Ready for greatness | Baller Brownies

Everybody loves brownies. They’re in every cafe, every bake sale, every morning tea. A good, fudgy, chewy brownie is everything that is right in this world.

So how do you make a great thing better? Fill it with all the best, tastiest tidbits you can get your hands on. Today, that’s two kinds of chocolate chips and crunchy nuts. Are you ready for greatness? Because these brownies are.

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Many years ago, I was commissioned to make 100 white chocolate mud cake cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream. Several trials and more than 200 cupcakes later… The smell of white chocolate makes me instantly queasy. Can’t do it. This recipe takes boring old white chocolate and turns it into golden, caramel-ey goodness. Roasting the chocolate low and slow imparts a deep caramel flavour that can be used anywhere you’d use the white stuff. And the smell? Heaven. I can’t get enough.

This recipe is made better by the quality of chocolate you use. Lindt is the best supermarket-available chocolate, and I like to use the Smooth 70% and Touch of Salt, because it’s not overly sweet, it’s not overly bitter, and the salt just lifts everything and makes it better. Buy it when it’s on sale, and you’re onto a winner.

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Baller Brownies

Adapted from Delicious

150g unsalted butter, chopped
250g dark chocolate (I used 200g Lindt 70% Smooth dark, 50g Lindt Salted Dark), chopped
3 eggs, lightly beaten
250g caster sugar
50g plain flour
100g white chocolate, chopped
50g Lindt Salted Dark
100g pistachios, chopped

Heat the oven to 120*c. Place the white chocolate in a Pyrex roasting dish, then place in the oven. Stir the chocolate every 10 minutes or so until it’s a deep gold in colour and caramelised in flavour. It’s okay if it looks lumpy, it will smooth back out. Set aside to cool and solidify.

Increase the temperature 10 180*c. Line a brownie pan with baking paper and set aside.

Place the chopped dark chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl, then place the bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.Stir occasionally until melted together, and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together with an electric mixture until light and fluffy, a couple of minutes. Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and combine, then stir in the flour. Crumble in the caramelised white chocolate, pistachios and additional dark chocolate, folding to evenly combine.

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Pour the mixture into the brownie pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until a crust forms. Remove the pan from the oven and leave to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge to chill and firm.

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What I Love | Équilibre Edition

I’m pleased to introduce you to Nic and Pascal – a husband and wife powerhouse duo and generally delightful people.

I can’t remember exactly how I first met them – I had spotted flyers for their business in Studio Bomba, some of my friends had attended their fitness classes, they frequent my market and just generally overlap in the foodie community. But in a way that can only be described as serendipitous, there they were.

Nic and Pascal are always just so wonderful to talk to, grounded and knowledgeable, but not in a way that’s preachy or obnoxious – there’s nothing worse than someone who’s so focused on their message that there’s no room for anything else, and that is decidedly not the van Kans. They know that some times you just need wine, or cake or time out, and that is a truly wonderful thing.

So, team, say hello!

What I Love – Équilibre Edition

Who are you and what do you do?

We are Pascal and Nicole van Kan – a husband and wife team who juggle bringing up our young children with working and building our heart-centred business, Équilibre – Fitness for Foodies.

Pascal is a fully qualified exercise professional with 2 decades of experience in the fitness industry. He is a keen tri-athlete and has a passion for all things bikes (including managing Reid Cycles in Perth).

Nic works for UWA Publishing and has always cultivated her love for good food, cooking, baking and aesthetics. With a little help from Pascal, she is also a reformed exercise-phobic!

Balancing exercise and eating well with the realities of a busy family life is not always easy – we know this! That’s why our aim for Équilibre is to take away the fear and confusion, to inspire clients to be kinder to their bodies and to help them reclaim a sense of equilibrium. We’d like to think that our approach to food and fitness is balanced, down-to-earth and filled with joy.

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Why Perth?

Nic has lived in Perth since moving from the UK as a young girl, but Pascal is a relative newcomer. Although Dutch-born, he came from Melbourne around 18 years ago for a brief working holiday and decided never to leave!

Perth is the perfect place to bring up kids and supports the kind of lifestyle we love. We like the fact that we are (somewhat) insulated from the rest of the world, but also feel a sense of pride that Perth seems to be growing up of late – supporting a blossoming food scene and a host of creative entrepreneurs. It’s an exciting place to be!

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What (or who) inspires you?

Nic: I find authenticity inspiring. I’m also attracted to people who understand what they’re passionate about and are unafraid to pursue their dreams.

I’m a huge fan of Jude Blereau and her contribution to the world of whole-food cooking. It’s an approach that has always resonated with me, long before organic and ‘clean eating’ (gag!) became trendy. The idea that food needs to have an element of deliciousness and integrity, as well as being a very individual thing makes so much sense to me.

Pascal: It’s pretty simple for me. Getting out and riding my bike always provides inspiration, any time I need it!

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Your dream food day?

Would have to begin with a breakfast at Sayers – the Potato Rosti with Poached Egg is a sentimental favourite of ours.

The rest of the day we would happily hand over to Sophie Zalokar at Foragers. Her thoughtful, creative approach to cooking and sourcing the best in local produce would mean that whatever the season, we could be confident that our taste buds would be satisfied and our souls well-nourished. (There’s a reason why we choose to run our Équilibre Retreats at Foragers!)

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What ingredient makes everything better?

Can we be cheeky and say a glass of wine?

Otherwise, it would have to be Nic’s salsa verde. Packed with fresh herbs, lemon and a salty hit of capers and anchovy, we make a weekly batch to use on just about everything – salads, eggs, fish, soup. It’s our not-so fashionable version of the green smoothie and it really does make everything better.

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What’s the best thing you’ve eaten recently?

Nic: The Emperor with pickled tomato, basil, chilli and fennel at Bread in Common. The flavours were fresh, simple and delicious. Accompanied by a glass of Flowstone Gewürztraminer, it made for a truly enjoyable birthday treat.

Pascal: Nic’s Quince and Hazelnut Crumble Cake – tastes like autumn (based on an old Gourmet Traveller recipe, with a bit of a whole-food makeover.)

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Where do you love to go to eat?

Honestly? Although we appreciate good food, we rarely get the chance to ‘go out’ to eat unless you count our local pizza shop, Pizzaca (which is good, by the way!)

These days, you’re more likely to find us hanging out at coffee shops. In fact, our kids have been well-trained in café etiquette from birth!

Favourites include Yelo, The Daily, Humblebee, Hobart Street Deli and Voyage. We also really enjoyed a visit to Gordon Street Garage and are keen to try Hylin in West Leederville. The Tenth State is keeping Nic happy since moving in to UWA next door for work.

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Where do you love to hang out?

When we’re not at a café, you’re likely to find us at the local park, or riding our bikes (Perry Lakes Reserve is a great spot).

Family outings often involve a weekend farmer’s market. Subi Farmer’s Market has the best atmosphere and arguably the best stalls. Our favourites include Wild Bakery, Macabee Dorper Lamb and Spring Valley Orchard. It’s also worth adding that our daughter is quite taken with Mr Drummond’s crumpets!

We’re big fans of City Beach, too. Whether it’s fish and chips at sunset, a morning walk or simply watching the kids in the playground, it’s one of those special places that always reminds us how lucky we are to live where we do.

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What’s your favourite thing right now?

Nic: (can I have more than one?)

– Meditation (i’m so excited to be doing the Mindful in May challenge.)

– My Baker’s Drawer.

– Cooking autumn comfort food in my new French blue cast-iron enameled pot.

Dunn and Walton (organic shopping heaven!)

Pascal:

– Autumn in Perth (perfect training conditions!)

– Wines from the Adelaide hills (in particular pinot noir).

– Thursday night food shows on SBS

What are you looking forward to?

Nic: I’ve just turned 40 so I’m very much looking forward to embracing a new decade, losing the fears and becoming the kind of confident, creative person i’m so inspired by.

Pascal: I’m looking forward to developing new coaching programs for Équilibre and writing for our blog. It still excites me to be able to help clients discover a love for exercise, and gain energy and confidence in the process.

We’re also looking forward to winter and watching the Tour de France (preferably accompanied by some good red wine!)

If you would like to learn more, you can check out the website, Facebook and Instagram (where all images are from), or this from We Love Perth

Love and other drugs

Here’s the thing. I absolutely understand why people aren’t into Valentine’s Day. I do. There’s pressure and expectation, and everything is expensive and I hate roses.

Going out for dinner is insane. I saw an ad for a restaurant in the city that was charging $90 a head, with a shared set entree and dessert, a main course. Not even a glass of wine. I’m sorry, you’re going to charge me $90 and I don’t even get to choose my own dessert?! Bollocks to that.

If I’m honest though, I’m a complete and utter hopeless romantic. I like the idea of celebrating love. Yes, you should do it every day, but we don’t. Life kind of gets in the way of that. So it’s nice to have a day where you go to the special effort of taking care of your loved one.

For those of you who remain footloose and fancy free, fear not. There’s Galentine’s Day. An invention of my spirit animal, Leslie Knope, you can celebrate the most important person in your life (being you, duh) with breakfast food, which, let’s be honest, is the best kind of food. Except for this cake, of course.

You can get all aphrodisiac like on V-Day, of course. But cut to the chase, no one hates chocolate, and everyone loves cake. This, I believe, is the ultimate chocolate cake. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it is incredible.

Chocolate truffle cake with chestnut cream and ganache

From Delicious Magazine

2 cups (500ml) milk
250g unsalted butter, chopped
300g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
300ml thickened cream
3 eggs
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
1 3/4 cups (385g) caster sugar
2 3/4 cups (410g) plain flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder

Chestnut cream
50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
300g unsweetened chestnut puree
75g softened unsalted butter, chopped
1 1/3 cups (200g) pure icing sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and line two cake tins.

In a saucepan over medium low heat, stir together the milk, 225g butter, 200g chocolate and 125ml cream, until the chocolate melts and is combines. Leave to cool.

Beat together the eggs, vanilla and sugar in a large bowl with electric beaters until the mixture is thick and pale.

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Mix in the chocolate mixture, then add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

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Evenly divide the batter between cake tins and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then on a wire rack.

To make the chestnut cream, melt 50g of chocolate gently in the microwave or in a pan over simmering water. Remover from the heat and leave to cool slightly. In a medium bowl, beat the chestnut cream until creamy, the add the butter and icing sugar, and beat again until light and fluffy. Fold in the melted chocolate.

To make the ganache, place the 175ml of cream in a saucepan over low heat. Bring it to an almost-boil, then pour over the last 100g chocolate, and leave to melt. Add the last 25g of butter, stirring until combined and glossy. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, so it thickens a little bit.

Spread the chestnut cream over one of the cakes, leaving a little border to allow for smooshing. Place the second cake on top, then pour the ganache over the top, allowing it to artfully run down the sides. It’s rustic. go with it.

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P.S. Chestnut puree can be found at Fresh Provisions, some IGAs, and the David Jones food court in the CBD (which is where I bought mine – admittedly, it was sweetened, but still awesome).

Frankencake and Olive Oil

What’s your everyday super power?

Some people are freakishly impressively double jointed. Super smelling powers. Bat hearing. Knowing if it’s going to rain before it does.

I consider wine tasting a super power. Being able to taste the difference between a Riesling and Chardonnay or a Tempranillo and Malbec is a marvel to me. I can’t do it. I either know that I like it, or it’s going in the spit bucket.

While I can’t tell my wines apart, I know my olive oils. Maybe I learned a thing or two from growing up surrounded by Italians? The kinds of olives, where they’re grown from, the pressing methods, all result in a different delicious flavour; I loved doing tastings with the oils mum would bring home from the markets.

Bertolli very kindly sent me some of their excellent everyday olive oils to have a play with. In their range is an Extra Light oil, which is really delicate in flavour and perfect for baking and in a heartbeat I knew what had to happen.

Yes, cake. How did you know, you clever thing?

I had spotted a couple of cakes on Pinterest that I was dying to try, and set about picking the best parts of them all, and smushing them together. Kind of like Frankenstein’s monster, but in cake form, if you will. It did not go according to plan.

I dreamed of whole pears in an olive oil cake. Now, there’s a reason why you don’t see whole pears baked into cake very often. The juice from the pears seeps out into the cake, making it very soft if you don’t have a firm cake, which this one isn’t. It does however, make for possibly the moistest, most melty cake you’ll ever have.

What I expected to be my biggest disaster, turned out to be one of my biggest successes. Who knew?

Whole Poached Pear Olive Oil Cake

Adapted from What’s Cooking Good Looking and cioccolatogatto

4 pears, peeled
750ml white wine
150g caster sugar
1 lemon
1 vanilla bean

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 cup caster white sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup Bertolli Extra Light or extra virgin olive oil, but not too strong of taste
Zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs

Flaked almonds
Icing sugar

To poach the pears, in a large saucepan add the wine, sugar, juice and lemon halves, and the vanilla bean, split down the middle and scraped. You’ll need enough liquid to cover the pears, so if you have to add 100ml of water, that’s ok.

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Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down low, cover and leave to simmer for 40 minutes, or until the pears are tender.

Leave the pears to cool in the liquid, then refrigerate overnight.

Heat the oven to 175*c.

Combine the dry ingredients completely in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients, and whisk together until combined.

Rub the inside of a spring form cake tin with butter. Lots of butter. Sprinkle the sides with flaked almonds, pressing gently to help them stick. Quickly pour in the cake batter, then place the pears evenly around the edge.

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Bake for 45 minutes (although mine took probably an hour – just check it frequently). The cake should come away from the edge of the pan slightly.

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Leave to cool slightly in the pan, then completely on a wire rack. Once cool, dust with with icing sugar, and serve with cream. Or custard. Or this, because I feel like this would be a good idea.

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When your cake rises and then sinks like the Titanic, don’t panic. Mine did too. It looks rustic, which is what you want, right? Shhhh. Just go with it.