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Saturday, 15 July 2017

Putting a Sizzle into Burgers

Recently I have been working with Chris from Sizzlers Burger Shack to produce some relishes for his burgers. Chris is a man passionate about creating the perfect burger and he thinks long and hard about the flavour combinations that go into the different burgers on his menu.

Having already made some onion relish for him, he came back and asked if I could make a jalapeno relish. As you might imagine, this turned out to be somewhat on the hot side... still, some people like that sort of thing so he added it to a special burger on his menu.

A short while later he asked if I could make bacon jam. After a play around and a sample batch, he was happy enough to order 6 catering size jars of the stuff. So off I duly went to the butchers and purchased the necessary 8 kg of bacon required and got busy in the kitchen.  Once the order was complete I was left with a small quantity of the stuff to experiment with. Yes, obviously it is great in a burger but I soon discovered that it works well in an omelette, as a pizza topping and even just stirred into some fried mushrooms. Anywhere that a bit of salty smokiness with a hint of sweetness and heat would enhance the flavour, bacon jam is what you need.

Having made these relishes for Chris and spent time listening to him explaining the finer points of burger menu creation, it seemed only logical that I should actually try one of his burgers. With the local street food scene enjoying something of a boom currently, there are plenty of opportunities to catch Sizzlers and the other local street food vendors at work. I caught up with him at Eat Street at The Buszy and purchased the Route 66.

As an aside, I was reading The Dish magazine the other day and it was doing a special on burgers. On the front cover was a photo of a classic burger. The sort of burger you always imagine and hope you will be served at a fast food restaurant but sadly it fails to deliver. The sort of burger, indeed, that looks like its lettuce has been carefully teased into place with a pair of tweezers. Perhaps the same food photographer was employed for this photo-shoot as for the likes of McDonalds and Burger King.

That is the thing with burgers generally. You get lured in with an attractive photograph and description of a tasty burger but when your order is delivered it is a sad flat thing, lacking colour, soggy in texture and with less fillings than promised. It is such a common phenomenon that you reach a point where you don't even expect the reality to match the marketing. However, I have to say that the Route 66 that sat in my burger box didn't fall into that category. Maybe it was because there had been no photos to order from or maybe it was just a plump, tasty looking burger.

Having passed the visual appeal test, the real proof would be in the eating. And this one delivered on that front too. Bite after bite of meatiness with the complimentary flavours of sauces, bacon and pickles and all of it holding together to the last mouthful rather than disintegrating into a pulpy mass.

So, today, when I found myself with a stall at the same event as Sizzlers it was a no brainer where I would get my lunch. A read of the menu made it hard to decide what to try this time but in the end I went for a State Side and my daughter went for a Double Double. The State Side is a classic burger with lettuce, sauce, mustard, bacon and pickles. I picked it from the description, just as last time, but later I remembered Chris had said something about the Route 66 and the State Side being pretty much the same thing so clearly that classic combination must really appeal to me. The Double Double is a double burger with double cheese and, having been allowed to sample my daughter's lunch, it was super tasty too.

With fast food burger chains and burger vans being so common and often failing to live up to expectation, it is perhaps easy to dismiss Sizzlers as yet another greasy spoon burger van, that will serve up a thin slab of some hard to identify meat with limp salad, over-vinegary sauce in a cotton-wool bun. This is probably particularly true when at a street food event. Here, faced with other vans offering something a little more exotic or novel sounding you might be tempted to overlook the van selling "just burgers", thinking you can pick something similar up at McDonalds at a convenient later date. But that would be a mistake. A burger when done right is a joy to look at and a pleasure to eat and having one that lives up to all your expectations is such a rare moment that is it an opportunity that should not be passed up when presented.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Raspberry & Lemon Celebration Drip Cake

It was my daughter's 13th birthday on Sunday. She is actually a pretty undemanding child when it comes to birthday expectations. However, she does insist that her birthday cake is more spectacular than last year's cake. Oh, and that it contains fresh fruit and no royal icing.

Her 11th birthday cake was a strawberries and cream pinata cake - concealing a hidden stash of fresh strawberries in the middle.

Her 12th birthday cake was some ridiculous strawberry layer cake affair, stacked with meringues, chocolate bark, fruit and shortbread biscuits.

So what next?

With the soft fruit season a couple of weeks earlier that usual this year, I was pretty sure the homegrown strawberries would be over before her birthday but that the raspberries would still be in abundance so I started working on that as a theme. I also asked Rebecca from the Blue Whisk Bakery if she had any ideas for spectacular cakes that didn't involve royal icing and she suggested I looked up "drip cakes" for inspiration as they were tall and could be stacked up with anything on top. As an aside, she had also asked me if I could make her some raspberry curd for a cake. I'd never made raspberry curd before but it sounded tasty and like something I might include in my daughter's cake.

A bit of web searching later and I was beginning to piece together an idea, taking inspiration from that cake recipe and this icing recipe until I committed myself to a plan by sketching it on a napkin as I talked through it with my daughter.

The preparation for the cake making started a few days before with the making of a fresh batch of lemon curd. This is something we enjoy in yoghurt and rice-pudding so I always have a batch on the go. Then I fiddled with the recipe and tried raspberry curd. I had always assumed that my homemade raspberry jam was the best thing ever... but it turns out it is actually raspberry curd. Tasting like a beautifully smooth raspberry ice-cream, it was hard not to just spoon it straight into my mouth. Another get ahead job was to slice a lemon and boil it up in some sugar syrup for a while to create some candied lemons for decoration. Then the last bit of prep was to puree some raspberries. I normally puree raspberries before making them into jam as many people prefer their jam without the seeds so this is something I do all the time and I have a useful kitchen gadget for it. However, it can easily be done by mashing up fresh raspberries then working them through a sieve.

Then it was a case of making the cakes - my normal lemon layer cake and a Victoria sandwich cake, adapted to be raspberry flavoured instead of vanilla using some of my raspberry puree.

For my birthday my mum had given me a handy devise for slicing a cake horizontally. It's not something I would have bought for myself but it has actually proved useful on occasions. So, the sandwich tin cakes were sliced in half to make a total of eight layers.

These I stacked up with alternate layers of lemon curd and raspberry curd.

 Once stacked, I then made a batch of butter icing and flavoured that with more raspberry puree to create something with an impressive colour and flavour with no need for artificial augmentation.

After spreading this around the cake, I put the cake in the fridge to chill whilst I made the white chocolate and lemon gauche.

Whilst waiting for that to reach the right dripping consistency, I popped outside for some fresh fruit and a collection of edible flowers to put on top.

I didn't expect people to eat the flowers but it is handy to know they they weren't going to transfer any unpleasant flavours or poisons to the top of the cake. On this occasion I used calendula, nasturtiums, marigolds, borage and gherkin flowers to match my colour scheme. Then I added the soft fruit - raspberries (of course), some strawberries dipped in white chocolate, redcurrants, jostaberries and gooseberries.

Given that I had never made a drip cake before and that decorative cake making isn't really my forte, I was pretty pleased with what I had achieved and my daughter was super excited to see it when she came back in from her dance lesson. Personally I think the most important part of any cake is its flavour and I particularly hate cutting into a highly-decorated cake to find a dull, over-processed sponge cake beneath. This cake, I was sure, was going to eat well.

Later, after a tasty meal, with the family assembled, we lit the candles, sung the song and cut the cake. Despite thin slices, each slice was of epic proportion and difficult to finish but it was undeniably raspberry and lemon flavoured and my daughter was satisfied that I had indeed produced a cake more spectacular than last year's.

Raspberry & Lemon Drip Cake

For the lemon cake

225g soft margarine
225g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
1 lemon - zest and juice
225g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

For the raspberry cake

225g soften butter
225g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
3 tablespoons raspberry puree
225g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt

For the raspberry buttercream

350g soften butter
600g icing sugar
3 tablespoons raspberry puree

For the white chocolate and lemon gauche

150 white chocolate
100g lemon curd

You will also need lemon curd, raspberry curd and decorations for the top.

Preheat oven to 180°C, gas 4 and grease and line two 20cm circular sandwich cake tins. Both the lemon and raspberry cakes can be made in the same way. Cream together the fat with the sugar then stir in the eggs, one at a time. Add the fruit component and stir then add the flour and salt (and raising agent) and stir until well combined and smooth. Spoon the batter equally between the two cake tins and level off. Bake for 20 minutes until springy to the touch and text with a skewer. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then remove onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cooled, cut the cakes horizontally so that there are a total of 8 slices of cake. Choose a suitable presentation plate and place the first layer of cake on it. Spoon curd onto the cake and spread evenly over it. Next place a layer of the other flavour of cake on top and spoon the other curd flavour onto that. Continue, alternating the flavours, until the last layer of cake is placed on top.

Use the butter icing to completely coat the cake - sides and top. Use a straight sided spatula to smooth out the icing. Place the cake in the fridge to cool. Next melt the white chocolate. You might like to dip some fruit into the white chocolate at this stage. Once slightly cooled, stir in the lemon curd then leave to cool until it is a suitable consistency for dripping. Spoon into a piping bag and carefully pipe on the drips then cover the top with a layer of the gauche and level off. Whilst the gauche is still slightly soft, push your decorative items into it or use blobs of leftover butter icing or gauche to act like glue.