Friday, August 24, 2012

Foodie Friday - Chocolate, Bacon & Maple Syrup Cupcakes

Don't knock it 'til you've tried it
Last weekend, I was sitting around having a few beers with the Safari boys, when Mentor started (jokingly) lamenting the fact I never bake any more. 

At the start of my PhD, when I was working full time in hospitality (5 nights, with double shifts Fri-Sat) and studying part time (2-3 days a week), I used to have one blessed day a week off. Tuesdays were the one day I could sleep in, do my laundry, go to the shops, and finish my chores. It was the weekly Safari poker game. And it was baking. Usually it was cupcakes, because they're easy to make, easy to share, and easy to eat. My lemon cupcakes recipe is the most read post on this blog! Anyway, I'd bake them in the early afternoon, ice them early evening, and appear at the poker game with a box in hand. I remember one game where I was actually using the boys' kitchen to bake ginger cookies, rolling them while playing several hands. We had a new guy, who questioned my being allowed to play, let alone play while baking, only to be slapped upside the head and told to never question the method, "the cookies just appear!".

Other than the occasional birthday cake or lab meeting, I haven't really stretched my baking legs in the kitchen for 18 months, and I've missed it. So when Mentor started joking about it, I figured now was as good a time as any. A bit of discussion followed, and I decided to have another crack at the bacon/maple syrup/pancake theme. My original attempt involved pancake mixture with bacon mixed through poured into muffin tins, topped with maple icing and maple-tossed bacon pieces. While you got the idea, they weren't really cupcakey. Switch pancake for chocolate, and you get...

Chocolate, Bacon & Maple Syrup Cupcakes

(Because everything is better with bacon)

Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Pinch salt
  •  2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla flavour
  • 150g dark chocolate (70% or higher)
  • 50g unsalted butter


  •  Around 50:50 butter & cream cheese (I use 1/2 block Philadelphia)
  • Icing sugar
  • Bacon
  • Maple syrup
Preheat your oven to 180C, and line a muffin/cupcake tin as desired.
Melt your butter and chocolate together in a non-stick pan over very low heat. Chocolate will help at blood temperature, so use your lowest setting). Meanwhile, pop all the other cupcake ingredients into a bowl and mix with a hand mixer to about 30 seconds, or until combined. Scrape down your bowl, and mix again for about 2 minutes, by which point your batter should be super smooth and your chocolate melted. Let the chocolate cool slightly, then add it to your bowl and give it another good mix until evenly distributed. Your batter should vaguely resemble slightly runny chocolate mousse.

 Spoon/pour your batter into your lined tray, 2/3 filling each well. Into the oven for about 20mins, or until the spring back when lightly touched (or you can use the clean bamboo skewer method). Let them rest for 5 minutes, then remove from tin and allow to cool fully on a wire rack.

While your cupcakes are cooling, place your bacon onto a wire rack over a baking tray, and put it in the oven. The aim is super crispy bacon with as little fat remaining as possible, thus the rack. When it's starting to look golden brown, pull it out, and place on some paper towel to absorb any remaining grease. Don't worry if your rashers seem a bit pliable when fresh out the oven, they will go crisp after a few moments. Once cool, chop/break into small pieces.

On to the key part of this whole recipe: the maple syrup icing. Icing measurements are tricky, as they will vary depending on where you are. I generally start with a half-half mix of unsalted butter and Philly cheese, around 125g of each, a tablespoon of maple syrup (not the fake maple flavoured syrup) and beat using a hand mixer. Once combined, I gradually add icing sugar (not icing mixture, which contains extra starch) until I get the firmness of icing I'm after. You may want to give it a brief mix with a spatula, just to make sure there's no lumps of sugar, then put in the fridge to set slightly.

Once your cupcakes are cooled, add enough maple syrup to your bacon pieces to just coat. You don't want them soaked, otherwise you get soggy bacon pieces! Use a piping bag or butter knife to apply your icing, top with a sprinkle of bacon, et voila! Now try not to eat them all in one hit.

  • I always cook more bacon than I think I'll need, because invariably a few pieces go missing before they make it onto the cupcakes.
  • You can cut corners on some things, but try for good maple syrup. It will reduce the amount you need to use, and is what makes this unusual recipe really work. The most common comment from people when I make anything with this icing is that they would have been happy to ditch the cake and just eat the icing, and that's down to good syrup.
  • BurgerMary posted a recipe for Bacon Praline yesterday. Haven't tried it yet, but could see it going very well on top of these instead of the maple-tossed bacon.
Neysa xo

Monday, August 6, 2012

Odyssey Tavern presents Mornington Peninsula Brewery Beer Degustation

A well thought menu, complete with tasting
notes from both brewer and chef!
Last Wednesday night (2nd August), I had the opportunity to attend the Geelong region’s first Beer Degustation, held at Odyssey Tavern in Mt Duneed. The brews featured on the night were all from the Mornington Peninsula Brewery (MPB), with six beers matched to six courses by the chefs from Odyssey.

Grant and the crew have been operating the Surf Coast craft-beer mecca that is Odyssey Tavern since March 2012, giving the region a much needed opportunity to sink its teeth into the boutique brews that the mainstream invariably forces out in set-in-its-ways Gee-troit. With over 80 beers from Australia and New Zealand, 8 taps of continuously changing guest pours, and a menu that caters to pretty much everyone, it is rapidly becoming a favourite in the area. You won’t find a Carlton Draught, a VB, or (heaven forbid) a Corona in the place, but what you will find are passionate staff who are happy to guide you on your first steps along the path to malty, hoppy enlightenment.

Lots of speculation about the upcoming pairings
(Photo courtesy Odyssey T&B)
After a weekend at Splendour in the Grass, subject to mid-strength beers and foot-deep mud, I was eager to get out to Odyssey for what was shaping up to be a great occasion. So eager that while on the bus, I missed my stop, and ended up in Torquay. Look, it was dark, and it’s the Surf Coast Highway. After hitching a ride back to Whites Road with an off-duty bus-driver, I was met by the warm glow and happy buzz of pre-drinks, with attendees mingling around the two long tables and, of course, bar. I started with the MPB Sorachi Kolsch, a clean, light, refreshing brew, with a nice lemongrass hit on the tongue, most likely from the Japanese Sorachi Ace hop. Would be perfect for a few in the hammock come summer, and was a great way to start the night.

After finding our seats (well, everyone really just sat where they were and got to talking to the people around them), and a brief welcome by Grant, he handed over the floor to the guys from Mornington, Head Brewer Andrew Gow and Michael “the sales guy”. It was fantastic to have these guys introduce each of the beers, talking about the ideas and influences, the process, answering every question thrown at them, and with a good dose of humour. Their passion was contagious, and really took the appreciation of the beers to another level.

Smoked Salmon Wonton w/ MPB Witbier
First up was the MPB Witbier, matched with a smoked salmon wonton stack, with wasabi mayo and balsamic reduction, served with roast pear and pickled ginger. Now, I’m not usually a huge fan of witbiers. I find them quite confronting, with a sense of umami that I’d sooner associate with cured meat, vegemite, or sushi than a beverage. However, paired with this dish, I found a certain appreciation, and the witbier and I made a tenuous truce. The beer has a real coriander element, with citrusy overtones, which worked wonderfully well to create a sweet and sour sensation with the soft pear, spicy ginger, and gentle warmth of the wasabi. It also cut well through the richness of the smoked salmon, and the whole dish was lightened by the crunch of the crispy wontons. One of my top two matches of the night!

Herb-crusted lamb w/ MPB English Special Bitter
The second entrĂ©e was a herb crusted lamb backstrap on citrus couscous with a quince jus, matched to the MPB English Special Bitter. It was a beautiful deep orange colour, would be perfect around autumn harvest with big sweet raspberry notes, and a bit of earthy brown-sugar toffee. Something a bit fruity as well, almost reminding me of trail mix, or Christmas cake. The lamb and quince worked really well with this beer, bringing out some of the more complex flavours, but consensus at our end of the table was the summery couscous was a little out of place. Whilst delicious, and working very well with the lamb, the bitter really felt like it needed something a bit more earthy, like sweet potato, or a parsnip mash, to really complement the autumn characteristics of the beer. 

Poached Rockling w/ MPB IPA
It was then on to the MPB American-style IPA, matched with a delicate poached rockling, scalloped chat potatoes, and a baby caper, thyme and verjuice sauce. The chef was not kidding when in his notes he said it was “something a little left of centre”, but it worked! The IPA was beautifully malty, quite bitter, and a little on the alcoholic side (~6.2%), with subtle nectarine/peachy flavours. From memory, this is attributed to the three types of hops, Citra, Centennial and Simcoe (correct me if I’m wrong!). The creamy sauce played down some of the bitterness, though the bite from the red onion gave a bit of the punch I’d associate with IPA’s usual spicy pairings.

Too tasty to last (Pork & White peppercorn sauce)

The final main was pork medallions, with blue cheese and green peppercorn sauce, topped with some leafy green salad, and matched with the MPB Brown Ale. One of the few brown ales available at the moment, this was the beer highlight for me, a really nutty, warming beer, very malty. Really reminded me of rum & raisin chocolate. While this paired really well with the pork (chocolate and pork are always a winning combination in my book), the thick, creamy sauce got in the way a bit, bringing out all of the pepper, and drowning any more subtle flavours that the lighter white meat would have brought forward.


Sex on a plate: Vanilla pannacotta w/ MPB Porter
Dessert one was the highlight of my night. The MPB Porter, paired to a vanilla pannacotta with burnt orange syrup and roasted pinenut toffee. There are those moments in your life where something just works. I flushed, I giggled, and I melted into a pool of dessert ecstasy. The porter is beautiful and rich, with big, bitter dark chocolate and coffee flavours, with a subtle thread of vanilla to round it out. Combine that with the luscious, perfectly set pannacotta, which really brought out the vanilla in the porter, the bitter orange caressing the chocolately notes, and the way that the bright pinenut toffee brought out the brown-sugar notes of the beer were amazing. I could have died a very happy woman there and then. The guys opposite me at the table were asking if I needed a moment to recover. If Odyssey does not make this combination a permanent fixture, they are missing a beautiful opportunity.

Chocolate Pikelets w/ MPB Imperial Stout
The final course was a super-rich stack of dark chocolate pikelets, with white chocolate and honeycomb filling, served with a mulled wine syrup, and matched to the MPB Imperial Stout. It was a great match, the chocolatey stout adding another chocaholic layer to this decedent end to the night. A touch of liquorice, and something reminiscent of cherries in the beer was enhanced by the syrup, which I could happily have drunk on its own. It was the prefect winter dessert, matched with a brilliant winter stout (at 9.5%, it’s a real warmer). Coming at the end of what had been a huge meal, it was perhaps a slightly heavy note to finish on, but a tasty one none the less. I did manage to resist the urge to curl up under the table and go to sleep afterwards!

After dinner, it was great fun to hang around, meet some of the beer aficionados of the region, and sample a few more of MPB stable, including their delectable Imperial Amber (figgy caramel goodness), and the ol’ faithful Pale Ale (My original introduction to the world of beer!). Whilst the beer was the star on the night, the food was beautifully presented, and every course was delicious. I will certainly be back for more. This was an absolutely wonderful event, and I express my whole-hearted thanks to everyone that was involved in making it such a memorably experience. May it be the first of many (official) beer appreciation sessions!

Neysa xo