Monday, 9 January 2017

Spiced pear paste



December was destined to be a downer due to a deadline. So to counter the crankiness of working while everyone else was on holidays, I made a pact with myself that I would see or swim in the sea every day of that month. I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of three stunning Sydney beaches, and multiple ocean pools. Last year I didn't go once to any of them all summer. My mum had just died and I found it hard to be around beauty like that at a time when things felt so dark. A year on, it felt like the policy needed to change. I'm not sure I felt any more festive but it definitely felt good to be floating, if only for five minutes a day.


I'm grateful for being able to do it at all. And for good friends, one of whom has his birthday on the 25th of December. Being folded into that celebration allowed me to formally give Christmas the flick this year. Instead we ate birthday cake, drank wine and grazed on cheese... and this was what I made to go with it. 


Mum used to make guava paste, which I loved, but I didn't have guavas, so with a bit of inspiration from Maggie Beer's peerless products, whipped up a spiced pear paste, which was wonderful. Here's to horizons.




Thursday, 8 December 2016

Cranberry orange brownies






At times of high stress, sometimes the only solution is chocolate. The fastest way for a fix - other than buying a bar or a block - is the brownie. One bowl, no need for softening of butter or room temperature anything, just melt, stir, pour, bake, slice and serve. This Smitten Kitchen recipe doesn't even require you to have dark chocolate in the house - it uses cocoa instead - and so can be whipped up from pantry staples. My friend Joanna had recently made these with orange zest - to great acclaim - and I further freewheeled by substituting walnuts for cranberries. I used dried, but fresh or frozen would work just as well for that pop of sour among all the sweet. Serve warm, at room temperature, refrigerated or straight from the freezer. It all works.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Norwegian apple pie



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



Sometimes, words are hard to come by. And for those times, there's cake. This one happily requires very few words as there are but four ingredients: walnuts, eggs, sugar and lemon zest. Brilliantly simple, deeply delicious and gluten and dairy free to boot. Make it and marvel.




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

Lemon poppyseed cake



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

Beetroot, kohlrabi, carrot and apple slaw with labneh





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

Mulberry pie



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.