THIS BLOOMING MARVELLOUS BRUNCH IS A TRIUMPH OF IMPROVISATION.
Chef Steve Cumper whips up a scrumptiously sweet brunch dish with a surprising added ingredient: preserved peonies!
I CONFESS I had never heard of peonies until I became chef at the Pigeon Hole cafe, a Hobart institution. But, since its owners, Richard and Belinda Weston, also produce the largest crop of peonies in the Southern Hemisphere at Brighton, 25-minutes north of Hobart, it didn’t take long to catch on.
Belinda told me that, after a taxing day harvesting peonies and noticing the blanket of petals on the ground, she decided to have a crack at preserving them, as you might with rose petals. After several attempts, she was happy with the result and the jelly began appearing in the cafe among her other preserves. It flew off the shelves. Customers were enchanted by the novelty, as well as its luscious colour, heady aroma and unique taste.
It didn’t take me long to find interesting ways to use this delicious and unusual product, but perhaps the most successful is this recipe. The inspiration came from a cafe in Brunswick, Victoria, in the early ’90s.
The industrious owner, compelled to be inventive by the red tape surrounding kitchen compliances, built his small menu around toastedsandwich presses, which removed the need for a full-blown kitchen.
One of his dishes, Turkish bread with labne (drained yoghurt cheese), bastourma (air-dried and spiced beef) and rosehip jelly, paid homage to local Turkish and Lebanese communities. It resonated with me, as it was inventive, simple, delicious and represented multicultural city living.
The only problem with peonies is the short growing season (October to December), so you’ll need to put the petal to the metal if you want to make this jelly. They are also the flower du jour for weddings, so you could always leap up and catch the bouquet!
Place petals in a large bowl. Cover with 4 cups boiling water. Set aside overnight for flavours to infuse. Strain liquid through a fine sieve set over a large saucepan. Discard petals. Place saucepan over a high heat and bring to boil. Stir in lemon juice and pectin and boil for 1 minute. Add sugar and stir until dissolved and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove syrup from heat.
Pour hot liquid into 4 sterilised jars (1-cup capacity), leaving a 1cm gap at the top of each. Secure lids, then turn upside down for 15 minutes to seal. Turn jars right-side up and cool for 24 hours before using the jam.
To make labne, place yoghurt, sugar and vanilla seeds in a bowl and stir until combined. Line a fine sieve with muslin or clean kitchen cloth set over a large bowl. Spoon yoghurt mixture into cloth. Loosely cover and place in refrigerator overnight to strain. Discard liquid. Place labne in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and then refrigerate until required.
To make brioche, place 100g butter and milk in a large microwave-safe jug. Microwave on High for 30–40 seconds or until butter melts and milk is hot. Whisk yeast and 2 tablespoons sugar into milk mixture and set aside for 10 minutes or until frothy. Place flour and salt into a large bowl. Add yeast mixture and two-thirds of the beaten egg and stir until a dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth. Place dough into a clean, greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for 40 minutes or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 20cm x 10cm loaf or bread tin. Knock back dough, turn onto a lightly floured surface and form into a log shape. Place into prepared tin and set aside for 25 minutes or until well risen. Brush remaining beaten egg over bread. Bake for 30–40 minutes or until golden. Leave to cool in tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. When cool, cut brioche into 2cm-thick slices.
Whisk remaining eggs in a shallow dish. Combine remaining sugar and cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Melt remaining 100g butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat.
Dip brioche slices in egg and cook for 2 minutes each side or until golden. Sprinkle toast with cinnamon sugar and top with a dollop of labne and peony jelly. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios to serve.
* Pectin is available from specialty food stores and select supermarkets.