Fast and fabulous baking
Lyndey Milan needs little introduction to most Kiwi cooks. The Sydney-based TV food and wine personality, cookbook author and former food director of The Australian Women’s Weekly has made a 30-year career of teaching us how to cook. Now she’s teaching us how to cut corners instead — through two upcoming classes at Auckland’s School of Food and Wine.
“I have always been a fast and fabulous girl, taking shortcuts and simplifying things as long as there is no flavour sacrifice,” Lyndey says. “When I did the first of my two Baking Secrets TV series, I did a whole episode called Lazy Baking. It turned out to be my favourite, so I incorporated some other really easy ideas in the second series, Summer Baking Secrets.”
In her first September class, also called Lazy Baking, Lyndey will cover five recipes, including the caramelised pear scones and simple chocolate fudge cake she shares below. Her second class — Fast & Fabulous — is just as it sounds. It is, Lyndey says, about making it easy to cook a meal every single day — which is the challenge we all face. Covering sweet and savoury dishes, it even includes porcini risotto made in the microwave.
But before you rush to judge, you may want to consider this: Lyndey’s pal, celebrated Sydney chef Tetsuya Wakuda, just loves her now-speedy classic. And if it’s good enough for Tetsuya …
Though Lyndey is the first to admit, especially in baking, that precision does count: “that’s all to do with measurements and proportions of ingredients. I simplify the method and try to remove unnecessary steps. For example, my scones and the fruit topping and the caramel are all cooked at once, in the oven.”
However, even lazy baking has its rules: Use the correct temperature (invest in an oven thermometer) and give yourself time to preheat the oven; always use electronic scales; no fiddling with the balance of leaveners and definitely no low-fat anything! Have ingredients at their correct temperature and leave time to chill ingredients or pastry, if necessary.
That said, Lyndey believes the most common mistake with baking is that people don’t read the recipe through and really digest it. “My advice is to read it through from beginning to end before you start. Twice.”
And though store-bought ingredients that help zip you through a bake day would not be the sort of thing she would dream of for TV (we’re talking bought trifle sponge, bought lemon curd to spoon through cream), she is way more forgiving for the home cook.
“Absolutely fine ... however, I prefer to cook for myself. I do an amazing one-bowl sponge cake which does not have to be beaten for eight minutes. It turns out perfectly every time. And the flavour is far superior to store-bought.”
Butter puff pastry just may be the exception. “My absolute favourite store-bought ingredient is definitely butter puff pastry. It MUST be butter and it is so versatile, as you can see from how I use it in place of shortcrust (see shortcuts below). I always have some in my freezer.”
If time is short, are you better to opt for an oil-based rather than a butter cake? “Absolutely. I’m a great fan of local extra virgin olive oil. I use it in damper and also pastry to prevent having to rub in butter and sugar. It works just as well in cakes.”
But when you have to cream butter and sugar, and you don’t want to take time with a beater or whisk, it’s good to know that the food processor can still give good results.
“You just need to adjust your method a bit. Just pulse the dry ingredients into the wet. If you overmix, your cake will be tough. For something like a butter cake, it’s best to whiz the eggs and sugar together first, then add the butter in chunks. Then proceed as usual.”
Like everything else, baking trends come and go. “In my days with The Australian Women’s Weekly we always knew that cheesecakes would sell out an issue [they endure as hot sellers on bite.co.nz]. Chocolate was, and remains, popular. And people love a photo with both chocolate and berries in it. More recently the world has gone mad for anything salted caramel or salted chocolate. However, banana and carrot cakes have stood the test of time, as has the pavlova — and I don’t want to get into which country ‘owns it’! Trends come and go like the cro-nut, but I do love naked cakes.”
So what’s next for Lyndey? She has recently launched an affordable baking range (so far The Homestores in New Zealand have the silicon products).
She is hosting a Gourmet Cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean mid- September and she is planning another TV series: Lyndey Milan’s Kitchen Secrets. No lazy living for her, then.
Lyndey’s baking shortcuts
“One of my favourites is blind baking. Purists blind bake by lining pastry in a tin with baking paper and weighting down with pastry beads, beans or rice. Coins work better as they conduct more heat but, either way, you need to remove the paper and weights and return to the oven to dry out the base. Much easier to prick the pastry all over, freeze it and cook from frozen.”
For a quick “luxe” version of shortcrust pastry, buy ready-made butter puff pastry. Cut it to size, prick it and place between two pieces of baking paper and two baking sheets, or baking tins. Freeze then put into a hot oven, weighted down to prevent the pastry rising. When almost cooked, remove the top layer to brown. You will have crisp, great tasting pastry. Works a treat and the flavour is superb.”
“If it’s hard to find a ‘warm’ spot in your kitchen for your dough to prove, pop your bowl of dough over a saucepan with hot (not boiled) water and place a tea towel over top of bowl.”
“For a speedy decorating tip, try drizzling melted chocolate — white or dark — over your cake. It looks fab. Sifted icing sugar also always works well and can hide a multitude of sins.”
Wine and Food Celebration
Lyndey’s Lazy Baking and Fast & Fabulous demonstration classes are part of the third Wine and Food Celebration run by the NZ School of Food & Wine. As well as wine tastings from top New Zealand wineries, the three-day event includes dinners, and wine and food programmes of masterclasses and workshops.
Spanish chef David Puig Zaragoza from Maximal Concepts’ Mercedes me restaurant in Hong Kong will present tapas demonstrations and a special dinner on September 10. (Look out for his pate de foie gras encased in candy floss.)
The next night Chef Lek from Ponsonby’s Saan restaurant will create a Northern Thai dinner. Earlier on Sunday you can learn how to prepare an urban hangi and on Monday, slow roast American barbecue techniques with chef Clint Davies of Morepork BBQ. There are masterclasses with MWs Stephen Wong and Bob Campbell and free cooking demos too.
Wine and Food Celebration, NZ School of Food & Wine, Auckland September 10-12 event.foodandwine.co.nz/