked cheesecake
Salted caramel baked cheesecake

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, but I haven’t been neglecting my baking – I’ve been in Japan! It was an incredible trip and I was amazed to see their interest in French patisserie as well as their own local spin on desserts and sweets. But that’s for another post…

This one is going to focus on the first of my “other cakes”- that is, cakes that sit outside the foam-based and butter-based batters.

And what better place to start than cheesecakes! I recently wrote an article for The Urban List Brisbane about what makes the perfect cheesecake and it really does come down to creating a smooth, creamy filling.

Regardless of whether you like your cheesecake baked or fridge-set, a cheesecake is essentially a set custard made up of cream cheese, sour cream, butter, sugar, eggs and flavouring.

According to Michel Suas:

“The success of a cheesecake lies in the incorporating of ingredients and the baking of the batter. The ingredients, in their separate, singular states, vary in firmness and texture. Most importantly, the cream cheese is very firm, the sour cream very soft, and the eggs very fluid”

He goes on to suggest that all ingredients are room temperature to ensure even mixing and that the bowl is scraped down frequently to ensure even mixing.

You can also have a bit of fun with the cheesecake base which is traditionally made by mixing a packet of sweet biscuits with melted butter. You can use gingernuts, butternut snaps, chocolate cookies or regular digestive biscuits.

You can also decide whether you want to just have the base along the underside of the cake or up around the sides. I think the sides generally looks a lot nicer but the bottom is easier so I swap between the two.

This recipe was inspired by Jade from Cake Kiosk who makes a salted caramel cheesecake from her 70s caravan-come-food truck.

I cobbled together the recipe from a few sources – the filling is from my friend and colleague Jane who is our work’s cake queen and the salted caramel is from a chocolate making course we both recently attended at Spring.

I will warn you, this cake is extremely rich so try to resist cutting yourself too large a slice!!

Salted caramel baked cheesecake

1 packet gingernut biscuits, crushed
120g melted butter

750g cream cheese
2/3 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
3 tsbp flour
½ cup sugar

Salted caramel
350g caster sugar
150ml thickened cream
150ml liquid glucose
250g butter
2 gms sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a 23 cm spring form cake pan.

To make the crust, combine the butter and biscuits and then press into the base (and sides) of the tin. Bake for 10 minutes and then set aside to cool while you prepare the filling.

Increase the oven setting to 230 degrees.

In an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy using the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and flour, then continue to beat for 3 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, remembering to scrape down the sides of the bowl regularly.

Stir in the sour cream and vanilla essence.

Pour the filling into the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 110 degrees and bake for a further 30 minutes. Switch the oven off and open the door. Leave to cool for at least two hours.

To make the salted caramel, use a saucepan over a medium heat to melt the sugar. Initially melt 1/3 of the sugar, then add the next third and allow to melt before adding the final third.

Boil the cream at the same time so that it’s boiling hot, t hen add to the sugar.

Take the pan off the heat and stir through the butter and salt. Finally mix through the glucose. Set aside to cool.

Once the cake and the caramel are cooled, pour the caramel over the top of the cake then refrigerate overnight to set.

Tip – you’ll know when your filling is ready when it is set to the touch but still has a bit of a wobble when shaken.