Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Cardamom buns

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.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Blood orange, ricotta and almond cake

There's something extra alluring about fruit with short seasons. I've been waiting for blood oranges since summer, when this recipe did the rounds of several of the American food blogs I read. It was winter on their side of the world at the time, so I had a long six months before I got my turn. I've tried baking many things with blood oranges before, but have always been disappointed. Despite my best efforts, the brilliant colour that so dazzles when you slice into them always amounted to plain old orange. Til now. Whole slices of beautiful blood orange sit atop a cake infused with both zest and juice, allowing you to experience the fruit in all its glory. In texture, it puts to mind a sort of citrus cheesecake, all the easier to make as you don't have to mess around with a crust. And with ricotta, cornmeal, and almond meal it's entirely gluten-free, should that be your thing. Of course you could make this with regular oranges too, should you wish. Six months is a long time to wait. But it was worth it.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Hazelnut coffee cake

Perhaps the most perfect place in all the world exists in Stockholm. On an island you can walk to from the city, in what was once the Swedish royal family's game park, is a biodynamic garden called Rosendals Trägåd. Amid the neat rows of plantings and greenhouses, and the nut-brown ladies with wispy white hair working in them, there's a café selling food made from what they grow, which you can take on a tray to picnic tables scattered about an orchard of ages-old pear and apple trees and lounge about in the dappled light, eating or reading or chatting.

I spent a week in Stockholm and went there three times. Three visits, three cakes. The first was a Swiss roll, sweet and sticky with jam. The second a fat slice of cardamom cake, speckled with spice. The third was a technically not a cake, but a cinnamon bun, so much better than any I've ever had at IKEA.

What I like so much about Scandinavian baking is its simplicity. There's nothing tricked up or fussy about it. Its modesty is magnificent - just like Rosendals Trägåd and so many other places in Stockholm. When I got home I craved it and the calm of cooking after so long away from a kitchen. So I made a cake - Swedish, naturally.

From Anna Brones and Joanna Kindvall's very lovely cookbook Fika (the Swedish word for the ritual of pausing expressly for coffee and something sweet) I baked the hazelnut coffee cake. This is not so much a coffee cake in the American sense, but one that contains coffee, a flavour that melds beautifully with the ground hazelnuts and butter to produce a simple but stunning cake that suitably sums up Scandinavia.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Bakewell tarts

I'm sorry this post is so late. I can explain. You see, my cousin got married in London a week or so ago and I took advantage of being over the other side of the world to take a break and recover from the first half of the year, which has been - all cake, pies and tarts aside - pretty brutal. So I've been in my spiritual home, Scandinavia, eating my weight in cardamom buns and trying to sleep in for the first time in ages only to be in a particular place at a particular time of the year where the sun rises at 3.49am (after setting not that many hours earlier). But before that I was in Hobart. Hobart where stone fruit weighs down the limbs of backyard trees, where berries grow by the side of the road, free for the taking... but not so much in winter. Which is where jam comes in - jam made in the warmer months so even with coats and heaters on, it feels like summer. At least in terms of dessert.

I made these bakewell tarts back in early July with the assistance of my favourite Tasmanian red-haired baker, whose mum (an amazing cook in her own right) was responsible for the incredible jam that oozed out of these like a lovely sweet surprise... which sadly I don't have any photographic evidence of. On the southernmost tip of the southern hemisphere we were fighting fast diminishing late afternoon light when these came out of the oven. So you'll just have to trust me that they're good. Very good. Fruity, with smooth frangiapane, the crunch of flaked almonds, and a crisp, crumbly, shortcrust pastry. Save yourself the airfare and the jetlag, making these conjures summer in the depths of winter. And afterwards you can sleep in.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Grapefruit curd cake

It was my friend George's birthday. I asked her what sort of cake she would like and the request was for something seasonal. In April, when she was actually born, that would have meant one thing, but by mid-June, which is when we finally got together down on the Great Ocean Road, for a girls' weekend with our friend Gill, it was deepest, darkest winter which meant one thing: citrus.

It's impossible to feel anything other than sunny when eating citrus, which is why it's so wonderful at this time of the year where the wind howls, the light dims and temperatures drop.  

Grapefruit is the bridesmaid of the citrus family, always overshadowed by oranges and lemons. No-one ever thinks to do anything with it other than juice it or slice it in half, both of which are more associated with diets and cold remedies than anything you actually get excited about. So here's what you do: you cook all that Vitamin C down into a rich, creamy curd, then fold it through a batter flecked with pretty pink-orange zest, reserving some to dollop on top. You decorate the finished cake with candles, sing happy birthday, celebrate being friends for twenty years and look forward to doing it all again soon.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Armenian nutmeg cake

There's a lot to be said for simple. Especially on a spectacularly wet weekend when your options are pretty well limited to curling up on a couch with a cup of tea and a fat piece of cake made with pantry staples and a bit of sour cream you had left over in the fridge

My good friend who came to stay in late May had enthusiastically recommended this particular cake, a recent discovery of hers. On our weekend together, she'd scrolled tirelessly through endless recipes online to find a version of the one she'd tasted without nuts, which from our basic internet search, would appear to be quite common in Armenian nutmeg cakes but - she insisted - were not necessary. After making it, I'd have to agree - this sweet, spice-infused cake is perfect just as it is. Two textures - a crunchy base and a soft, springy sour cream crumb, sprinkled with cinnamon.

Lest you think the two texture thing sounds tricky let me tell you it's not. This is practically a one-bowl affair. The finished cake tastes like the best sort of cinnamon doughnut, even better for not having to drag out a deep fryer or be spattered with hot oil. Plus, with baking you have the benefit of both oven warmth and the seductive, slow-release scent of cinnamon. Hard to beat on a rainy weekend in winter.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Chocolate sour cherry cookies

My oldest friend came to visit last weekend. We've known each other since we were babies, both of us brought up by mothers who were not only good cooks but instilled in us the idea of food as something to be shared - something to welcome, something to celebrate, to comfort, to say thank you. To this end, I made a batch of my favourite cookies for her arrival and she turned up with a tin of her own. Hers were delicious but I don't have the recipe for those (yet!) so here's what I made - the Bourke St Bakery's chocolate sour cherry cookies.

Sour cherries are a little hard to find (if you live in Brisbane, I got mine at the amazing The Source Bulk Foods store in West End on a recent visit) and when you do, they're expensive, but you could easily substitute a good quality dried cranberry as the two are quite similar in texture and taste. Chewy and rich and studded with plump pockets of fruit, these are my regular indulgence if I'm passing the original Surry Hills bakery in Bourke St. But really, you can't beat homemade. We took our cookie smorgasbord to the park with the papers and ate them in the warm winter sun. They spoke volumes.