Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Carrot cake

It is my firm belief that vegetables do not belong in cakes. But, according to my father, you have to change your mind sometimes to prove you have one. And so I made a carrot cake. I figured any recipe from the Bourke Street Bakery was not going to disappoint. And on this score I am pleased to say I was totally right. This cake is unbelievably light in its crumb and, incredibly, in its frosting (no mean feat when the primary component is cream cheese!). It's fragrant with spices, studded with walnuts, and flecked prettily with orange. In fact, the carrot component makes it wonderfully moist, which means its flavours deepen nicely over time and that it keeps well. Or at least I imagine it does - there were no leftovers to test this out on when I served it up at a picnic last week. 

This cake is by no means complex but it does involve a few bowls and benefits from being made in a stand mixer - unless of course you enjoy the dead arm you get from manually beating egg whites. There are certainly other more straight-forward recipes out there but I venture they wouldn't have the wonderful lightness of this one. A lightness that comes from separating and aerating the eggs, the extra light olive oil, small amount of flour, and modest quantity of frosting, which is used to stunning effect to separate the two layers. The resulting cake resembles nothing like the dense, dumpy loaf slices you see suffocated in plastic wrap in bad cafes worldwide, but is sleek, sophisticated and utterly scrumptious. Here's to open minds.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Asian-spiced kedgeree

Truly one of the most incredible things I've seen in all my life was the sight of running salmon. I was on a road trip with my cousin in the north-west corner of the United States, and we pulled over by a river and sat transfixed watching these huge pink fish swimming furiously upstream, hurling themselves out of the water, and up waterfalls to spawn in the waters they themselves hatched in. You might think I'm about to confide that I've not eaten salmon since witnessing this great spectacle of nature but as you can see from the above photograph, that is clearly not the case. Mostly, I find fish a bit boring, even bland. But salmon is the one fish I can get enthusiastic about eating. Unlike its white-fleshed counterparts, it has a buttery richess, a sturdy form, and - not insignificantly in my appreciation of it - a glorious colour.

Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish, made popular in Victorian times by returning British colonials. It's traditionally made with smoked fish (like haddock), and eaten for breakfast but this version, using fresh poached salmon, and flavours from a little further east in Asia, I like to make for lunch or dinner. The soft pink of the salmon mingles beautifully with the golden, spice-infused rice, and the bright pop of lime and coriander. It's easy to make, looks lovely on the plate, and is - while light - incredibly satisfying, no doubt because of the double protein hit of egg and salmon. A fitting tribute to a fine fish. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Marbled cheesecake brownies

There is nothing remotely sophisticated about cream cheese. It's kind of the sweet equivalent of mashed potato - white, soft, malleable... and oh so good. Though it comes in bricks, it's more like mortar. Bagels wouldn't be the same without it. The frosting made with it is the very reason carrot cake exists. And then there's cheesecake. Which is all very well on its own, but swirled into a brownie and strewn with chocolate chips to form a hybrid kind of sweet squidgy square is, well, definitely not sophisticated, but who cares? Sophisticated can't be tucked into the corner of a lunchbox, eaten straight from the freezer or carted to a picnic in its tin.   

Life's too short for sophisticated. But long enough that you can indulge in something this rich occasionally. You can serve these warm, or at room temperature, but for the cleanest slices, refridgerate the pan til nicely chilled then use a knife dipped in hot water to cut through. If making a whole tray of these worries you - know that they freeze well... but also know they taste good straight from the freezer. Consider this a warning.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Honey cakes

Food is my favourite way to remember people. This week it's my grandmother's birthday. My father's mother Irene was a huge figure in my life growing up. For good reason. She was glamorous, she was indulgent (as all good grandmothers are meant to be), and she was a wonderful cook. As a kid, I spent most Saturday nights at her house, which, as a bonus, meant I was often there on Sunday for her morning tea, a weekly spread attended by her immediate family - her brother and his wife, her sister and her husband - as well as my grandfather. And frequently, my brother and I. By necessity, it was a big table and each week it was laden with delicious food and steaming cups of tea. My grandmother was famous for her fruitcake, but I used to like helping put bits of gherkin or corn relish atop cheese on Jatz crackers, and fancied myself quite talented at arranging them pleasingly on any one of her many decorative platters. The real golden age of morning tea however, was before my time. A time before cholesterol (and the more beige era of oat bran and polyunsaturated oil). My dad remembers fondly the treats his mother routinely turned out when he was a boy: homemade Monte Carlo biscuits, pineapple meringue pies (she was a Queenslander, after all) and these, his favourite: honey cakes.

These predate cupcakes, and muffins, and other such airy, modern tea-time fare. They're nicely dense, which is these days, a rather unexpected texture in a baked good. And the honey imparts a lovely flavour and a beautiful fragrance to both cake and icing. As it's my Dad's birthday this month too, I thought I'd make these to remember my grandmother, and celebrate my dad. I love them both. And take my tea exactly as they did and do: weak, black, no sugar. The legacy of morning tea lives on, just a little further south. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Tahini and date syrup cake

My mother used to bribe us with food. Neither my brother or I had much interest in learning the piano but we had boundless enthusiasm for the treats we'd get for afternoon tea at the deli cafe next door to the music school where our lessons were held. I'm pretty sure it was there I first had halva, the dense, sweet and crumbly Middle-eastern confection made from sesame seeds. It was halva that came to mind when I tasted this cake, relatively new to my repertoire. I've made it three times now, in quick succession. I'd never used tahini before in anything sweet and it was a revelation. Though this cake looks complicated, it's easily one of the more simple I've ever made in both ingredients and technique. It's excellent with tea or coffee, sophisticated enough for a dinner party, humble enough for morning tea, enjoyed equally by kids and adults, and the sort of thing that if you make once, you're sure to make again and again. It's chewy and moist, sweet and sesame-y and entirely dairy-free.

Eventually we gave up the piano. My grandfather was disappointed. He thought it a good skill to have for parties. To date I have not attended a gathering where piano playing was called for but every day I'm grateful to my mum for teaching me to cook. No matter the age, or the social occasion, cake is perennially popular.