Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Horror, The Horror! Heart of Darkness Cake

You can tell I really like Halloween by the fact that I’m posting not one, but two blogs. To be completely honest, I’m not actually doing much else for Halloween this year, because it’s a Wednesday and I have a 9-5 job and a long commute. By the end of the day I look enough like a Zombie that no costume will be required. Baking is the least I could do.

Not everyone is going to be a fan of pumpkin or pumpkin beer or pumpkin flavored everything. Here’s an alternative – cake. It’s got beer in it and is covered in chocolate that also has beer in it. If your don’t like cake either, or chocolate, or beer…I’m sorry, there’s nothing for you here. (No seriously, how did you get here?)

This is one of those occasions that I have what I think is a great idea, but due to my own ineptitude and general apathy it doesn’t turn out to be amazeballs. It was okay, but needs some work. 

I decided to bake a red velvet cake using Murray’s Heart of Darkness Belgian Imperial Stout. I like baking with the higher alcohol, higher flavor type beers as they seem to have a bigger influence on the flavor of the end product. Obviously this cake had to be heart shaped. Usually red velvet cake is covered in delicious cream cheese icing, but this wouldn’t do. This heart needed to be dark, so I decided to find out if I could make a dark chocolate ganache with beer. Turns out you can.

My first hurdle was just finding the heart shaped cake tin, which I’m sure I had seen everywhere until I actually wanted one. I’m sure this wouldn’t be a problem if I was organized, but as usual left it until the day I wanted to bake. It’s okay – I did find one eventually. It was even on sale. Crisis averted with 40% off.

And this also...

1 ¼ cups self raising flour
¾ cup of caster sugar
90g unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 ½ tablespoons of cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon red food colouring
½ cup beer
½  teaspoon white vinegar

100g dark chocolate (dark as possible - I used 85%)
½ cup of beer
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

...has been one of the dark places of the earth.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Grease and flour your heart shaped pan (or one 22cm round pan).

In one bowl, sift together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.

In a seperate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. 

Add the food colouring to the beer. Now add the beer and flour in batches to the butter mixture and beat on low. So, add a little flour and mix, then add a little beer and mix, then flour, then beer...etc..until it is all combined.

Mix together the vinegar and baking soda, then fold the fizzing mixture through the rest of the batter.

Pour into your pan, and place in the oven for 30 mins, or until it passes the skewer test.

Cool on a rack before covering in ganache.


In a heat-proof bowl, break up your chocolate into small pieces.

Heat the beer in a small saucepan until it is simmering and allow to reduce slightly. Add the butter and stir until melted and combined. 

Pour hot beer/butter mixture over the chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.

Place in the fridge for a while, until it thickens.

Pour over the cake and smooth. 

(Or just eat straight from the bowl.)

I made the cake to par with a Russian Imperial Stout, but it was a little too sweet. It was a bit dry as well. The ganache, however, is delicious. I want to put it on everything.

Boo! Spooky Pumpkin Ale Scones

Happy Halloween!

Now, before I’m hit with a chorus of ‘WHATAREWEAMERICANOW??’, let me say a couple of things on the subject of Halloween…

1. It is not an American holiday. Sure, the US has embraced it more than most, but we all know this is an old pagan festival right? Okay, maybe not in the form it exists now, but it has links to the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thinnest and therefore scary shit happens. Or something.

2. I can show you faded old photos from my childhood of carved pumpkins. Sure, they are good old Queensland Blue pumpkins, not the fancy orange ones you can get now. Some of us have been celebrating this day for a while, and the rest of society is just catching up. It’s not my fault if my upbringing was more awesome than yours.

3. Celebrating Halloween slows the onslaught of Christmas. The shelves that currently contain Halloween stuff would be full of Christmas stuff. Yes, I know there is already Christmas stuff…but there would be more of it.

 4. I like spooky, scary, creepy stuff, so of course I like Halloween.

If you really feel the need to have a whinge, at least make it a good reason. For example, Halloween and it’s origins are seasonally inappropriate here in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s an Autumn festival. Really we should all the dancing around the May pole and burning the Wickerman right about now, and the pumpkin worship should take place in May. Of course, that’s if you want to take your pagan beliefs seriously. Me, I just want an excuse to watch scary movies.

Something that is fairly American is Pumpkin Ale. A couple of years ago we good folk down under had probably not heard of, let alone partaken in, beer made of the pumpkin. Or anything made from pumpkin really, certainly not something sweet like pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin donuts or pumpkin coffee. Americans seem to put pumpkin in everything at this time of year. Including beer. It’s my understanding that pretty much every brewery in the US will put out a pumpkin beer in the Autumn. It’s also my understanding that what is important in a pumpkin beer is not just pumpkin, but the pumpkin spices that are evocative of the flavours used in the pumpkin pie/bread/cake/donut/coffee etc.

In the same way that Australia seems to be catching on to the concept of celebrating Halloween, it seems that some Australian breweries have caught on to the idea of making a seasonal Pumpkin Ale (even though it’s the wrong season). A couple of years ago I tasted my first pumpkin beer at a Halloween party in a now defunct craft beer bar. It was a one-off brew made just for the party, so only available on draft on the night. Last year I heard that a couple of NSW breweries had made pumpkin beers. This year it seems there are a few more – HopDog, Murray’s, Illawarra, and even one by Gage Roads which you can pick up in Woolworths. There will also be bottles of the Moondog Artisan Poser out in a few weeks. The times they are a changing.

Once I knew I could get my hands on bottled pumpkin beers at long last, I knew I wanted to bake with one. Here’s another random childhood factoid about me – my Mum did make pumpkin pie and it was good. I have no idea if it was like the American version, but I loved the use of pumpkin in a sweet pie. I had planned on trying my hand at Pumpkin Ale Bread, but had a change of heart. Maybe it was that faded old photo of the Queensland Blue jack o’lantern that spoke to me. See, I am from Queensland. Not only that, but I’m old enough to remember Sir Jo Bjelke-Petersen and his wife Flo….famous for her pumpkin scones. Anyone else old enough to remember Jo & Flo will understand that they are pretty Halloween appropriate. It was a dark, scary time for the Sunshine State.

The beer used is the Saranac Pumpkin Ale, which is the one American pumpkin beer that has appeared on the shelves of a large national chain of bottle shops . It goes against my preference for using fresher local brews, but seeing as they are the experts when it comes to Pumpkin ale I figured it was the logical choice.

Gather to ye…

2 cups of self raising flour
(+ extra for kneading)
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
½ teaspoon of mixed spice
60g unsalted butter – cubed and softened
2/3 cup of pumpkin puree (pumpkin, boiled or steamed, then pureed.)
½ cup Pumpkin Ale

As the clock strikes midnight…

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Sift your dry ingredients together into a bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine crumbs. Make a well and add the beer and the pumpkin puree. Mix into the dry ingredients with a spatula or a knife. 

When fairly well combined, tip out onto a very well floured surface. Knead until smooth. I found the mix super sticky, so make sure you have plenty of flour on hand to cover the surface, your hands and anything else the dough may touch. Roll out to about 2cm thick. At this point it’s up to you how to cut them. I favour the traditional round scone shape. If you don’t have a round cutter, you could just use a knife and make squares. Or, you could even shape the dough into a circle and cut into wedges.

 Place on a baking tray with baking paper on it, and put them in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes. They should just be starting to brown on top.

You could probably enjoy these with either a sweet topping, such as honey or golden syrup, or make a herbed butter to compliment the pumpkin. Goes down well with the leftover Pumpkin Ale, or tea, coffee, Bonox…pretty much anything.

I found the flavor of these a little too subtle. I was hoping for a little more. More pumpkin, or more spice. Just more. They’re a very nice scone without a doubt – not too heavy or dry – just not what I expected. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t taste the beer before using it. I was fairly conservative with the amount of spice added, as I expected a lot to come from the beer. I may up the spice next time.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Big Arse Brown Ale Banana Peanut Butter Choc Chip Muffins

As per my last post, today I am celebrating Brown Ale Day. What's a celebration without a bit of cake, right?

I do realise that my last recipe using brown ale also used banana, and was essentially a cake, but when I stumbled upon this recipe for Banana and Peanut Butter Muffins I had to try it...with the added bonus of brown ale. What caught my attention with this recipe is that it uses no eggs. I replaced the milk with beer, so if you also leave out the choc-chips, or use a non-dairy version, these are in fact...vegan!

I haven't baked sans eggs before. To be honest, I didn't really know what part eggs played in the baking process, but after some brief research it seems they bind, add moisture and some leavening. Further research into vegan baking seemed to indicate you can compensate for this with banana and some extra baking powder. Beer also has a bit of a leavening effect, so I decided it was worth a try.

The brown of choice for this was the Prickly Moses Tailpipe. Self described as a 'big ass brown', I'm pretty sure these muffins are going to make my arse bigger.

Never a frown...
(Makes about 12 muffins)

1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup wholemeal flour 
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 small ripe bananas (or 2 large)
2 heaped teaspoons baking powder 
3/4 cup brown ale 
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter 
3 tablespoons vegetable-based oil (I used a light olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla 
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

...with Golden Brown.

Preheat oven to 180C degrees. Grease or line your muffin tin.

In one bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon (ie all the dry things). 

In a seperate bowl, mash the bananas, then add the other wet ingredients -  the brown ale, peanut butter, oil, and vanilla - and mix well. 

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine before stirring in the chocolate chips.

Fill the muffin tin cups with mixture, and bake for 15 - 20 minutes until golden brown.

Despite my trepidation about cooking without eggs, the muffins rose perfectly and are light and fluffy (score one to the vegans). They are also delicious. Seriously - I can't stop eating them and can feel my arse already getting bigger. Obviously they can be enjoyed with a brown ale, or any beer at that dark end of the spectrum.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Celebrate the Sedate – Brown Ale Day

On more than a few occasions I’ve come across the opinion that brown ales are boring. I personally don’t understand why, as I love a trip down to Brown Town. Sure, they’re not choc-a-block full of hops and they are usually of a fairly average ABV. Browns are not so sour that your whole face disappears into itself. They are dark, but not so-black-even-the-white-bits-are-black. They are just….well…brown. However, a good brown ale is a pleasure to drink. Not designed to smack your in the mouth, they are laced with subtle flavours – biscuit, toffee, coffee, chocolate – all working together. No divas – just a harmonious chorus. Sure, maybe a little easy listening M.O.R., but don’t we all need that sometimes?

I guess if you’ve been scaling the heights of beer-geekery, drinking only the most extreme brews that use ALL OF THE HOPS, or boozy barrel aged imperial whatsits, or beers so smoky they’ll set your smoke alarms off, or spending some quality time with our friend Brett, a basic brown ale may seem boring, yes.  You may be suffering from palate fatigue. It’s okay – it happens to the best of us. 

Recently, in the name of health and insanity, the husband and I decided to give up beer (and all forms of fermented beverages) for a month. It had been a long, tough winter that was survived only by the process of pickling ourselves and developing a snug layer of blubbery insulation. While this booze-hiatus was a personal quest of sorts, the upside was an unexpected re-setting of the taste buds. Suddenly beers that had long been left by the wayside for being too…normal…were seen (or tasted) in a whole new light. I mention this because one of the beers the husband had not long after jumping off the wagon was the 2brothers Growler American Brown Ale. This beer is fairly regular on tap at our local, but even for a lover of the brown such as myself, I very rarely choose it. There’s just usually something more…enticing on offer. I was surprised when he ordered it…and more surprised when he exclaimed, ‘WOW – they’ve really upped the choc on this!’. I had been contemplating my own IPA and how crazy hoppy it was. But maybe it wasn't? Maybe we were just tasting the beer’s usual character but with fresh buds. 

Luckily there are plenty of Aussie brewers out there who aren’t listening to any talk of ‘boring browns’ and are producing some deliciously drinkable ales. As well as the afore mentioned 2brothers,  Mornington Peninsula Brewery, Cavalier, Black Heart, Murray’s, Jamieson Brewery, and Brew Boys all produce fantastic brown ales. Also (with impeccable timing) Holgate have just released their seasonal Nut Brown Ale brewed with macadamia nuts in the new 500ml format. Of course, if you are still of the opinion that brown=boring, there are slightly less traditional brown ales out there, such as Prickly’ Moses Tailpipe, a 7.1% ‘Big Ass Brown’, and the 2brothers James Belgian Brown, brewed with lolly bananas. Then there’s Henry Fords Girthsome Fjord from Moon Dog, can beer get more interesting than an 8% Bulgo-American Indian Brown Ale?

Every colour, as long as it's brown.
On a food-related note, brown ales are definitely one of the most versatile beers for both cooking and pairing. They lend themselves to both sweet and savoury dishes, and as they are so ‘boring’ and well balanced, they don’t tend to overpower with bitterness or sweetness. They can match well with pretty much any meat – stewed, roasted or barbecued  – but are also great with mushroom dishes or mild vegetarian curries and chillis. They can be used to make a tasty rarebit, or accompany your traditional ploughmen’s lunch. You can bake bread or cake with them. Seriously – browns can do it all. As it happens, my last post here was for Brown Ale Banana Bread.

So, I’ve decided to celebrate the staid awesomeness and very non-boringness of brown ales. IPA’s and Stouts have their own days, so I’m declaring October 21st as my own personal Brown Ale Day - a day to eat, drink and think brown. I’ll be cooking some dishes with brown ale, and drinking my way though a fine selection of Australian browns, because we are a wide-brown land…and if I included browns from other countries I may end up hurting myself.

Call it collective consciousness, kismet or serendipity, but not long after I made this declaration and first put these thoughts down on paper, a very similar post appeared on You can check out some far more articulate thoughts on brown ales by Angelo De Ieso (@BREWPUBLIC for those on the twits) in the article, Brown Ales: The Overlooked Spectrum of Beer

If you happen to be one of those who may have pooh-poohed brown ales in the past (sorry, couldn’t resist), I challenge you to have a brown ale or two, and take your own little trip down to Brown Town.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Get Down With the Brown (Ale Banana Bread)

Is there a better time for banking than a grey, wet Sunday afternoon? Autumn has hit like clockwork. The last weekend of February was spent sitting on a beach with temperatures in the high 30’s. The rain hit almost as soon as the pages of the calendar were flipped over to March 1st.

Summer is all about barbecuing, cooking outdoors and it’s not conducive to baking. No one wants the oven on when the whole house already feels like an oven. Autumn is perfect to get back into baking mode. When it’s wet and windy out, there is nothing like filling your house with the delicious aroma of something baking to send those change-of-season blues away.

A couple of weeks ago the Brooklyn Brewery tweeted a link to this recipe for Brown Ale Banana Bread. It caught my interest. I’ve made banana bread (and muffins too) with beer before quite a few times. In the past I’ve always used a hefeweizen. With the banana and clove flavours you find in a hef it seems like the perfect beer for banana bread, and it always comes up a treat. This recipe grabbed by interest, however, because I really love brown ales. They have lovely caramel, coffee flavours and I could see how that would work in banana bread.

So, the first weekend of Autumn and the planets all aligned. We just happened to have four over ripe bananas in our fruit bowl, waiting to be baked with. We had also done a bit of a brewery tour the day before, which included Mornington Penninsula Brewery where I managed to get the last bottle of their very good brown ale. Sunday was cool and dreary and absolutely perfect for baking. 

I did make a couple of adjustments to the original recipe, as I didn’t have the exact ingredients and wanted to add a couple of things, but it still turned out to be a fairly delicious loaf of banana bread.

How come you taste so good…

1 3/4 cups wholemeal flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-4 very ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/3 cup melted butter, margarine or oil
180ml (about half a bottle) Brown Ale
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2cup walnuts

I added half a cup of walnut pieces. I love walnuts in pretty much anything, but especially in banana bread. (Added bonus - they’re good for you too.) I also added half a teaspoon of mixed spice, probably out of habit. We didn’t have any normal sugar, so I used brown – seemed fitting. I also only had wholemeal flour, and no butter, so used margarine. The way I see it, this is practically a health food. 

 …just like a banana bread should.

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celcius. Prepare a loaf tin by lining with baking paper.

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking power and soda, salt, spice, walnuts) together in a large bowl.

I had three medium bananas and one smallish one. So, I mashed the three medium and sliced the small one into 'coins'.

Add the other wet ingredients - eggs, melted margarine, beer - to the mashed banana and mix. Then, add the wet to the dry and fold through until combined. Try not to over mix, but make sure you don't have any hidden pockets of flour.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin, and place the banana 'coins' on top. Bake for 45 - 50 mins. Do the skewer test to make sure it has cooked through. 

 I was pretty surprised at how light and fluffy this turned out, considering I used wholemeal flour and sticky brown sugar. I expected it to be much denser. Its also very moist, but not overly sweet. The flavor of the beer is not strong, there is  a subtle  caramel taste and perhaps some yeastiness. It definitely is more brown in appearance than any other banana bread that I’ve baked.

I haven’t actually had any of this with beer yet. It would probably pair pretty well with more brown ale or a porter. Anything a bit darker with those nice coffee/caramel flavours.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Temptress is a Molé

For those who may not be aware, the word molé (kind of pronounced mo-lay) means ‘sauce’ in the Mexican language. It’s a fairly generic term that covers all kinds of sauces, but outside of Mexico it tends to refer specifically to a dark chocolate brown chilli sauce, the molé poblano (poblano is a type of chilli). I’d say that the most common type of molé outside of Mexico is actually guacamole, ‘guaca’ meaning avocado. Traditionally, these sauces contain 20-30 ingredients, and can take days to prepare. They are considered a celebration food, so the effort is worth it.

One such celebration where molé is usually served is Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead. This is a time where people remember and honour their dead and is usually held over two days, November 1-2. Since I first came across this holiday, I’ve found a real fascination and attraction to it. I’ve never been lucky enough to experience it first hand, but it appears to be such a colourful, happy celebration – the brightly painted sugar skulls, garlands of flowers, parades of skeletons in the streets, mariachi bands patrolling the cemeteries. In the western world, we treat death as taboo and with such bland seriousness. I find the Mexican attitude a lot…healthier? By celebrating the people who have passed on and accepting death as inevitable, there is a better appreciation for life.

Last year, I decided to cook up my own molé for Dia de los Muertos, using beer of course. Seeing as I am not Mexican, I’m wasn't too concerned about sticking to a traditional recipe. This was helpful because (a) traditional Mexican ingredients can be quite hard to find here, and (b) I had moved house a week prior to November 1st. There was no luxury of cooking for days. I’m surprised I managed to make anything more complicated than an Old El Paso kit. Traditional recipes also tend to use a lot of lard, which I’m not such a fan of. So, while not exactly traditional, this dish is still super tasty and barely takes hours, rather than days.

The beer of choice is the Holgate Temptress Chocolate Porter. It’s not uncommon for dark beers to be part of a Mole recipe, and this one has the added bonus of being a chocolate porter, enhancing the chocolate that is already added in the cooking.

Well she was just 17…

3 tablespoons oil (whatever mild-flavoured oil you have – I used light olive oil)
8 chicken thighs, or 4 legs, or an entire chicken cut into pieces, or use turkey if you have a big enough pot (turkey is more traditional, but they are bloody big birds)
1 onion, diced
1 capsicum, seeded and diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced – you can use canned or dried if you don’t have access to fresh…which I don’t, so I used canned for this recipe.
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 teaspoons chilli powder (hotness dependant on your pain threshold)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup raisins
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup of Holgate Temptress chocolate porter (or another dark beer - bonus points if it contains chocolate)
2 teaspoons of peanut butter
1 teaspoon of salt
60 g of dark chocolate – the darker, the better


warm corn tortillas
sour cream
fresh coriander, chopped

…and you know what I mean*

Place a large frypan on medium heat and heat half of the oil. Add your chicken (or turkey) pieces and brown on all sides. Once that has been done, remove to a plate, cover with foil and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the same frypan and turn the heat down slightly. Sauté the onion, capsicum, poblano chilli and garlic until soft and slightly caramelized. Stir in the spices - chilli powder, cumin and cinnamon - and cook until fragrant (about 2-3 minutes should do it).


Add the tomatoes, raisins, chipotle, stock, beer, peanut butter and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often.


Transfer the sauce into a blender or food processor and add the chocolate. The heat from the sauce should melt the chocolate, allowing it to blend in. Process until you have a consistently smooth sauce.

Now, back to your chicken. Place the pieces into a deep, heavy cooking pot and pour the blended sauce over them. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

Serve with warm corn tortillas, sour cream and fresh cilantro. You could also serve with rice, fresh salsa or sautéed greens.

The beer we drank with this was the excellent Mikeller Texas Ranger, which happens to be one of my fantasy beers. It’s a chipotle spiced porter, so the flavour profile of smoky, chilli heat with roasty, chocolate matches the mole pretty darn well.

* On a side note, in the Australian vernacular, the word ‘mole’ (pronounced MOLE) has a completely different meaning. I used to attend a pub bingo night where one of my favourite calls was for #17 – ‘Well she was just 17 and you know what I mean! What do I mean? She was a MOLE!’ By amazing co-incidence, there are 17 ingredients in this particular recipe.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mad Mushroom Ragout with Gnocchi

What do you get when you combine a trio of mushrooms, a Belgian Dubbel called ‘Mad Abbot’, a Spaetzle press and a stressed out home cook? I don’t know really, but it sounds like a pretty good story…

Once upon a time there was an average home cook who liked to experiment with beer in her recipes. For no apparent reason, she had a sudden desire to try her hand at making her own gnocchi. She’d never had this urge before, but it was such a powerful need it just had to be satisfied. What sauce, though, would be the most delicious? Once again, the idea came to her out of the blue – only mushrooms would do. A mushroom stew…or maybe ragout! (Wait…I think I may have stumbled into Dr Seuss  territory here.) Now the idea was in her head, she couldn’t shake it. This dish had to be made, but she needed some help. She turned to a Mad Abbot. His roots were Belgian, although he hadn’t travelled that far…and he was sure to make the dish DUBBEL-ly good.

Okay…so my story telling skills are pretty lame. The basic details are true though. I had a burning urge to make gnocchi. I had a craving for mushrooms. I used the Mad Abbot Belgian Dubbel in the dish….and it was good. I do admit, half way through the gnocchi making I was questioning my sanity.  Why on earth did I think it would be fun or beneficial in any way? I had already made beer bread (half the batch turned into thyme and garlic rolls, half into a fig and walnut mini-loaf) and beer brownies (which were disappointing and put me off my game) that very afternoon. I was stressed out and beginning to think that ordering a pizza might be the smart thing to do. The story does have a happy ending though.

Have what it takes...


450-500g potatoes (3-4) – I’ve found conflicting information on which potatoes to use. You want something dry I believe, but if you shop in an average supermarket there may not be a huge range.
2 egg yolks
¾ cup of ‘00’ strong flour
½ tspn salt
1/8 tspn nutmeg


1 tablespoon butter
2 Shallots, sliced finely
4 cloves Garlic - diced
100g Mushrooms – Swiss brown
100g Mushrooms – Shitake
100g Mushrooms – Enoki or Portobello
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme
½ cup Belgian Dubbel
½ cup Sour cream

 To do what you gotta...

The Gnocchi:

There are two ways you can go about cooking your spuds. If you have time, preheat oven to 190 degrees and bake potatoes on a bed of rock salt for 45 to 50 minutes. If, like me, you realise you would like to eat your dinner before midnight, stab your potatoes with a fork a few times and place them in the microwave with a few paper towels under them. Nuke for five minutes on high, then roll them over and replace the paper towel with some fresh stuff. Give them another 5 minutes, and then test with a skewer to make sure they are soft all the way through.

Let the potatoes cool so you don't burn yourself, and when you can handle them comfortably, cut in half and peel the skin off. If you find this difficult, just scoop out the flesh with a spoon. This is where the Spaetzle press comes in. Actually, it’s a ‘multi-purpose’ press, but you can apparently make Spaetzle with it, so I call it my Spaetzle press, just because I like saying the word Spaetzle. You can use a potato ricer (BORING) or even a food processor (LAME), OR you can stick the potato flesh in your Spaetzle press (I used the smallest…hole thingy) and squeeze the little potato worms into a large bowl.

Add the egg yolks and spices to the potatoes and mix until well combined. Now add the flour to the potato mixture, mix it in with your hands and form a dough. I can’t lie – this is super messy. Eventually it will stop sticking to your fingers and that’s when you' know it's ready. Tip the dough onto a liberally floured surface and form into a thick log, about 10cm wide. Cut into about eight even pieces, and roll out each piece into a 1 cm thick rope. You may need to keep flouring the surface and your hands during this process. Cut the dough into pieces about 1cm long, trying to keep them as even as possible and keeping in mind that they expand when cooked. Lay them on a tray and squish each piece slightly in the middle with the tines of a fork dipped in flour. Let them dry at room temperature while you make the sauce.

The Mad Mushroom Ragout:

I don’t really know what a ragout is. It just sounds better than ‘sauce’. Over a low heat melt the butter. Add shallots and cook until they begin to soften. Add garlic and cook for a minute or so. Add mushrooms and cook until they start to wilt and release their liquid. Add the beer, salt pepper and thyme. Bring to the boil, and then simmer until the liquid reduces by half. Add the sour cream and stir to combine well. Bring back to a simmer and allow to thicken.

While simmering, bring a big pot of water to the boil. Drop your gnocchi in. They only take a couple of minutes to cook and they float to the surface when done. Use a slotted spoon to scoop them up. Transfer the cooked gnocchi onto a plate and top with your ragout and some grated parmesan.

The happy ending…my gnocchi was light and pillowy like it should be. The ragout was really tasty and matched really well with the soft, gentle gnocchi. There a couple of things I’d do differently next time. I wouldn’t try making gnocchi when I’d already spent most of the day cooking. Give yourself plenty of time so you can be relaxed. While I think the taste and texture of the gnocchi was great, it looked fairly ordinary – the pieces were irregular and misshapen due to rushing through. The ragout was great, but the sour cream didn’t combine as well as it should have. There were visible white flecks through the sauce. A plain cream might be better, although it may lose some of the taste. Or perhaps I just need  to experiment with different brands of sour cream.

The husband and I drank a growler of the Bridge Road Saison Noir with this, and it worked really well. You want a darker malty beer to compliment the earthy flavours of the mushrooms, but nothing so heavy that is drowns out the delicate aspects of the dish.