"What did you used to eat mum, you know... back in the day?" the boy asked recently. Back in the day? What does he mean by back in the day? Like the 100 years ago kinda back in the day his words were implying or the just when I was younger kinda back in the day? Thankfully it was the later he was meaning, although some days I do wonder how old he really thinks I am. Yes, we're still currently in the middle of an age obsession phase...
"I dunno hun, I suppose I used to eat very similar stuff to what you eat now", I replied. Kinda telling the truth, kinda not. As many of you already know, I grew up eating a very healthy vegetarian diet. Meals were home-cooked and made using the organic vegetables my parents grew in our huge vegetable gardens at the bottom the the hill, below our house. Dinner was always a huge spread and there was never just the one dish of food like I often serve up nowadays. No, no, there were always numerous plates and bowls full of goodness such as boiled new potatoes slathered in butter, the freshest salad you can ever imagine and mums brown rice and peanut patties. We ate desserts on occasion and mum baked her famous wholemeal banana cake with carob icing whenever there was a rainy day. But my sweet obsession didn't fully flourish until I left home and trained as a chef. I quickly developed a knack for all things sweet, there is something about the science of baking and pastry in particular that just seemed to click with my perfectionist Virgo nature. But also, if I'm being completely honest, it was an excuse to steer clear of the one section in a kitchen that's always given me the heebie jeebies. The grill and all that meat.
When I moved to Sydney after doing my training I got a job working for a top-end catering company and it was the pastry section that I naturally migrated towards. I spent my days elbow-deep in flour, butter and sugar and I loved every second of it. As you can imagine I also spent every second of the day eating sugar (you tend to just grab what you can when you work in a busy kitchen), and this is the part I neglected to tell Kye about when he questioned my eating habits, you know back in the day. Call it a white lie if you will, but I really don't think he needs to know about his mums terrible diet all those years ago. Don't get me wrong, we are no longer a sugar-free family (we were when the kids were teeny) and I still believe in the odd sweet treat, but I do like to use less cane sugar and more natural alternatives in my baking, as you will see in this recipe below.
Recently I was lucky enough to be chosen to take part in the Gourmet Gadget Challenge sponsored by The Good Guys as part of Voices of 2013 (this is the first of three post you'll see over the next few months). It's kinda ironic I know, I mean I'm not really the gadget kinda girl, but you do know I am always up for a good challenge! First up I got to play around with The Breville All in One, a nifty little stick mixer that blends, mashes, chops, slices and whisks. I like gadgets that have multiple uses and am already a huge fan of stick blenders for their ease of use and convenience, so for me it was an easy sell. I used The Breville All in One to create a slightly healthier version of the much loved classic, lemon meringue pie, with a gluten-free base, maple-sweetened lemon filling and Italian meringue on top. I always make my pastry in a blender and other than making the job a whole lot quicker it also results in a much nicer end product. With all things pastry the key is in keeping the fat cold and working quickly, so by using a blender these are both easily achieved. The Breville All in One has quad blades, which made light work of the job and also meant the butter was rubbed in evenly as it's top blades prevent things from just over-processing at the bottom of the bowl. A quick little change of attachments and I then used the whisk to create a light and fluffy maple-kissed Italian meringue to go on top. The motor has some good grunt, which I appreciated as I simultaneously whisked, poured and took photos all at the same time!
To read more about The Breville All in One, or to watch it in action in Heston Blumenthal's hands, head over to the Good Guys site and while you're at it make sure you leave a comment on their blog for a chance to win yourselves your very own All in One. Good luck!
Gluten-free lemon maple meringue pies
Using muffin tins can prove to be a little tricky when lining the bases as the depth of them tends to make the delicate gluten-free pastry tear when you press it into the tins. Do your best and if all else fails and it tears left, right and centre, just use a little bit of extra pastry to patch things up. I like more rustic looking pies anyway and you really will never even notice once they are cooked! Also if you're one of those people easily scared by making pastry, read here for some more of my pastry making tips.
1 cup (140g) fine brown rice flour
3/4 cup (80g) almond meal (ground almonds)
1/4 cup (35g) buckwheat flour
1/4 cup (25g) tapioca flour or organic cornflour (starch)
1/4 cup (50g) blended unrefined raw sugar*
125g cold butter, cut into 1cm cubes
1 large free-range egg, lightly beaten
iced water, if needed
1 cup (250ml) cold water
1/2 cup (125ml) lemon juice
1/3 cup (80ml) pure maple syrup
60g butter, cut into 1cm cubes
2 large free range yolks (save whites for meringue)
3 tablespoons organic cornflour (starch)
the finely grated zest 1 medium lemon
maple italian meringue
2 large (approx. 80g) free-range egg whites (leftover from filling)
1/2 cup (100g) blended unrefined raw sugar*
1/4 cup (60ml) pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons water
First up make the pastry. Place brown rice flour, almond meal, buckwheat flour, tapioca flour and blended raw sugar into the bowl of the food processor fitted with the quad blade and pulse a few times to evenly distribute the flours. Add butter cubes and pulse until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Add egg and pulse to just incorporate. Take a little piece of the mixture between your fingers and give it a little pinch. It should hold together well, if it doesn't, add 1 teaspoon of iced water at a time until it does. You should only need 1-2 teaspoons at the absolute maximum, add too much liquid and you will end up with rubbery pastry. More often than not I find I don't need to add any water at all. Turn out mixture onto a clean bench and use your hands to bring it all together to form a soft dough. Form into a flat disc, wrap in a plastic bag and chill for at least 30 minutes. Grease 9 regular 1/3 cup (80ml) capacity muffin tins and line each with a little strip of baking paper. The paper is not essential, but does help when it's time to remove them from the tins!
Remove pastry from the fridge and divide into 9 equal portions. Roll out each ball on a sheet of lightly rice-floured baking paper until it's approx. 3-4mm thick. Line each muffin tin with pastry, patching up any holes with extra pastry and trim off the tops neatly. Place into the fridge to chill while you heat the oven to 180C/350F. Any scraps of pastry can be rolled out, cut and baked off as cookies, or saved for another use. When oven is up to temperature, place a little square of baking paper into each pastry shell and fill to the top with baking beans/rice** (see photo above). Bake for 10 minutes or until golden around the edges. Remove the baking beans and paper and return trays to the oven for a further 5-6 minutes or until pastry is cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before using the little paper 'handles' to carefully remove the shells from the tins and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the filling place all the ingredients into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk until smooth (other than the lumps of butter that is). Cook over a medium heat, stirring with a whisk slowly until all the butter has melted. Continue to whisk slowly at first then faster and faster as the mixture thickens and nearly comes up to a boil. Remove from the heat just before it boils and divide evenly between the 9 pastry cases. Allow to cool, before chilling for 1-2 hours until set.
To make the maple Italian meringue, place egg whites into a super-clean, preferably glass, stainless steel or ceramic bowl and have a electric beater plugged in and standing by. Place sugar, maple syrup and water into a heavy-based saucepan, swirling gently to mix. Place over a medium-high heat and bring up to the boil without stirring. If sugar crystals are forming on the sides of the pan use a pastry brush dipped in cold water to wash them off. Boil the mixture for approx. 2 minutes until it reaches 110C/230F on a sugar thermometer. Leave on the boil while you quickly beat the egg whites using the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. When the sugar mixture reaches 118C/244F (this will take 2 1/2-3 minutes in total from start to finish) remove from the heat and with your beater going, slowly drizzle it into the egg whites. When all the sugar is incorporated continue to beat for 6-7 minutes until the mixture has cooled down and is thick and glossy.
Preheat your grill as hot as it can go. Pipe little mounds of Italian meringue onto the tops of your pies using a piping bag fitted with a plain 1cm nozzle (or simply place little dollops with a spoon if you don't own a piping bag). Place under the hot grill for 30-45 seconds or until the tops of the meringue are golden. Best eaten on the day of baking.
* I blend unrefined raw sugar to a powder using a blender for use in baking. You can use icing (confectioners) sugar if preferred.
** I use cheap dried beans for blind baking. After use store them in a glass jar for next time. Uncooked rice can also be used.