Wednesday, 23 December 2015
December and January are - in Australia anyway - associated with one cake. Though it's often called Christmas cake, fruit cake straddles the summer. For me it's evocative of catching up with rellies in between present shopping and menu planning in the lead up to the 25th, and of morning teas in rest areas on road trips in the new year. It goes as well with bone china, as it does with tea from a thermos. My grandmother Irene, who I've talked about here before, many times, was famous for her fruitcake. When she died, my mother took up the tradition, and now, this year, it falls to me. In mum's cooking files, I found my grandmother's original handwritten recipe. Curiously, it listed only the ingredients, and no mention of method, but after a little internet research I was able to take a stab at how they combined. The key point of difference in any fruit cake, it seems, is whether or not the fruit is boiled. From what I gather, the boiling is a shortcut to allow you to make the cake the day you want to eat it, speeding the softening of the dried fruit. My grandmother did not believe in short cuts, so I elected to take the long road and soak the fruit the night before. Really, this took no time at all and required nothing more than a bit of measuring out. The next day, it was just a matter of combining the plumped, boozy fruit with the remaining ingredients to form a rich, robust batter, pouring it into a tin and baking it for three hours in a slow (low) oven. Though I didn't have either of my senior fruit cake advisers on hand, I did have the help of my dad's 16 year old neighbour William, a keen baker with 2nd and 3rd place wins in the fruit cake division of the Brookfield Show behind him. On the lookout for a prospective 1st place recipe, he offered his services and I gratefully accepted. I'm pleased to report it was a win for both of us, the cake pulled from the oven as good as I remembered my grandmother's and my mother's: deep brown, moist, and fragrant with citrus, dried fruit and the memory of those who'd made it before me.
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
My friends bought a house. After years of slogging through the Sydney real estate wilderness, ruining their weekends inspecting overpriced, dark, dilapidated terraces and missing out at auctions, they ended up in the perfect place: not in Sydney.... but close enough to commute. Instead of aircraft overhead they have hang-gliders drifting silently down from an impossibly green escarpment up above, instead of staring at their neighbours, they now look at the ocean, and instead of abandoned shopping trolleys on the streets of their neighbourhood, there are swings rigged from trees (mostly with views). There's a lot to celebrate. A cake was called for.
I came across this recipe just recently via the New York Times Cooking app on my iPad (which I highly recommend for its free access to the newspaper's entire database of recipes as well as handy videos on technique). I loved the simplicity of it - a basic butter cake kicked up a notch by a glamorous (yet inexpensive) ingredient - pomegranate molasses. This dark, sticky syrup is incorporated into every part of the cake - the batter, the frosting and even into the caramelising of the nuts on top - its distinctive sweet/tart zing offsetting the buttery richness. A lovely diversion from the expected, and all the better for it.
Wednesday, 9 December 2015
This recipe is one I photocopied and packed when I moved out of home. Mum must have ripped it out of a magazine at my grandparents' place I imagine (it was never her style to buy something so frivolous but she couldn't resist reading one if it was lying around, especially the recipe section). From the date at the bottom of the page I know it's from two months after I was born, so effectively, she's been making it all my life. There are several recipes on the page but Mum has annotated this one with an asterisk and in her amazingly consistent handwriting, which now brings me to tears, she declares it excellent. And so do I.
Wednesday, 7 October 2015
As a rule, the thicker the filling in the thumbprint, the better - the homemade raspberry jam I had was a stunning colour but its runny consistency meant it leaked into the cracks of the cookies, which though delicious, was somewhat less visually enticing. Particuarly successful was lemon curd - a puckering pop of bright, sour sweet against the nutty, buttery base of the cookie. Vegans, if you're feeling hard done by reading this, skip the lemon curd, stick to the jam and check out my friend Elizabeth's recipe for an egg and butter-free version. They're delicious. The ones I made also use nuts - in the form of roasted almonds - which make them slightly more labour-intensive than your basic butter/sugar/flour/egg thumbprint, but I would argue more subtle and satisfying. The cookie tastes of almond rather than sugar, so you're able to appreciate the jam more, and importantly, the combination of the two. Like someone with small thumbs and someone big enough to use an oven. Together, they make one great cookie.
Wednesday, 30 September 2015
There's something incredibly comforting about a loaf cake you slice and slather with butter. Perhaps because they remind me of my childhood. Of picnics with my grandparents. Of thermoses of tea and dinted metal cake tins. Of long socks and Lion's Parks on road trips. This weekend, with the weather rainy and cold, I wanted one.
This is an incredibly economical recipe, using just one egg, and a relatively modest amount of butter and sugar. All the flavour comes from the dates, their deep caramel sweetness cut with the freshness of orange zest and crunch of pecans. The spices mellow everything out, as does the wholemeal flour, which I threw in in place of half the amount of plain, which seemed right, and it was. This cake keeps amazingly well, and days later, tasted just as good as when it was fresh out of the oven. I could have kept eating and eating it but, showing remarkable restraint, stashed half in the freezer for another rainy day.
Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Last week I lost my appetite. The cause was nothing too dramatic, just your garden variety head cold. But I couldn't get enthused about cooking and pretty well ate nothing but soup from Monday to Friday. As it abated, approaching the weekend, I began to feel like actually eating rather than just sipping from a spoon - food that made me feel like less of an invalid but wasn't too much of an afront to my dulled tastebuds and delicate system. As luck would have it, I happened on a bunch of golden beetroot.
Granted my excitement threshold was dangerously low due to being stuck at home in bed for a week, but it was a bit like finding the golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the (wildly less popular) vegetable version. I'd learned to make this salad last year in Copenhagen where golden beetroot were as prevalent as the red sort we're used to here in Australia, sliced up on our burgers, and staining our clothing pink. The taste and texture are the same, but the colour... the colour! Subtle, where the other is strident. Glowing gradations of gold.
The beetroot is roasted, then tossed with cooked grains, toasted hazelnuts and diced apple and the lot doused in a slightly sweet, lightly acidic dressing. It's chewy and crisp, crunchy and clean. You can use any sort of grain you like - I used farro - and if you can't get your hands on the golden sort, regular old beetroot would be fine, though your salad will be somewhat more pink. In any case, this feels like fighting food, as if you're getting better, stronger just by eating it, which is, in a sense, the real golden ticket. You can't say that about chocolate.
Wednesday, 16 September 2015
I really didn't intend to post another chocolate recipe this week. I was hoping to share one for a rather lavish lemon meringue cake, which I set out to make for a friend's birthday on Saturday. But it was a disaster. Operator error I think, I can't blame the cake. Fearful of scorching the meringue, I took it out of the oven too early and when I came to assemble it, realised that the centre was gooey and not in a good way. In an uncooked batter, make you feel sick kind of way. I know because I ate a fair bit of it, as I assessed whether this was a salvagable situation. Could I cut out the middle and fill the centre with cream and lemon curd? In the end, I decided against it and at the eleventh hour, chose to start from scratch. I didn't have the nerve for another lemon meringue. I didn't have much time. I needed something fail safe. Something simple, but still special enough for a birthday. Stephanie (Alexander) was my salvation. Her recipe for chocolate almond cake to be precise. That my butter was fridge-hard wasn't a problem as it was melted down with chocolate. It didn't have layers, didn't need frosting. The cooking time wasn't too long. In about an hour, I had a cake. Derived from the French reine de Saba or Queen of Sheba's cake, essentially this is a flourless chocolate cake (and thus gluten free) but with lots less butter than the traditional sort which is far richer and more oozy in texture. This version is bolstered by ground almonds, which means it keeps nicely should there be leftovers and holds its shape packed in a lunchbox. Stephanie says it's easy to make on a whim, or in my case, in a blind panic about having only an hour to make a replacement birthday cake. Both are valid motivations, both result in a cake that's light, not too sweet yet satisfyingly chocolatey. Dust with icing sugar, dollop with cream. Done.
Wednesday, 9 September 2015
Chocolate and fruit is a matter of personal preference. I've never been fond of the chocolate-dipped strawberry, which is often upheld as the epitome of deliciousness (albeit by advertisements for shopping centres or luxury hotel chains). Chocolate and orange on the other hand, I've long been a fan of - so much so that once, on a trip to Europe, I visited York out of love not so much of the Brontes but of Terry's Chocolate Orange. I favour the milk variety, though I certainly won't knock back the dark if it's on offer. As a rule, dark chocolate is generally the one to pair with fruit: less sweet, more sophisticated. It works wonderfully with pear, as evidenced in the most crowd-pleasing cake in my repertoire: pear, pistachio and chocolate cake. Another winning combination is with raspberry, where the sour/sweet of the fruit marries beautifully with the deep, dark depths of the chocolate.
In this hybrid of brownie and cake, a crisp, crackly crust gives way to a fudgey chocolate centre, its richness offset by the tart burst of the berries. It works just as well with frozen fruit as it does with fresh, so you can make them year round. One is the perfect amount to satisfy whatever chocolate cravings you have. If you don't trust yourself to stop there, they freeze well... but I'm sorry to say also taste pretty good frozen. You were warned.
Wednesday, 26 August 2015
In June this year, I travelled to London. I arrived very early on Sunday morning after two long-haul flights and a middle-of-the-night (or was it day?) stopover in Dubai. I hadn't slept in over 24 hours. I couldn't check into my hotel til the afternoon. To drop my suitcase there, I'd spent a good half an hour wandering aimlessly around Victoria Station, following the vague directions of people who meant well but clearly had no idea. I couldn't get my phone to work. Despite the fact it was techically summer, it was cold, colder than the winter I'd left in Sydney. It started to rain. Putting on my raincoat, I got my hair caught in the zipper. So basically, I was not in a good mood. And then somehow, in my jetlagged, cranky, sodden, sleep-deprived state, I stumbled into this:
At the Yotam Ottolenghi deli in Belgravia, I ordered a flat white and a little lime polenta cake and things suddenly seemed somewhat sunnier, despite the grey gloom outside. In the above photo, you can see my selection tucked away up the back, on the right, just below the glorious pile of pink-tipped meringues. Though they weren't the showiest of the offerings on display, there was something incredibly cheery about their warm citrus glow. This weekend, I had a go at recreating it for a picnic with friends.
This recipe is not the original Ottolenghi - alas, that's not reproduced anywhere I could find - but it comes from no less reputable a source than Mary Berry, the 80 year old British cake doyenne, and judge of The Great British Bake-Off. I've mucked about a little with the recipe, but only as so far as to swap her preferred glaze for a shimmering sheen of lime-infused frosting sprinkled with pistachios, as that was my memory of that Sunday morning in London. Made with almond meal in place of flour, it's gluten-free, should you need any of those recipes in your repertoire. Or need your mood changed, for whatever reason. Guaranteed to turn grey skies blue.
Wednesday, 19 August 2015
On Tuesday I travelled to Newcastle, a port town 160km or so north of Sydney. My train left at 7.15am. The friend I was meeting was making me breakfast on arrival at 10am. I didn't want to set the alarm so early to make myself a pre-breakfast breakfast. I didn't want to spoil my actual breakfast with some overpriced, underbaked muffin from Central Station. So I packed a granola bar, for a snack as good as the view.
Sure, I could have bought one, but making them (the day before) had the advantage of using up all the bits and pieces of dried fruit and nuts I had in my pantry. Plus, these taste way better than any that come out of a box. You might say, on reading the recipe, that that's because of the butter and sugar involved, to which I'd say - wouldn't you rather know what you were eating rather than puzzle over some indecipherable chemical on the side of a packet? You might say, don't those mystery ingredients make them last longer? But I'd say the homemade sort freeze beautifully and defrost quickly. Not that you should rush to that storage solution - if you're a regular snacker, these will last at least a week in an airtight container out of the fridge. Provided you don't eat them all at once, as you may well be tempted to do.
You can use whatever combination of fruit and nuts you like. In this batch I tumbled in almonds, pepitas, dried apricots, dates, shredded coconut and raisins. The chunkier ingredients I chopped roughly. Feel free to improvise any way you like. Swap fruit for dark chocolate or cacao nibs, nuts for chia or sesame seeds. Put in peanut/almond butter or leave it out. It's entirely up to you. And that's the best reason of all to give them a go.
Wednesday, 12 August 2015
One of my earliest cooking memories is helping my grandmother with morning tea. Technically, what I was delegated to do was not so much cooking as arranging pieces of cheese on Jatz crackers and topping them with gherkin or corn relish. This savoury selection was only part of a lavish feast my grandmother Irene laid out every Sunday for her immediate family. In addition to my grandfather Cec, there would be my (great) auntie Ursula and uncle Ed, and my grandmother's brother Kev and his wife Joan. Sometimes one or more of their children would pop in. With their children. And occasionally my parents, who would be picking my brother and I up from an overnight stay. There were many chairs around the table and the table itself was always groaning with food. My grandmother was renowned for her fruitcake and that was always at the centre of this spread, but on any given Sunday there could also be scones or pikelets, maybe something else sweet too but the Jatz and cheese were a mainstay. So I took my responsibility seriously.
When it came to entertaining, my grandmother knew her stuff. Cheese and crackers is a winning combination, but made just that bit more special with a little something extra. So when I made this beetroot relish last week and served it up to a friend with some cheddar and crackers, it reminded me of her. In truth, I'm not sure she would have entirely approved, what with beetroot's propensity to stain, but she couldn't argue with the taste: sweet and lightly spicy, perfect with the creamy sharpness of the cheese, and the salty crunch of the cracker.
Wednesday, 5 August 2015
Everyday cake is not so much cake to be eaten seven days a week, but one that can be made in a pinch with pantry staples. If you have unexpected visitors or a sweet itch that needs to be scratched. Or feel like making a cake, but not going to the shops. This is that cake.
Butter, honey, flour, milk, and eggs are things most of us have on hand at any time. Most fruit bowls will contain a lemon. Rhubarb, I'll concede, isn't a regular in anyone's shopping basket but any fruit will do, though the more tart types - like raspberries - will balance out the sweetness of the honey... as does a dollop of Greek yoghurt.
Wednesday, 29 July 2015
Wednesday, 22 July 2015
Ginger is a flavour I've only recently come to appreciate in baking. Perhaps because in childhood it was associated most strongly with gingerbread, which in turn was associated most strongly with Hansel and Gretel, who were punished for nibbling on a house made of it by being almost cooked alive by a witch.
This isn't a gingerbread though - it's lighter, and more light-hearted than that, containing as it does, a whacking big amount of golden syrup and a rich, buttery frosting. This is cake, make no mistake - sticky and squidgy, sweet and indulgent... There's something quite wonderful about the fusion of adult flavours (ginger, lemon, cloves, pistachios) with those of childhood (golden syrup, icing sugar, cinnamon). A bit like having your cake and eating it too. With no fear of witches.
Wednesday, 8 July 2015
It's a mashup of two very different cakes: an elegant, yeasted bottom layer - as refined and establishment as a twinset and pearls - and an over the top, brassy, bottle blonde bombshell up above. Unlikely friends but they complement each other beautifully, coming together in a single cake that is, as advertised, gooey and buttery... oozy and sweet and utterly moreish. The edges are particularly good - chewy and crisp. Grab a corner if you can.
Wednesday, 1 July 2015
Is it possible for a cookie to be seasonal? After making speculaas last weekend I'd be inclined to argue yes. When it's cold outside, you can't do much better than brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. There's something warming about all of those things, especially when baked into a sweet with an unpronouceable name (your best chance at getting it right is by trying to say it while eating one) and served with your hot beverage of choice.
The darkness comes from the brown sugar and spices (as much mixed spice as cinnamon) and is bolstered by rye flour and almond meal. This is a cookie for blissful hibernation. A winter warmer, designed for dunking.
Wednesday, 24 June 2015
About this time last year I went to a pickling workshop. It was very Portlandia to be sure - a bunch of white middle class women in hand-sewn aprons gathered around vats of vinegar in a sunny courtyard at the back of a Scandinavian homewares store one Sunday afternoon. Almost definitely, there was a bird on something or someone. But I was more than happy to succumb to a stereotype in order to learn a skill that stands me in good stead for life. That allows me to make the most of seasonal produce and enjoy it any time I like. In addition to pickled fennel and rhubarb we also made preserved limes.
I'd made preserved lemons before but it never occurred to me do the same with limes. You can use them in cooking in much the same way (as an acidic note in Middle-eastern tagines or stews, grain salads, in pasta or fish dishes, with roast lamb or chicken...) but where these come into their own is in Mexican food, where lime goes with everything from beer to avocado. Which brings me to my favourite way to use them - in guacamole. A little preserved lime, chopped-up roughly, gives an incredible fresh zing and an added bit of texture to a dip that can often be a bit bland. Guacamole's a perennial favourite but really, it's synonymous with summer - beer and sun, beaches and bare feet - when limes aren't as plentiful or cheap as they are now... which makes preserving them the way to go. And if you made them last winter, like me, you can conjure up summer any time you like, no matter what season you're in.
Wednesday, 17 June 2015
I've been away. From this blog, from my apartment. While I was gone, some interstate friends came to stay at my place. Sadly, our paths didn't cross, but I had just enough time before leaving for the airport to make them a cake so I felt like there was a little bit of me there to greet them.
Though I was headed for summer later that day, it was winter in Sydney and that means citrus. The seasonality of that food family is consistently strange to me as its bright burst of flavour seems more suited to warmer months (when you feel like quenching your thirst with orange juice, tucking into grapefuit for breakfast or squeezing lime into gin and tonics) than the colder ones but maybe in these darker parts of the year we need it more. I'm sure nature had some sort of plan.
This cake is made with grapefruit, an underused citrus, in my opinion. It's fresh and zingy and pretty orange-pink (if you use the ruby sort, which I'm powerless to resist). The flavour comes from both its zest, and juice - which is intensified by boiling it down to half its quantity. No need to dirty a food processor or a stand mixer. Two bowls will suffice - one for the wet ingredients, one for the dry. The two come together, chopped chocolate is added and it bakes in the oven for just under an hour, enough time to pack a suitcase or have a cup of tea and read the paper (having packed well in advance), depending on what type of traveller you are. But whatever type that is, odds are you'll think about that cake all the time you're away and make it again upon your return... and eat two slices for morning tea with the heater on watching the rain, half in summer, half in winter, which through the haze of jetlag seems somehow very right.
Wednesday, 27 May 2015
Sometime last last year, just in time for summer, I inherited my friends' ice-cream maker. They were moving, their new kitchen didn't have as much storage space as the old one so they were shedding appliances and I was the lucky beneficiary. All through December, January, February, March and April, that ice-cream maker sat on my shelf gathering dust. How to explain this? Maybe that I recognised having ice-cream on tap all the time might not be such a good thing. Maybe it was that I needed to freeze the inner drum of the machine thoroughly first and my freezer was always jam-packed. Maybe it was because the box was out of my line of sight and I forgot about it. I'm not sure. All I know is that finally, last weekend, as the first day of winter approached, I made ice-cream while wearing a jumper with the heater on. I won't be waiting that long again.
Salted caramel is having a moment to be sure. With good reason. It's sweet, it's salty, it's sublime. This recipe, from master ice-cream maker David Leibowitz (author of The Perfect Scoop), was inspired by the caramel ice-cream of famed Parisan parlour Berthillion. The secret is in the making of the caramel - you push it to the edge of burnt, which, in combination with the salt, saves it from being too sweet, producing instead a perfectly balanced, utterly decadent yet simple dessert. All you need is a spoon.
Thursday, 14 May 2015
Wednesday, 6 May 2015
Here are two undisputed facts about my mother:
1. She makes amazing chutney.
2. She is utterly unsentimental.
Whenever I go home to visit she is always offering to teach me how to make her signature chutneys (green papaya, mango) as "one day she will die and there won't be any more". Unlike my mother, I am sentimental and in deep and comfortable denial about anything ever happening to her, so I refuse to learn. Instead, I've taught myself to make my own. It's different enough to mum's to perpetuate the myth that she will always be around to make the others for me, and so good it passes muster with the great chutney-maker herself. So this year, I made her some. For Mother's Day. Even though she doesn't believe in it.
My friend Elizabeth put me on to this recipe, originally from Niloufer Ichaporia King's book My Bombay Kitchen. As the name suggests, it's made primarily with tomatoes (easy to chop in large quantities), has a relatively short list of other supermarket-available ingredients, and really requires nothing more than throwing everything into one pot and letting it bubble away for a couple of hours. It's brilliant on a sandwich or served alongside a curry, particularly a hot one as the sweetness of the tomatoes balances it beautifully. It's so good slathered on cornbread, delicious dolloped on a cracker with cheese, and jarred up, makes a lovely present... for mothers who are mortal, and their daughters in denial.
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
My friend Tammy makes the best tiramisu. So when she became a vegan, a few years ago, I took it hard. As much as I admired her principles, I selfishly lamented the loss of my favourite dairy-laden dessert. I could have made it myself, it's true, but it just wouldn't have been the same. Luckily for me, her stance softened (she's still a very committed vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy as responsibly as possible) and tiramisu is back in my life.
Tiramisu was big in the 80s. So much so it seems like the dessert equivalent of shoulder pads and big hair. Tammy would say it's timeless though, and she's right. There's so much to love about a dinner party dish that tastes incredible, requires only a few ingredients and can be made (and in fact must be made) ahead of time. Simple flavours that in combination pack a punch: coffee, chocolate, creamy mascarpone and booze.
The booze is optional really - the original recipe, which can be traced back to the Veneto region of Italy in the 1960s, doesn't include it. I don't normally like alcohol-flavoured things but somehow it works for me here. Maybe because it doesn't overwhelm but melds beautifully with the other ingredients. In translation, tiramisu means "pick me up", which makes it ideal for the end of a long night... or the beginning of a new day.
Be warned: this is not a quick fix sweet treat: tiramisu needs to be refrigerated for several hours or overnight so that the sponge fingers soften and the flavours have time to develop. Trust me, your patience will be rewarded. It's like eating a cloud. A sweet, caffeinated, slightly drunken cloud.