How to make Christmas Crack

New Zealand Christmas Tree

New Zealand Christmas Tree

Ok, I need to say at the outset that this really is the name of the recipe. Christmas Crack. My friend made some for her builders and wondered whether she could therefore legitimately call it Builder’s Crack? Hmmm….you’re probably going to need to be an Aussie or a Kiwi to understand that one.

Anyways, this is a relatively easy little recipe that is festive enough for this time of the year. After all, how could you possibly go wrong with caramel, chocolate and salads biscuits? Am I right or am I right?

As for the crack part of the Christmas Crack recipe? Some say it’s the sound as you break the biscuits, others could say that it’s because of the addictive nature of the salty caramel and chocolate combo. I’ll leave that one up to you.

As per usual, the ingredients and quantities are a tad loose. From this recipe we got 2 trays of crack (that really does sound so wrong).

What you need

  • Salada biscuits – or some other salted cracker e.g. premiums or saltines – enough to line the tray/s
  • Dark chocolate – we used Whittaker’s because I was in New Zealand and because this is an amazing chocolate…just saying. Anyways, you’ll need 300-340g…or thereabouts.
  • 220g dark brown sugar
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Maldon salt or other salt flakes
  • Pohutukawa blossoms to style the finished result are an optional but oh so perfect finishing touch. Just saying. These ones were acquired from an obliging tree in Petone.

What you do with it

  • Preheat your oven to about 200C
  • Line a cookie tray with alfoil. Spray it lightly with olive oil or cooking spray.
  • Line your lined tray (yes, that did come out loud) with your saladas

  • Make your caramel. For this caramel you need to stir – and keep stirring – but it’s worth it. Pop the sugar, butter and maldon salt – into a saucepan. Re the amount of salt you use, ¼ of teaspoon for a regular caramel, a tad more for salted. Your call. Anyways, cook it over a medium heat, stirring until the butter melts, then stir some more – for another 5 minutes or so – until it boils and darkens in colour. Don’t get too precious about the colour. Add the vanilla extract and stir that in.
  • Pour the caramel over the biscuits to make a relatively thin, even coat, and pop it into the oven for 5 minutes. the caramel should bubble away happily.

  • Now you can melt your chocolate. The easiest way is in the microwave in 30sec stages. Cook for 30secs, then stir…and repeat until melted.
  • As long as the caramel has stopped bubbling, pour over the caramel in a thin layer. As a little extra, sparkle over some extra malden salt, or maybe some coconut or even red and green M&Ms for that festive look.
  • Allow to cool on the tray and then transfer to the fridge for an overnight rest.
  • Once it’s cold, take it out of the pan and remove the foil. Now you get to crack the biscuits. Of course, you could make score lines down the natural break marks of the crackers to get a neat square, but where would be the fun in that?

 

  • Transfer your Christmas Crack to an appropriately photogenic plate and pop some pohutukawa on top. Then move it around the house until you find the perfect light and background to photograph your crack.

Note: The pohutukawa is the New Zealand Christmas tree – so called because it blooms very dramatically during December. You probably won’t find it anywhere else in the world…but once you’ve seen one you won’t forget it.

 

Babi Guling – how to make a cheat’s version at home

 

babi guling at Ibu Oka

If you google it, there’s a lot of posts about where the best babi guling – Balinese roasted suckling pig – is in Bali. There’s apparently an unmarked doorway in a village called Buduk north of  Canggu somewhere thats open between 4am and 9am. There’s another listed in Sanur, and yet another in Seminyak that is supposed to be the best.

The best known, however, has to be Ibu Oka in Ubud. Is it the best there? I have no idea, but it’s absolutely certainly worth a visit. If I were to be pressed, hard, I’d say the one I had at Gianyar Markets might have been better, but let’s face it, a good babi guling is really not worth arguing about. It’s best just savoured. With a beer.

Ok, let’s be honest, there’s nothing that really replicates the taste of babi guling – Balinese suckling pig – that can be replicated at home in a commercial kitchen. For a start, in Bali it’s about a whole suckling pig. Without getting too much into the squeamish details, the base gede, or spice mix, is stuffed into the belly which is then stitched back up. The pig is then placed over a fire on a spit – which is hand turned…hence the name, turning pig.

Anyways, this recipe comes pretty close – especially if it’s been 18 months since you were last in Bali and dreaming and scheming about going back. The recipe comes from Adam Liaw’s After Work.

To get the best flavour out of it, you’ll need to start the day before.

For the pork

  • 2kg piece pork belly, skin on
  • 2 tbsp cooking salt

Basa Gede

  • 3 large red or golden shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 thumb sized knob of ginger, peeled
  • 1 large stalk of lemongrass (the white part), roughly chopped
  • 1 coriander root and the stalks (use the leaves for garnish)
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric (I prefer to use peeled fresh turmeric – a bit less than the ginger)
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp caster sugar
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp fish sauce

Throw the lot into a food processor until to make a rough paste.

Sambal

  • 3 large red or golden shallots, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 large red chillies, finely diced
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
  • 1 large stalk of lemongrass (the white part) finely sliced
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • ½ tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp peanut (or other vegetable) oil
  • Mix it all together and let it sit to get t know each other for about 30 mins.

Cooking the babi guling

Score the pork skin with a sharp knife and spread the spice paste onto the meat side. Rub salt liberally into the skin and place on a rack (on a tray) uncovered, overnight in the fridge.

Remove the pork from the fridge an hour before you want to cook it. Heat the oven (fan forced to 190C and roast the pork on a rack for 30 mins.

Reduce the heat to 160C and roast for another 30 mins or so – until it is cooked through.

For good crackling, turn the grill setting on for the last 10 mins and wedge the oven door open slightly with a wooden spoon. This allows the steam to escape and helps the crackle, well, crackle.

Serve with the sambal, some steamed or stir-fried greens, and rice. Then book your next trip to taste the real thing!

 

 

How to make Bumbu Bali

ingredients at Ubud markets

At the base of any great Balinese dish is a good Basa Gede, or Bumbu Bali. Translated literally, Bumbu means spice, Basa means bases, and Gede means Big. Sometimes you might see it called a Base Genep. However it’s described, it is a complete spice mix that adds big flavours to any dish.

Anyways, the ingredients list in this all purpose bumbu is huge, but it keeps for a few weeks in the fridge and a couple of months in the freezer, so it’s worth making a batch, and popping it away in individual portion sizes of, say, 100g, or thereabouts. I’ve tried to use bought pastes in my nasi goreng or chicken curry, but it just doesn’t taste the same.

Besides, there’s not a lot that’s more therapeutic than popping on some loud music, pouring a glass of wine, and smashing down pastes in a mortar and pestle. Just saying.

A general rule of thumb is that you need around 25g bumbu for each 100g of protein, but don’t get too hung up on that. If you’re making a chicken curry, for example, and are using 4 chicken thighs, just dollop on paste equivalent to one of them. Too easy.

When it comes to a vegetarian dish, or a nasi goreng, use less, adding little by little to taste.

This recipe is a combination of one that we made at a cooking school in Ubud – Bumi Bali – and one that’s in Janet de Neefe’s fabulous Bali: My Island Home.

Ingredients for bumbu bali

What you need

  • 8-10 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 3 long red chillis, seeded and chopped
  • 3 small chillies, seeded and chopped
  • 5cm galangal, peeled and chopped
  • 5cm turmeric, peeled and chopped
  • 5cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 3 stalk lemongrass. Smashed with the back of a knife and chopped roughly
  • 2 salam leaves(or bay or curry leaf)
  • 150ml coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 5 candlenuts
  • 2 teasp black peppercorns
  • 1 teasp white peppercorns
  • 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teasp belacan or shrimp paste. If you’re vegan, you can substitute oyster or mushroom sauce

What you do with it

  • Depending on what sort of day you’ve had, and how much time you have, pound all the ingredients (except the salam and the oil) in a pestle and mortar…or use a blender. I use the nutribullet when I’m feeling lazy. Add water as required to moisten. As an aside, making spice mixes by hand is amazing therapy. Don’t worry too much if it seems too watery- this will cook off.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan and add the leaves and cook for a minute or so.
  • Add the spice mix and cook over a high heat, stirring frequently, until the excess water has evaporated and the mix is a rich golden brown colour.

How to make Balinese chicken curry

Using this paste to make a chicken curry couldn’t be easier.

Chop about 750g of chicken thighs into a dice. Do the same with a few potatoes and a couple of carrots. Don’t be too precious about the quantities.

Heat some coconut oil in a large wok or deep saucepan, add your curry paste  and fry over high heat for a minute or so until fragrant. Reduce heat, add a stalk of lemongrass that you’ve bruised with the back of a knife, and a couple of finely shredded lime leaves.

Stir it all together for another minute or so. Add the chicken and your veggies, and stir to make sure the spice paste has coated it all and cook for a couple of minutes each side to get a little colour. Add a cup of chicken stock – maybe more depending on how much chicken you have. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are soft. Add a 400ml can of coconut milk and a few squeezes of lime juice and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Notes on the Ingredients

  • Shallots: Sometimes called golden shallots these are milder than normal onions, are a bugger to peel and chop, but an absolute must have in Indonesian cooking.
  • Candlenuts: Here in Australia, it can be tough to source candlenuts. We have a few good Asian grocers around us that we source ours from, but if you have problems getting them, or simply can’t be faffed looking for them, macadamias are a good substitute from a texture viewpoint – although, to me, the taste is more like a cross between a macadamia and brazil.
  • Galangal: One thing we can’t get here is a differentiation between greater and lesser galangal. You see, not all galangals are the same. Both look like ginger root, but are very different in taste. Lesser galangal appears more like young ginger and has a more concentrated flavour. Sometimes the galangal we buy is technically lesser galangal, sometimes it’s very obviously greater galangal. Either way, it’s sold simply as galangal. Most Balinese recipes will use both, but I’ve just simplified it to galangal. If you really can’t find it, substitute ginger, but it is worth seeking out.
  • Turmeric: I get fresh turmeric at the local markets, but used to find it a tad difficult to source when in Sydney. If you don’t use it all, it freezes ok for next time. Another root spice, it looks also a little like ginger in shape, but is bright orange inside. It’s the turmeric that gives the final dish it’s amazing colour. When peeling it, if you don’t wear gloves, it will also give your fingers an amazing colour – as if you’ve been smoking three packs a day for the last fifty years! It has incredible health benefits too, so please make the effort to find the fresh stuff. If you must, substitute with 2 tablespoons turmeric powder.
  • Belacan: is a foul smelling shrimp paste that is absolutely essential in Indonesian cooking. It’s made from fermented shrimp and…you don’t really want to know. We buy it in our local supermarket in pre-roasted sealed portions. Trust me, there’s no personal glory involved in roasting your own.
  • Salam Leaves: You probably won’t find these, so don’t bother driving around town looking for them. Substitute with bay or curry leaves.
  • Coconut Oil:  Coconut Oil has many health benefits (which I won’t go into here), but it also allows frying at a high heat. Any other vegetable oil (other than olive) is a good substitute.

The best ever chocolate bread and butter pudding…

Sweet Dark Chocolate Sauce in a Bowl
Photo courtesy of deposit photos…

Max (Maxine) Henderson is the protagonist in my upcoming novel Wish You Were Here. She writes a monthly column for Blossom and Buds- a garden centre in Brookford- about what’s in season and what you can do with it.

I invited Max along today to share with us her chocolate bread and butter pudding- actually, it’s the one that her mother makes whenever she needs to break some bad news, help Max feel better about something, or stimulate conversation. Max says it’s a little like a chocolate-y truth serum. Sadly, my food styling and photography isn’t a patch on hers, but  bad photos aside, this is seriously one very good chocolate bread and butter pudding.

Over to you, Max…

As we know only too well, we can still get the occasional cold spell at this time of the year. To cover you for those inevitable early spring grey days- or just if you need some deep comfort, I’ve managed to convince my mother to part with her chocolate bread and butter pudding recipe. If possible, it’s best to start this one the day before you intend to look it, but let’s be honest- when these moments hit, they don’t tend to come with prior notice. You’ll need some bread- about half a loaf. White bread is the most obvious choice, but torn up croissants or brioche would work well too. Mum does hers with fruit bread to give the end result a sort of rum and raisin taste. Cut it in the usual way that you would for an ordinary bread and butter pudding- halves or quarters- and put aside.

For the chocolate, you’ll need most of a 200g block of dark chocolate- allowing a row for taste testing, of course. Chop it roughly and place it into a bowl with a 300ml carton of thickened or double cream, a good slosh (or three) of rum, 75g butter and around ½ cup caster sugar. If you want, you could even add a pinch of orange zest or a shake of cinnamon to jazz it up some more. Melt it all over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir it until it’s silky smooth. Now it’s time for the eggs- you’ll need three. Whisk them in a separate bowl and then pour the chocolate over the eggs, whisking as you go.

Pour a thin layer of the chocolate over your pre-greased tin and layer the bread evenly over this. Now add more chocolate, and another layer of bread, plus the last of the chocolate. Press the bread down until it’s all covered with chocolate. Don’t worry too much if some of the bread pokes up- it adds an extra texture once it’s been cooked.

Now, pop some cling-film over it and place it into the fridge for as many hours as you can. This is the part that you’re supposed to do the day before.

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Before you wash the bowl, sneak a taste. Isn’t that the best chocolate sauce you ever tasted in your life? It’s always reminded me of the rum balls Mum makes at Christmas.

When you are ready to cook it, do so in a moderate oven for 30-35mins. All it needs now is a few minutes to sit, and some pouring or ice cream…or custard…for the top.

You’re welcome.

Wish You Were Here will be available for pre-orders from September 30 on Amazon and itunes.

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