Cherry Cheesecake Tart with a Gingersnap Crust

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Can you believe that Christmas is less than a month away?! I am so so excited, because it is by far my favourite holiday of the year. I get carried away in the romance of Christmas – the corny movies, twinkling lights, glimmering snow flakes and Christmas night-markets. One of my favourite traditions is going to buy the Christmas tree. Even though I live in Australia and it might seem silly buy a large, cumbersome pine tree in the middle of summer it always makes me happy. Scrupulously examining the line up of Christmas trees, making sure it has the right shape, that everything is in proportion and that it has a tip for the star to sit atop is definitely one of my favourite Christmas memories. The second is once the tree has been brought home and it’s time to decorate it. In my family, we make this into somewhat of a festivity by gathering together with Champagne and nibblies and taking turns to hang shimmering baubles on the tree. I know this might seem a little over the top, but it’s this silly extravagance that get’s me excited and in the Christmas spirit. We bought our tree last weekend and participated in said festivities and it was rather enjoyable. Sadly, the tree fell down and all the decorations have to be re-hung, but I guess that just means I can re-live the fun again.

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To get myself even more excited about Christmas I decided to make a Christmas inspired dessert and with all the gorgeous cherries that are in season I set about coming up with a way to use them. Recently I made a nectarine tart with a ginger crust from Smitten Kitchen’s blog, so I thought that by tweaking it a little and replacing the nectarines with cherries and adding a sweet cherry glaze this might be just about right for a Christmas dessert. The smell of the gingersnap crust cooking in the oven radiates Christmas all over the house, the aromatic spices from the ginger waft through the house and you can’t help but be in a good mood. I have to say that it’s very important to find ginger snap biscuits as opposed to ginger nut biscuits as the snap biscuits are soft and crumbly and are a much better texture for a tart crust, whereas the ginger nut biscuits are a lot harder and set like a rock. I found the ginger snap biscuits at our local Harris Farm supermarket, but I’m sure lots of good grocers would have them. The creamy cheesecake style filling made with mascarpone and a hint of lemon ensures the tart is not too sweet and means that less time is required to bake it in the oven! Score. Finally, the fresh cherries, topped with spoonfuls of the cherry ginger glaze give the tart it’s real Christmas spirit. This tart can definitely be made a day in advance because I ate some the next day, as you do, and I think it tasted even better!

 

Cherry Cheesecake Tart with a Gingernut Crust
For the crust:
225g gingersnap biscuits
90g butter unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 175C. Break the gingersnaps up roughly, then put in a food processor and blend until fine. Melt the butter, then pour into the processor. Blend again until all the crumbs are coated. Tip into a 20cm tart tin with removable base. Use a glass cup or similar to press the crumbs down and into the sides firmly. Place in the oven and cook for about 10 minutes or until slightly darker. Let it cool on a rack for about 30 minutes, then pop in fridge to cool further.
For the cherry glaze:
15 cherries
1/2 cup caster sugar sugar
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs strawberry jam (or raspberry or cherry)
2 tbs water
Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan over a medium heat. Keep stirring until mixtures starts to bubble and boil. Cook for about 5-10 minutes until mixture reduces and starts to take on a jammy consistency. Take off the heat and leave to cool.

 

For the filling:
250g mascarpone
200g cream cheese
1/4 cup caster sugar
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Beat together marscarpone and cream cheese, then beat in the lemon juice and vanilla. Finally beat in the sugar and lemon zest.  Spread over the cooled base and put in the fridge.
To assemble:
Large handful black cherries
Pit and halve the cherries. Top the filled tart with the cherries and then spoon over the cherry ginger glaze. You can serve straight away or leave in the fridge and serve when desired.
Serves 10

 

Chewy Meringues with Mascarpone and Berries

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meringue

There are some foods that are a part of your psyche. They’re foods you’ve grown up with and often dishes that get you feeling a little nostalgic. For me, one of these dishes is meringue. It’s such a simple dish, quite literally as it can be made with just two ingredients. But somehow, the mix of egg whites and sugar creates wondrous little discs with crispy shells and soft, chewy insides. Adding a generous amount of cream, or in this case mascarpone, and lots of fresh fruit serves to create a dish that’s designed to make people want seconds. It also conjures up memories of Christmas day and eating mouthfuls and mouthfuls of these sugary nests till you were left feeling like rather a glutton. But then, if by any chance there were any left over that didn’t stop you eating them again for breakfast on Boxing Day. Although, on second thought that just might be me. That said, you should get yourselves into the kitchen and give these a go.

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Chewy Meringues with Mascarpone and Berries

Meringues:
2 egg whites
1/2 cup castor sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla

To serve:
250g mascarpone
1/2 punnet strawberries, cut into pieces
1/2 punnet blueberries
Edible Flowers

Preheat oven to 150ºC and line a baking tray with baking paper. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, then add sugar, a little at a time, still beating. Beat in vanilla. Divide mixture into four and place four circular mounds of meringue on a baking tray and bake for 45 mins. Turn oven off, leave door slightly ajar and allow meringues to cool completely in oven.
Once meringues have cooled, divide mascarpone between the meringues and dollop on top. Scatter with berries and edible flowers. If you can’t find edible flowers, dried rose petals also look lovely.

Coconut Panna Cotta with Passionfruit Jelly, Caramelised Mango and White Chocolate Mousse

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Summer is almost upon us and that means it’s time for barbeques, salads and long days at the beach. I should know, because as I write this post I am looking rather red from spending rather too much time in the sun. Tut tut. Because the days are warm, we want food that is fresh and light, and while desserts are usually decadent affairs, that does not mean we have to miss out. I know that must be a sigh of relief for all you sugar fiends out there – myself included.

One of my favourite summer desserts is panna cotta, which essentially translates to ‘cooked cream’. I remember first eating his dessert while on holidays with my family in Italy in a tiny little town just outside Florence. It was at a small traditional restaurant and the panna cotta was heavenly – it was smooth and creamy but oh so light and melted on your tongue. We had spent the day sightseeing in the heat, so to end the day eating this chilled creamy vanilla goodness topped with fresh berries was perfect.

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The variation I have made here is a coconut infused cream – make sure you toast the shredded coconut yourself first and try to give it the full hour for the flavours to envelop the cream mixture as it really makes a difference to the end result. I wanted to make this dessert scream summer so I’ve given it a tropical hit with the caramelized mango and passion fruit jelly – with just a hint of pure sugary sweetness from the white chocolate mousse. The flavours work sublimely together it really makes you feel like you’re on holidays in some far away exotic location. While each of the elements is a little time consuming as there is quite a bit of chilling required, they are not all that hard, so please don’t be put off.

Give this a go for your next barbie, or when you want to impress your friends at a dinner party and let me know how you go!

 

Coconut Panna Cotta with Passionfruit Jelly, Caramelised Mango and White Chocolate Mousse

Serves 6

Coconut Panna Cotta

  • 140 gm shredded coconut
  • 400 ml milk
  • 400ml pouring cream
  • Thinly peeled rind of 1 lime
  • 110 gm (1/2 cup) raw caster sugar
  • 4 titanium-strength gelatine leaves, softened in cold water for 3-5 minutes
  • 150 ml coconut cream
  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Spread coconut over an oven tray and toast, stirring occasionally (4-5 minutes). Transfer to a large saucepan, add milk, cream and rind, and bring to the boil over medium-high heat, then remove from heat and stand to infuse (1 hour).
  2. Bring coconut mixture back to the simmer over medium-high heat, add sugar and stir to dissolve. Squeeze excess water from gelatine, add to coconut mixture, stir to dissolve, then strain into a bowl through a coarse sieve (press on solids to extract all liquid; discard solids). Stir in coconut cream, then pour into six 1 cup-capacity jelly moulds or one 1 litre cake tin and refrigerate until set (overnight).
  3. To serve, dip the moulds in hot water, then gently pull edges of jelly away from sides with your fingertip (this helps break the vacuum and release the jelly). Place a plate on top, invert mould and plate, then remove mould.

 

Passionfruit Jelly

  • 375 ml (1½ cups) passionfruit juice
  • 150 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 200 gm white sugar
  • 6½ gelatine leaves, softened in cold water
  1. Combine juices, sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then pass through a muslin-lined sieve. Warm ½ cup juice mixture in a saucepan over medium heat, squeeze excess water from gelatine, add to pan and stir until gelatine dissolves, then add remaining juice mixture. Cool slightly and pour into six 1 cup-capacity glasses and refrigerate for 4 hours or until set. Once set, cut jelly into small cubes.

Note: To make passionfruit juice, blend passionfruit pulp in a food processor to crack seeds, then strain through a fine sieve. Twelve passionfruit yield about 1 cup of juice.

 

White Chocolate Mousse

  1. 3 egg whites
  2. 200g good quality white chocolate
  3. ½ cup caster sugar
  4. 1 egg yolk
  • Melt the white chocolate over a bain-marie until smooth. Remove from heat.
  • Whisk egg white in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar to egg whites. Keep beating until sugar has dissolved and the egg whites are stiff.
  • Gently fold through white chocolate mixture and egg yolk until the mixture has incorporated.
  • Place bowl in fridge and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

 

Caramelised Mango

2 mangoes, flesh sliced into thin pieces

½ cup brown sugar

25 g butter

  • Heat a medium sized frypan over a medium heat. Place the sugar into the plan and leave to heat for about 30 seconds, then add the butter in small knobs around the pan. Mix the butter and sugar together until it forms a caramel paste. Add in the mango and coat it in the sugar mix. Take the mango off the heat and place on a plate after about 30 seconds.

To serve 

  • 3 passion fruit
  • Toasted coconut flakes
  • Handful mint leaves
  1. Arrange the de-molded panna cottas onto plates. Place a few pieces of the caramelized mango around the panna cottas. Scatter some jelly cubes over the mango. Using a piping bag, pipe little mounds of the mousse into the gaps between the mango and jelly. Place toasted coconut flakes into the white chocolate mounds – use the mousse as a glue to stick the coconut into. Garnish each of the six plates with mint leaves and the pulp of half a passion fruit. Serve immediately.

Coconut Celebration Cake with Pomegranate Mascarpone Icing

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I was having a look at my blog the other day and realized it had been a year since I started, so I thought I’d make a little celebration cake to mark the occassion! While I would love a bit more time to devote to it, I love the outlet it provides me to share my recipes with other foodies. It keeps me inventing new recipes and forces me to take risks in the kitchen, which is a lot of fun. So, thanks to everyone who comes by and checks it out.

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To celebrate, I decided to make one of my all time favourite cakes, a super moist coconut cake that I’ve loved ever since I was little. It’s a Woman’s Weekly classic that uses sour cream to ensure the cake’s moist texture and make sure it isn’t overly sweet. While I love this cake as is, I decided to take it up a notch and add a delicious pomegranate mascarpone icing to really add that oomph! The icing is tangy and complements the cake perfectly. To top it off, I thought the cake needed a bit of texture, so I added some toasted coconut that I just baked in the oven at 220°C for about 6 minutes. And to add some colour, I finished it with some freeze dried raspberries and pomegranate arils. And I have to say, it was incredible. I don’t like to boast to much but flavours and textures in the cake are so delicious, every plate in the house was licked clean. I hope you like it as much as I did!

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Coconut Celebration Cake with Pomegranate Mascarpone Icing

Coconut Cake

  • 250g butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 2 cup caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ¼ cup desiccated coconut
  • 3 cups self-raising flour
  • 500g sour cream
  • 2/3 cup milk

Pomegranate Mascarpone Icing

  • 250g cream cheese
  • 125g mascarpone
  • 3/8 cup sugar
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • ½ tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbs pomegranate molasses

Topping

  • ½ cup toasted coconut flakes
  • Arils of ½ a pomegranate
  • ½ cup freeze dried raspberries

 

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced). Grease two deep 22cm-round cake pans; line base with baking paper.
  2. Beat butter, essence and sugar in a small bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
  3. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Stir in half the coconut and half the sifted flour, half the sour cream and half the milk, then add remaining coconut, flour, sour cream and milk; stir until smooth.
  4. Divide the mixture into the two pans; bake for about 50 minutes or until cooked when tested. Stand cake in pan for 10 minutes before turning onto wire rack, top-side up, to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, while the cake is baking, start on the icing. In a large bowl beat cream cheese, mascarpone, and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy.
Add egg, beat well.
Add vanilla, lemon juice, and pomegranate molasses and mix until combined.
  6. To assemble the cake: place one of the cakes on a board or cake stand. Using a large spoon, place half the icing mixture into the middle of the cake. You don’t want to spread it all the way to the edge as once you place the second cake on top the weight will push the icing to the side. Place second cake on top and dollop the rest of the icing on top and spread evenly. Sprinkle with the toasted coconut, pomegranate arils and freeze dried raspberries and serve.

Freekah and Haloumi Salad

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I think making this salad was wishful thinking. Sydney is still rather chilly and dreary at the moment. Getting up in the morning requires well thought-out layering of coats and scarves. Work lunches normally consist of soup, and numerous cups of hot tea are consumed throughout the day. But I am off to Europe in a month for my first holiday in two years and I think the thought of sunshine, warm water and balmy nights got me confused about which hemisphere I was on. I had urges for something light and fresh – something that I might order while I drink cocktails and relax by the pool in Santorini. This salad seemed to hit the mark rather well though. I may be slightly premature in my food choices but this salad is rather tasty. It’s zingy from the lemon, slightly textural with the crunch of the freekah, salty with the haloumi and with just the right amount of sweetness from the tomatoes. So if you’re dreaming of being on a different continent, do like I did and give this a go!

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Freekah and Haloumi Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

175g freekah, cooked according to packet instructions

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 handful mint, finely chopped

1 small red onion, finely diced

3 spring onions, sliced thinly

3 vine-ripened tomatoes, deseeded and finely diced

125ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra

juice of 2 lemons

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

300g haloumi, cut into 4 slices

 

Method 

Put the freekah in a bowl and add the parsley, mint, red onion, spring onions and vine-ripened tomatoes. Mix well.

Whisk the olive oil and lemon juice together and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the dressing to the freekah and mix through thoroughly.

Place a pan onto the stove on a high heat and add a splash of extra virgin olive oil. When hot, add the haloumi slices and cook on one side for a minute until they turn brown and a crust forms.

Turn over and repeat.

To serve, slice up the haloumi, divide between 4 plates and spoon over the freekah salad.

Rhubarb, Rose and Dark Chocolate Tart

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Sometimes the thought of making a dessert that involves pastry seems like rather too much work. I admit, I have resorted to using the store bought variety on occasion, and while it can deliver quite satisfactory results, it never does quite match the homemade kind. In my head I think that making pastry from scratch is a rather laborious task, but every time I do decide to make it I am pleasantly surprised at how simple it actually is. Yes, it does mean you have to wait a little longer while it chills in the fridge, but usually that gives you time to prepare the tart filling or get on with something else. And, you can always make more than you need and freeze it. Then you’ve got perfect homemade pastry just sitting in the freezer waiting for the next time those tart cravings come calling. You will thank yourself later for doing this, I promise.

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With rhubarb still being in season I thought I would have a go at making a rhubarb and dark chocolate tart that I had seen in an old issue of Donna Hay that was lying around the house. As always when I see something in a magazine, I tweaked and played around with the recipe slightly and I think it turned out pretty well. The base is just the right combination of slightly bittery chocolate and sweet. I like to use cacao as opposed to baking cocoa, as I think it gives the recipe a more robust chocolatey flavour as the cacao beans have not been processed unlike cocoa. The rhubarb adds a nice tang, while the rosewater and sugar helps ensure it isn’t too tart and the chocolate ganache brings the richness that helps marry everything together. This dessert is perfect if you are having a dinner party as you can prepare everything the day before and have it ready in the fridge for when your guests arrive, plus it looks so pretty that everyone will be impressed!

 

Rhubarb, Rose and Dark Chocolate Tart 

Serves 8

  • ¼ cup cacao + plus extra, for dusting
  • 1¼ cups self-raising flour
  • 125g chilled butter, cubed
  • ½ cup icing sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons iced water
  • 2 teaspoons dried rose petals

baked rhubarb

  • 400g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 10cm lengths
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rosewater

dark chocolate ganache

  • 300g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup thickened cream

Place the cocoa, flour, butter and icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. While the motor is running, add the egg yolks and process to combine. Add the iced water and process until the dough comes together. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Roll pastry out between 2 sheets of non-stick baking paper to 3mm-thick. Line a 24cm-round loose-bottomed tart tin with the pastry, trim the edges and prick the base with a fork.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Line the pastry case with non-stick baking paper, fill with baking weights, or uncooked rice if you don’t have baking weights, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and weights and bake for a further 10–15 minutes or until the pastry is light golden. Allow to cool in the tin.

To make the baked rhubarb, place the rhubarb, sugar and rosewater in a bowl and mix to combine. Place on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until tender and just starting to fall apart. Set aside to cool.

To make the dark chocolate ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized bowl. Place the cream in a saucepan over low heat and stir until it starts to boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Using a wooden spoon, mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Place the rhubarb in the base of the pastry case and pour over the ganache. Refrigerate for 2–3 hours or until set. Dust with extra cacao and dried rose petals to serve.

Apricot and Blackberry Shortcake

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With the cool, crisp weather we’ve been having lately, my desire for warm, comforting food has only increased. Because to be honest, comfort food is always a winner no matter what the season. For me baking is the ultimate in comfort food. While I love a buttery cupcake, or a creamy cheescake, there is something about fruit and pastry that warms the cockles of your heart. Especially when you make sure it’s sweet, oozy, jammy fruit and rich, crumbly shortcake. Drizzled with some thick cream and you have yourself the perfect winter warmer treat.

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This cake uses apricots and blackberries, but feel free to play around with other stone fruits and berries that are in season, as it is hard to go wrong. Macerating the fruit slightly in the lemon and brown sugar helps it to soften and lets those flavours sink in before they are developed further and intensified in the oven. The addition of clove adds a subtle spice and the almond meal keeps the cake from being too heavy. While this cake has a few steps, each of them is easy and you should be able to get this out of the oven within an hour which is perfect for when those cravings come calling.

 

Apricot and Blackberry Shortcake

Adapted from a recipe by Karen Martini in goodfood.com

Filling

8 large ripe apricots (can used can if not in season)

3 tbsp light brown sugar, plus extra to garnish

1/2 lemon, juiced

1 punnet blackberries (if using frozen, ensure they are thawed first)

1 handful toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Shortcake

150g plain flour

30g cornflour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

100g almond meal

1/2 tsp ground cloves

160g butter, room temp

140g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a 22- to 24-centimetre springform tin.

2. For the filling, slice the apricots in half and pit. Place the halves into a ceramic dish and toss with brown sugar and lemon juice. Allow to sit, cut-side down, for 10 minutes, then bake for 25 minutes or until the apricots are just starting to collapse. Remove apricots and set aside on kitchen paper. If using canned apricots, you can don’t need to bake them, just place them in the lemon juice and sugar mix and leave aside until required.

3. For the shortcake, mix the flour, cornflour, baking powder, almond meal and cloves together.

4. In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla extract until pale and light. Beat in the egg, then add the flour mix and thoroughly combine to a thick paste.

5. Scoop two-thirds of the shortcake into the tin and press into base and up sides in the shape of a shallow basin. Place apricots on the dough, cut-side up, scatter over the blackberries, and dab pinches of the remaining shortcake over the top, leaving some fruit showing.

6. Sprinkle some extra brown sugar and the hazelnuts on the shortcake blobs and bake for 30-40 minutes or until light golden. Allow to cool a little before unmoulding and slicing.