Sunday, 31 August 2014

Pretzel making

My final Wellington on a Plate event was a hands-on pretzel making class on Saturday. Most people conjure up images of moreish party treats that come in the shape of mini pretzels, but we were being shown how to bake soft pretzels by German chef Uwe Braun.

After a monumental ticketing stuff-up that resulted in some of us turning up to an empty room due to us having a different start time printed on our tickets (2 hours earlier), we returned to a more reassuring sight: tables set with everything you need to make four soft pretzels and an entertaining host.

Tools of the trade
The ingredients are simple: flour, yeast, sugar, salt, melted butter and warm beer. (We were given half-bottles of Tui but I imagine real beer would taste good. You could even use cider.) Make a well in the flour. Mix the yeast in with the beer and a little bit of surrounding flour and leave until it starts reacting. Bubbles will form on top.

The yeast begins reacting to the beer
The next parts of the process are typical of bread making, involving kneading (I remember now why I have a bread maker and Kenwood mixer), resting the gluten and shaping the dough. After several stages, long strips of dough are twisted into the famous pretzel shape and placed on a baking tray. They are then glazed with egg yolk, dark soy sauce and a little bit more beer then sprinkled with rock salt or flaky salt.

Glazed and ready for baking
Approximately 15 minutes in the oven sees the dough turned into dark coloured soft baked pretzels.

Pretzels for afternoon tea
The finished pretzels looked good but were far too salty for my palette. I actually struggled to finish one. There was quite a bit of salt in the mixture, then soy sauce and more salt added to the glaze. I might try making pretzels at home but will either drastically reduce the salt content or look for a different recipe.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Classic soda and siphon workshop

And now for something a little bit different. Last night's Wellington on a Plate event was a hands-on classic soda and siphon workshop at Six Barrel Soda Co. We pulled up seats at the soda fountain and had some fun making yummy drinks.

We started by getting up close and personal with a soda siphon. This involved shaking (and shaking and shaking) this contraption to carbonate the water.

Soda siphon
We then used it to make our own soda floats, a smoother version of the old ice cream spiders we grew up with. Fill the glass to 3/4 with ice, then 3/4 with carbonated water. Pour 35 ml of soda syrup over the top and let it settle into the glass. (That's the correct way to make a soda. If you use alcohol, pour it into the bottom of the glass to mix it.) Add a scoop of ice cream or gelato and then more carbonated water on top. This gives the ice cream a frothy look and means that you can drink it, rather than eat it as a sundae. This is my classic cherry pomegranate soda float.

Cherry pomegranate soda float
We then experimented with a range of flavoured syrups and garnishes to create our own uniquely flavoured sodas. The syrups are all made onsite and distributed around the world from this little upstairs soda bar. I tried out the raspberry lemon syrup, added a few drops of orange bitters and delicately garnished it with orange and lime wedges. Very refreshing!

Raspberry lemon and bitters soda
It was time to step things up a notch. I added a dash of ginger syrup, then some freshly picked mint, a cucumber slice, some more bitters ... you get the picture. It was so much fun adding splashes of syrup and other ingredients to create new flavours. The results are only limited by your imagination!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sweet Couture - Pâtissier Louis Sergeant

For just a few nights during Wellington on a Plate this year, pâtissier Louis Sergeant has opened up his kitchen to teach a small handful of guests how to create an exquisite French pastry dessert. Louis assures us we can whip up a chocolate and hazelnut sphere at home. After watching him in action on Tuesday night, I'm not so sure!

Sweet Couture on Featherston Street has been on my list of places to visit ever since it opened earlier this year. I walk past it most days and promise myself that I will come back with some girl friends so we can have a ladies' afternoon tea. Just look at these tempting pastries!

Pastry counter
The session was complemented by wine pairing with Nicola Belsham on behalf of Feast & Vine. We began with a small glass of late harvest Martinborough sauvignon blanc. We were told all about the science of wine and food matching and how you should choose a wine that is sweeter than the food being served. (That explains stickies!)

We moved behind the scenes into the kitchen, where Louis demonstrated how to effortlessly create a masterpiece for dessert. He developed this recipe for chocolate hazelnut spheres especially for Wellington on a Plate and urged us to try it at home. It is created in three stages, beginning with making a hazelnut paste, which needs to set in the fridge, then mixing an almond meringue sponge base.

Louis pipes almond meringue into baking rings
While the sponge is cooking, the chocolate hemispheres are created. Louis showed us a simple way to temper the chocolate before brushing it into silicon moulds. Once set, one hemisphere is placed on a cooled meringue sponge piece, then filled with hazelnut creme. The edges of the second piece are gently melted and then carefully placed on top to create a beautiful masterpiece. Louis makes it all look so effortless; I imagine it's going to take plenty of practice to create anything that even remotely looks like a sphere at home.

Louis assembles the chocolate sphere
We moved back into the cafe to enjoy our treats, which were matched with a fortified red dessert wine.

Chocolate hazelnut sphere
This was a really enjoyable evening. Louis Sergeant is delightful and talks with real passion about the pastries he creates. The wine matching part of the evening didn't do much for me; I don't think it necessarily added anything to the event. However, I can't wait to return with friends for afternoon tea. I want to try one of absolutely everything in the counter and see if they taste as delicious as they look. (I'm sure they will!)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

WOAP lunch: Portlander Bar & Grill

Wellington on a Plate is fast becoming my favourite time of the year to be a Wellingtonian. A group of us from work had the $25 lunch at Portlander Bar & Grill today. After many attempts trying to book our table and confirm our pre-order, we arrived to a full house and were duly impressed with how many groups were being accommodated all at once.

I chose the twice cooked Boomrock lamb ribs with light South East Asian spices, Portlander's peanut and coriander slaw and crisp potato skins as an entree to begin with. There didn't seem to be crisp potato skins hiding anywhere but the seasoned lamb ribs were excellent. I'd definitely order them again.

Lamb ribs
Because it's Wellington on a Plate and because this is a special event and because I can ... I skipped straight from my entree to dessert - and I wasn't the only one at my table who did that! My dessert was Gelissimo berry pavlova gelato with crumbled pavlova and La Bella Italia vanilla bean crème brûlée. The crème brûlée was absolutely perfect: smooth and creamy with a layer of hard caramel on top that you had to crack into with a spoon. Yum!

Crème brûlée with berry pavlova gelato
I also enjoyed a raspberry and lemon soda from Six Barrel Soda Co. It topped off an excellent meal made from locally sourced produce that was cooked to perfection. *contented sighs from our table*

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Happy Tea - High Tea

Friday was a foodie's delight for me, with two Wellington on a Plate events in one day. After learning the secrets of Dom's Cheese Scones before work, I celebrated the end of a very busy week with a special Happy Tea - High Tea at Martha's Pantry. We were assured that our grandmothers would have enjoyed a tipple at high tea, so some special tea-based cocktails were created to accompany this event. Look at the beautifully set table.

A beautiful table setting
The high tea menu was similar to the one I enjoyed at Let Them Eat Cake last weekend. This time, we were provided with a booklet featuring some of the recipes from high tea. I quickly looked for the lemon curd that I loved ... and discovered it's actually made in the microwave!

I'm not a tea drinker - not even remotely - but luckily had brought a tea drinker with me. We cautiously approached the tea cocktail menu, looking for something that I might enjoy and found it in the hot masala chai cocktail, which was essentially mulled wine. Two pots later ... yes, I can assure you it was very nice mulled wine! I wasn't impressed with the iced coconut rough cocktail, though. It was far too sweet for me to take more than a couple of sips, a situation that my friend took advantage of by polishing off most of the 1 litre pitcher.

And then we got to the food. Three tiers of exquisitely prepared sandwiches, savouries and sweets. We discovered that mulled wine didn't go too well with the cool cucumber sandwiches with minted cream cheese, so fixed that by topping up our tea cups, cleansing our palettes with long sips of mulled wine and moving onto the next tier. It was lovely to finish off with some soft opera gateau, along with tiny raspberry macarons and a creme patisserie sweet pastry tart. I'll definitely be emailing Martha's Pantry to ask for those recipes.

Happy tea high tea
As we polished off the final tier, we were astounded to look across at the next table and see four ladies sitting around a half-full high tea serving set, having methodically each eaten the same food item together at the same time, then taking a break before moving onto the next. We don't understand this kind of restraint but redeemed ourselves slightly by discovering that we didn't win the medal for first finished in the room; another pair had beaten us - just.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Cheese Scone Friday with Dom

After three years of scrambling online the moment Wellington on a Plate tickets went on sale, I was finally successful in achieving a long-term goal: booking a place at the Dom's Cheese Scones event. In case you hadn't heard, Pravda's world famous cheese scones are my reward to myself for surviving a week with everybody still intact. Also, people are beginning to realise that the last day of the working week is aptly named Cheese Scone Friday, so it's only right that I indulge in some cheese scone goodness.

This morning's event was about learning the secrets of the best cheese scones in town. Now, I'm the first to admit that I am seriously scone challenged. I can bake a whole range of things with quite a bit of success, including bread, fancy treats and decorated cakes. But I really struggle with the basics of scones. There is something about rubbing cold butter into flour that I don't seem to have inherited the gene for.

We began by ordering coffee, then met Dom, who told us about the multitudes of cheese scones (and other baked goods) he has made during his career as a baker. I can't help wonder if he finds himself rolling cheese scones in his sleep! He showed us how to make a batch of perfect cheese scones, then we each had a go at rolling one or two into balls, ready for baking.

Dom, the cheese scone master
I won't divulge the recipe but it involves melted butter, wet hands and a light touch. The scones are quickly rolled into smooth balls and placed on a baking tray with room to grow, then topped with a cheese glaze - extra grated tasty cheese. Turning the tray every 5 or so minutes in a hot oven ensures a consistent golden finish.

Cheese Scone Friday
A huge thanks to Dom and the team at Pravda for a fun cheese scone experience. Happy Cheese Scone Friday, everyone!