Thursday, 24 November 2016
In July, I went to Norway for the first time. I was only there a matter of hours, on my way through to Stockholm, and all I remember eating was a burrito. Food was the last thing on my mind really as the priority was getting to Vigeland Sculpture Park. Showcasing the life work of artist Gustav Vigeland, the park sits just outside downtown Oslo and features over 200 sculptures of human figures in bronze, granite and cast-iron. It's a celebration of human life at every stage - from infancy to old age and everything in between.
It's a nice thing to remember as I eat this pie, which is really, much more of a cake. November has been tumultuous for me for many reasons and notably, is not over yet. Over the other side of the world, Americans are gathering for Thanksgiving. Today, an ordinary old Thursday in my Australian apartment so far from Scandinavia, I'm giving thanks for memories, for the crazy complexity of the human experience, and for this pie, which is simple and sweet and made for sharing.
Tuesday, 15 November 2016
Calabrian walnut cake (torta di noci)
Adapted from a recipe on Food52 from Ada Boni's Regional Italian Cooking (1960)
This is the sort of cake that gets better with age, so is improved by being made ahead of time.
3/4 pound (340 grams or about 3 cups) shelled walnuts
4 eggs, separated
1 cup (225 grams) caster (superfine) sugar
zest of one lemon
icing (confectioners') sugar for dusting (optional)
Pulverize the walnuts in a food processor until you have a coarse meal, the texture of sand.
Grease and line a round 9-inch cake pan.
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the lemon zest and walnut meal and stir to combine.
Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whites bit by bit into the walnut mixture until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake at 375º F (190º C) for about 50 minutes, or until the top is firm and browned nicely. Let cool completely in the pan before removing and dust with icing sugar to serve.
Thursday, 27 October 2016
I got gifted some lemons last weekend. Big, beautiful backyard fruit, befitting a cake. So I made one. Though this is an English recipe, poppyseeds in baking are by and large associated with Eastern Europe. Strewn liberally through strudels and sponges and all manner of doughs and batters, these little black speckles are striking here against the pale pastel of citrus, and lend a lovely texture to a traditional tea time treat.
Made mostly with almond meal, the cooked cake is drenched in syrup and drizzled with icing so keeps well should you have leftovers or want to bake in advance. If you're lucky enough to have a lemon tree or be friends with anyone who does, then this is definitely one for your repertoire. It's not a show-off of a cake, it's more subtle and sophisticated, even a little subversive. The beat poet of baked goods. Brilliant.
Wednesday, 12 October 2016
A few years ago for Christmas I got a mandoline. Not the musical instrument but the kitchen gadget that thinly slices vegetables with razor sharp metal blades. I was a little afraid of it to be honest, so it sat in the drawer til today, when I was motivated to use it by a recipe in Hetty McKinnon's new cookbook Neighbourhood (which is so good I've bought it for two friends' birthdays since it came out in September). I have to say the word "slaw" conjures visions of limp cabbage coated in mayonnaise. A white on white nightmare. But this! This is different. Vibrantly-hued vegetables (plus one piece of fruit) sliced super-fine, doused in sharp/sweet vinegar, offset with liberal dollops of creamy labneh and scattered with crunchy roasted pumpkin seeds. It's bright and beautiful and suitably spring-y. A big reward for a small act of kitchen bravery.
Wednesday, 28 September 2016
About this time last year my mum called me to tell me she'd had a bumper crop of mulberries. She'd freeze them for my next visit, she said, so we could make pie, a favourite dessert of mine from childhood. For anyone who grew up in Brisbane like me, mulberries will be a major memory. The sprawling trees were found in most backyards, their leaves fed the silkworms we had as our first pets, their berries stained school uniforms and little fingers purple... no matter how many items of clothing you ruined you could never resist. They were delicious. Sweet, fat and juicy. Perfect for pie. Mum never used a recipe so in her absence I cobbled together one from two excellent sources - Bill Granger for pastry, and Smitten Kitchen for filling (those Americans know what they're doing with berries). Technically I suppose this is more of a galette than a pie as it's free-form and open, but I was teaching my dad how to make it and I knew he'd never be bothered rolling out two lots of dough, let alone sealing and crimping a crust. The proportion of pastry to fruit is better too, and without a lid you get to see the berries in all their beauty. I'd been up to Brisbane many times since Mum died, but not been able to face the freezer. But a new crop of mulberries had appeared on the tree since last November. It was time. Mum picked these berries. I made the pie. So it was a joint effort. I like to think we did it together.
Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Some things are worth making just for the name alone. Or in this case if you're travelling north to work with a colleague who's gluten-free and you need something sweet to power both of you through two days of script meetings. I was tossing up between lime polenta cake (made in a bar tin) or little lemon polenta cakes (small, stackable) when I remembered forgotten cookies. This recipe, from Chicago chef Sarah Gruneberg infuses beaten egg whites with sugar, cardamom and vanilla and winds through sour cherries, dark chocolate and toasted pecans. The dough - such as it is without flour or even, miraculously, dairy - is dolloped into spoonfuls onto a baking tray, sprinkled with sea salt, baked for five minutes and left in the oven overnight. In the morning, you're rewarded with little boulders of meringue. Crisp on the outside, with a chewy, marshmallow-like interior containing crunch, combining sweet and sour... once tried, never forgotten.
Wednesday, 24 August 2016
The only research I did before arriving in Stockholm last month was not on its architecture, or archipelago, its museums or shopping districts. Or even Abba. It was about breakfast, and specifically: cardamom buns. I'd booked an air b n b based on its proximity to a bakery that made some of the best in town, I was reliably informed. However what my narrow band of research did not reveal is that most of Sweden is away during July. Many businesses too, close for the month, including my well-researched bakery. But fortunately Stockholm is liberally sprinkled with bakeries - not that you even need one. Even the convenience stores sell cardamom buns (and, by the looks of them, good ones!), such is their place in the culture. In walking distance of the apartment I stayed in were several excellent sources and I made the most of it. Luckily now I'm back home, it's not too hard to make my own, like most Swedes do (possibly only tourists like me buy them commercially).
Cardamom is a popular flavour in Scandinavian baking, and it's so beautiful here - speckled through these lightly sweet pastries. The crushed black seeds in the dough contrast with the pretty pearl sugar sprinkled on top. Unlike American-style cinnamon buns, these are modestly-sized, and not too heavy on the sugar. The spice is the dominant flavour and goes beautifully with coffee, for breakfast, for fika, for memories of Scandinavian summer.