Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Red velvet cake

A few years ago now, I visited Copenhagen and discovered there was nothing about Denmark I didn't like. From the exquisite care taken in the design of every little thing - whether a chair in a furniture museum or a rake in a hardware store - to the open-face sandwiches on dark rye bread. The neat cobblestone streets of the pedestrian-only city centre, and the flocks of bicycles coursing by in specially designated lanes (ridden by impossibly tall, good-looking Danes) outside it... In this comparatively tiny country, there's a palpable and understandable sense of national pride among the population. So much so that it's traditional to festoon birthday cakes with miniature versions of their distinctive red and white flag. Red velvet cake is in no way Danish and alas neither am I - though I'm hopeful there's some Viking mixed up in my Scottish ancestory somewhere - but this week it was my birthday. I got a bicycle, so a picnic in the park was in order. We wheeled around on the grass, climbed trees, and played cricket with a tennis ball. It seemed only appropriate to add red food colouring to the mix. Besides, this particular cake with its startlingly red interior and pale cream cheese frosting perfectly matched these sweet little flags, carted back from Denmark as a souvenir. Clearly, it was meant to be. Even if, in my haste to document my slice so I could eat it, I neglected to orient the flag the right way around. If you're Danish, I do hope you're not offended. But I feel confident you'll forgive me if you make this cake.

Transcending novelty value, red velvet cake is seriously good: moist, sweet and tangy. From the outside, and in taste, it ressembles a chocolate cake, emerging from the oven cocoa-brown. It's not til you cut it that you understand the meaning of its fabulously decadent name. I can assure you, it more than lives up to it.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Blackberry cobbler

Though I love berries, I’ve only ever really been able to cook with them when I’ve been overseas as their cost here in the less-than-hospitable growing climes of mainland Australia discourages me from using them for anything much more than a garnish. That’s til I fortuitously found myself in Tasmania again last week at the height of blackberry season. Though this time I was down there for work, I was lucky enough to be able to squeeze in a weekend with my Hobart friends beforehand. So on Saturday afternoon, we piled in the car with gumboots and empty containers in search of free berries. We didn’t have to go far. 

When it came to deciding what to make with our huge haul, there were a number of important criteria: something quick (when you spend the afternoon painstakingly picking berries one at a time and braving thickets of thorns to do so you deserve some instant gratification), something delicious (naturally), and something whose preparation benefited from multiple pairs of hands (as I had two small, eager, purple-stained assistants). 

Cobbler is less fiddly than pie, needing only a top crust and no refrigeration period (or rolling!) before assembly. It requires nothing more than a few everyday ingredients and best of all, is assembled in a pleasingly slap-dash fashion by grabbing handfuls of dough, smooshing them into flat patties and placing them patchwork-style on top of the fruit. That there are gaps, all the better, as the berries bubble up through the cracks while cooking, oozing sweet, dark juices. In half an hour, we had dessert. And the satisfaction of having earned it.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Whole lemon tart

There are some days when I've had enough of freelance life. Usually on public holidays when I'm working or when, months later, I still haven't been paid for that work. Then there's not having anyone to share a mid-morning coffee with in my office, which is next door to my bedroom. But on a day like last Friday, when I got up early, made a lemon tart to take to a friend's place for dinner, sat down and finished a piece of work, and spontaneously decided to go for a swim at 11am without having to ask anyone's permission or fill out a form, I remember that it's not all bad. To my great shame, I recently realised that I could probably count on one hand the number of swims I've had this summer. This is made worse by the fact that I live within easy walking distance of not one, not two, but three beautiful Sydney beaches. So I set out to rectify this. 

Like a good splash of salt water, lemon desserts are wonderfully refreshing. This one I particularly love because it uses the entire lemon - every single bit of it (well, minus the pips) - to give a deep, sharp, full-bodied citrus hit. With its darkly caramelised top, and gloriously golden, jammy interior, it distinguishes itself from the usual lemon tart, which quite literally pales in comparison. You'll want to dive straight in.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


Every week when I come to write my post I feel like I'm repeating myself. Inevitably at some point I'll have to go back to check if I've used the phrase "these come together in no time" or "this takes no time to prepare" too recently. This week is different. This cookie - while certainly not difficult in any way - is a little bit more complicated than the usual mix-a-batter-and-drop-by-spoonfuls-onto-the-baking-sheet type of affair. There's more of a process involved. But I'm here to tell you it's totally worth it. I had rugelach for the first time at Zabar's (which for my money is every bit as good as any museum by way of cultural experience) in New York, when I was looking for something small and sweet to accompany my mid-morning coffee. I probably didn't know how to pronounce it (and still kind of don't) but just pointed dumbly at one of the little rolled cookies in the display case. Biting into it, I tasted fruit and nuts and jam and some sort of tang in the crumb that beautifully cut through the intense sweetness. It was chewy and sticky and, in its elegant swirl, a thing of great beauty. I was so absorbed in my enjoyment of it all that I almost missed seeing Bill Cunningham (the eternally youthful, 80-something fashion photographer for The New York Times and subject of a great documentary) ride by on his bike. I was not photo-worthy but had he seen the rugelach, he surely would have stopped. But it was too late. I'd eaten it all.