Friday, 27 August 2010

ispahan cupcakes

Tomorrow (Saturday) my dear friends, Kath and James, are getting married.

Parisian extraordinaire Pierre Hermé invented the ispahan flavour during his time at Ladurée and the lychee, rose and raspberry combination was named Ispahan for the gorgeous pink blush of a Damask rose.

So when Kath, the sweetest friend I know, was having her hen’s afternoon tea I just had to make these cupcakes for her and the girls.

They were a symbolic fit, given Kath had made rosewater cupcakes with me for my own engagement party. And suitably, Kath's hens night theme was Parisian Glamour as she and hubby-to-be were heading to Paris for the honeymoon.

Ispahan Cupcakes
Lychee & Rosewater Cupcakes
Recipe by My Tartlette. Makes 24 cupcakes.


1½ cups self-rising flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup ground almonds
250g unsalted butter, softened
2 cups caster sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup milk
40ml rosewater (2 tablespoons)
24 lychees, stoned and chopped

1. Preheat oven to 180’C. Spray 24 cupcake liners with cooking spray and set them on a baking sheet.

2. In a small bowl, combine the flours and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth.

4. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

6. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk, lychees and rosewater. Do not overbeat.

7. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended.

8. Carefully spoon the batter into the liners, leaving space at the top for the cupcakes to rise significantly.

9. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the centre of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Raspberry Buttercream Frosting
Based on a recipe by CookSister. Makes 1½ cups.

100g butter, room temperature
1¼ cups icing sugar
¼ cup raspberries purée

1. Cream the butter, then add the icing sugar and cream together.

2. Add the puréed raspberries a little at a time until the right consistency is achieved.

3. Use a piping bag or a palette knife to ice the cakes.

Roses are my Weekend Herb Blogging theme ingredient this week, hosted by Astrid from Paulchen's Foodblog, a Viennese food diary.

Roses are a flowering shrub from the family Rosaceae, a group that also includes apples, cherries, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries and almonds.

Most of the roses we’re familiar with are Asian natives, with smaller groups hailing from Europe, North America and northwest Africa.

High in Vitamin C, rose petals, oils and waters never fell from favour in the food of the Middle East and Asia, and roses are now see a revival in European cooking too, where they were used lovingly from ancient times until as recently as the late 1800s.

I remember my mother was an avid rose gardener. She would lovingly tend to her roses all year long and relish the short, flowering season when the bushes would droop with the heavy petals and the garden was filled with their heady scent.

I remember, after my impossible request for a blue rose, my mother sourced the Blue Moon, a tea rose that would perfume my room with its adorable lilac blooms.

Rose have always represented love and beauty, perhaps because the flower is so delicate and sweet-smelling, but so short lived and balanced carefully on a dangerously prickly stem.

As my two friends tie the knot, I’m reminded of the poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran whose words on roses are a pithy observation on relationships themselves:
“The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.”

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

as bruxias, sos del rey católico

view over Sos rooftops to the countryside below

In June 2010, Jonas and I travelled between San Sebastian and Barcelona, and decided to stay for a few days in a tiny town in the heart of Aragón: Sos del Rey Católico.

Sos is one of the most enchanting medieval hill villages I have ever seen. As one astute travel writer observed, “if this village was in Tuscany is would be overrun by hordes of tourists”. But since it’s hidden deep in the dusty hills of Aragón, we made up two of the five visitors there. Yes, five!

the many doors of Sos

I discovered it by pure chance, by searching Google Images for “beautiful medieval village spain”. When I stumbled across some photos of Sos, my mind was made up.

Once I had picked our location, I easily found the most wonderful hotel for us to stay in: El Sueño de Virila.

our terrace, with views over the hills
It was located in the heart of the former Jewish quarter, and has once been a synagogue and during the 16th century a manor house. Our wonderful hostess, Farnes, told us how they’d fallen in love with the village and then with the building and so loving restored it.

When they’d first bought it, the site had been filled with tonnes and tonnes of rubble, and Farnes and her husband took on each room one by one to avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the renovation. Now, the villa is immaculate and across four floors guests can enjoy a garden, terrace, dining room, bar, living room and library.

Our room had doors opening onto the terrace, and Jonas and I spent quiet hours reading, drinking local wine and looking out over the green hills.

door to our room from the terrace, bonus hammock!

We stayed in Sos for two nights and ate lunch and dinner at As Bruixas over four meals, such was the quality of food they had to offer. In the end, we tried almost everything on the menu and thoroughly enjoying the local Argonese specialties.

As Bruixas means The Witches and it’s run by two lovely women: Amaia Roldán and Visi Domínguez. In their medieval building, they run a small hotel (three rooms), bar and restaurant trussed up in the decor and style of the 1970s. The venue is kooky and funky, and completed unexpected from the tiny stone street.

Visi is a published food writer/chef and her impressive and economical menu focuses on the local produce of the Aragón region.

Visi and Amaia host a couple of videos on You Tube too, where you can see the hotel and restaurant for yourself (note: it's all in Spanish).

Ensalada de Cebolla y Pimientos Asados con Anchoas y Vinagreta de Tomate €7.70
Salad of onion, grilled peppers, anchovies and tomato vinaigrette
Ensalada de Codorniz Escabechada €7.70
Salad of vinegar marinated quail
Revuelto de Verduras y Virutas de Pato €7.90
Omelette of greens and shaved duck
Risotto de Hongo Negro con Queso de Cabra €8.10
Risotto of black mushroom and goats cheese
Ensalada de Patata Confitada y Puerro Aliñada con Vinagreta de Aceituna de Aragón €7.70
Salad of confit potatoes and marinated leeks with a Aragonese black olive vinaigrette
Ajoarriero de Bacalao € 13.90
Stew of garlic, tomato, peppers and salt cod
Cochinillo Asado con Manzana €14.20
Roasted boar with apples
Ternasco Asado con Patatas (Cordero DO.Aragón) €14.20
Roasted lamb with potatoes
Tarta de Cuajada con Chocolate Caliente € 4.10
Pudding of ewe’s milk curd (or junket) and hot chocolate sauce
Sloe-flavoured liqueur digestif served chilled or on ice

To be in such a tiny village and eat so well without paying a fortune, it was a fantastic experience. I really salute those two women and the superb food they cook.

To get to Sos, we took a bus from San Sebastian to Pamplona, and then another onto Sanguesa where Farnes picked us up and drove us the final distance. As we neared, the village rose out of the hills, crowning the highest peak with golden hued stone.


Sos in all its glory
Sos is such a captivating place. Once you are surrounded by the warm stone walls and streets, it’s so tenderly quiet. It was a wonderful, peaceful break on our journey between the indulgence of San Sebastian and festivities of Barcelona.

I highly recommend you visit too!

the tower, up close and surrounded by wild flowers

Monday, 23 August 2010

red wine, sour cherry & chocolate cake

I do love Lindt chocolate so it’s not hard for me to tout Lindt’s Excellence range. My particular favourites to eat are Sea Salt, Orange and Mint, but 70% is fantastic for cooking.

As a lucky member of the Lindt Lovers group, I have been invited to participate in their Excellence Recipe Challenge and this flavoursome chocolate cake is what I’m offering up.

Studded with red-wine-soften dried sour cherries, this velvety cake is a superb version of a typical flourless chocolate cake recipe.

I just hope all the Lindt Lovers love it too!

Red Wine, Sour Cherry & Chocolate Cake

Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 15.

100ml red wine
250g dried sour cherries, chopped
400g 70% Lindt chocolate, chopped
200g unsalted butter, chopped
8 eggs
½ cup caster sugar
Pinch of Murray River pink salt flakes

1. In a small bowl, soak cherries in red wine for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 160’C. Grease and line a 20cm spring form baking tin.

3. Melt chocolate with butter until smooth and glossy.

4. With electric beaters, whip eggs, sugar and salt until pale and creamy.

5. In batches, fold the chocolate mixture and cherry/wine mixture into the eggs, combining completely before adding the next batch. Continue until both mixtures are fully combined.

6. Pour into the prepared baking tin and place inside a larger baking tray.

7. Pour boiling water into baking tray until it reaches halfway up the sides of the baking tin.

8. Bake for 40 minutes or until set.

9. Remove from water bath but cool completely in baking tin before turning out to serve. Serve in very thin slices (it’s very rich).

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

muhammara - syrian pepper spread

Traditionally muhammara is a Syrian spread made from sun-dried Aleppo peppers, ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses, as well as a variety of spices.

In Australia we can’t buy the sun-dried peppers so I used char-grilled peppers instead. Also, I believe the traditional recipe uses bulgur wheat, rather than the breadcrumbs I have used.

Muhammara is great as a dip or spread on bread and toast, like a Middle Eastern crostino or bruschetta.

Called Acuka in western Turkey, muhammara can also be served as a sauce for meat and fish.

Muhammara (Syrian Walnut & Red Pepper Dip)
Anna’s version of various internet recipes. Makes 2 cups.

2 small red capsicums (peppers)
40g walnuts
20g pine nuts
20g pumpkin seeds
1 small onion, chopped finely
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon sumac
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper


1. Using tongs, hold capsicum over gas flame until the skins are blackened. Quickly place in a plastic bag and seal. The steam will help loosen the skin.

2. When they’ve cooled, peel off blacken skin then slice and remove seeds. Cut into strips.

3. Dry roast nuts and pumpkin seeds in a frying pan until toasted and slightly golden.

4. Pulse nuts in a food processor with breadcrumbs until finely chopped.

5. Heat some of the olive oil in a frying pan, then sauté onion and cumin seeds until onion is softened.

6. Add onion to food processor with capsicum, sumac, Aleppo pepper, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and sea salt. Blend until smooth.

7. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the remaining olive oil until the dip loosens then thickens.

8. Serve with Lebanese or pita bread, garnished with pomegranate seeds.

Note: to save time you could purchase char-grilled capsicums (peppers). Muhammara keeps in a sealed container in the fridge for around 4 days.

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by Marija from Palachinka, a beautiful Serbian blog.

I chose capsicums/peppers for my WHB ingredient because I have hated them as long as I can remember. I have continually tasted them throughout the years (probably once monthly) just hoping that suddenly I will have changed my mind.

But alas - despite their pretty shiny skins and regardless of their fresh, crispy rawness or sweet, soft char-grilled form - I just didn't like them.

Until this June.
Something miraculous happened and suddenly I can eat them!

Perhaps it was my recent overdose on pimientos de gernika and pimientos de padron when there were nought other vegetables to be found in Spanish restaurants?

Whatever it was, capsicum is starting to taste good.
And that's worth celebrating.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

comerç 24, barcelona

Carles Abellan is a graduate of Ferran Adrià, having worked the stoves at el Bulli in Roses, and has a long career in some of Spain’s illustrious restaurants.

His new venture, Project 24, combines multiple business ventures in one building: a tapas bar, a catering company and a restaurant.

The restaurant, known as Comerç 24, specialises in avant-garde Catalan cooking using creative influences from around the world.

The interior has that artsy-industrial design so typical of Barcelona: frilly metal columns, bricked walls, bright yellow furniture and an open kitchen.

The food was good. Well, to be fair, it was much better than good. It was great.

I think our opinion of Comerç 24 suffered simply because Australia pumps out some amazing restaurants and yet we idolise Europe as some kind of gastro-mecca.

We seem to think that everything coming out of European capitals is surely better than what we produce at home. When we arrive in Barcelona/Paris/London etc we are sad to discover that “1 Michelin star” is just the equivalent to our own “1 Chef Hat” system and not an astronomically higher grade of culinary delight.

Partly to blame is an unfounded European arrogance (based on much-founded history and tradition) and total ignorance of what’s eaten Down Under, and mostly to blame is a sad Australian insecurity that Europe is the only place to be for all things foodie.

The result: Australian foodies dining out in Europe are unfairly disappointed because the food isn’t drastically better than what we eat at home.

But how can you blame a restaurant for this?

And I think Comerç 24 suffered from this unfairness. With retrospect, it was great food and we enjoyed it.

I’d recommend it to anyone looking for modern, tres cool food (that tastes good) in Barcelona.

And the price wasn’t bad either, given the quality, €360 for three people: including degustation menus, cocktails, wine, after dinner drinks and 10%+ tip.

Unfortunately (shamefully) I lost my notes from our dining experience so I have to post the photos without explanations. Please forgive my forgetfulness where I can’t remember the details.

Filo cigars filled with lemon verbana goats cheese

Octopus carpaccio with ink sauce

Gold-dusted macadamia and anchovy filled olives

Asparagus, herbs, wild strawberries and flower salad

Mackerel sashimi with orange and salad

Tuna tartare in egg yolk

Flowers and soba noodles in a vegetable broth

Truffle and egg "sferification" with a light broth

Truffles and cream

Asparagus and orange


Red mullet

Local cheeses

Strawberry crumble with basil sorbet (just delicious!)

Melon and basil soup

Petit fours: oreo cookies, lemon meringue pie, peanut butter & chocolate

Food photos by Anna. Photos of the restaurant interior and Abellan borrowed from other online sources.

Carrer del Comerç, 24
08003 Barcelona, Ciutat Vella
T: +34 933 19 21 02

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