Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Blueberry, almond and lemon cake

Blueberries were bountiful. Saturday I was going to the Blue Mountains. I snaffled Simple from the library. All signs pointed to me making this cake. Miraculously, my apartment managed to stay cool enough for me to bake on the rogue 35 degree day last Friday. It was fractionally cooler on the weekend, and cooler still up in the mountains. Cake felt like a good reward for surviving the heat, and the trip out of town in which we crossed the Harbour Bridge twice by heeding Google and not instinct.

This is a full-size version of the little lemon, almond and blueberry teacakes from Sweet and it's every bit as good - lemony, nutty and bursting with berries. It's hard to compete with nature - especially when the bush is in bloom with waratahs - but this was definitely a highlight of the day.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Fridge cake

Yotam Ottolenghi has a new book! I don't own it (yet) but my friend Joanna does and I recently spent a pleasurable couple of hours at her place pawing through its pages. As you might imagine, there is so much great stuff in there - Joanna made me the Chicken Marbella, which was amazing - and it's all geared towards simplicity. This cake eschews ovens entirely and constructs a spectacular sweet from the bits and bobs we have in our store cupboards: a partial packet of plain biscuits leftover from making a cheesecake base ages ago, and assorted dried fruit and nuts (whatever you have lying around) are mixed together with some melted chocolate, butter and golden syrup, spread in a tray, stuck in the fridge and that's it. The hardest part is having to wait the couple of hours til it's set to tuck in.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Rhubarb and almond galette

I never had rhubarb when I was growing up. My father recently remarked to me, when I served him some, that his distinct memory of eating it was feeling like his teeth had been stripped, which could have accounted for my mother striking it from the family repertoire. My guess is that he had been served it without sugar, which mellows out its squeaky sourness and transforms it into a sticky, syrupy, radiantly rosy delight. It's not often you get such strident red in fruit, at least not one that retains its shape in baking: strawberries and raspberries dissolve into a gloopy (but delicious) mess and tomatoes - though a fruit - don't hold much dessert appeal. This recipe - from Alison Roman's Instagram phenomenon of a cookbook - Dining In, showcases the very best of this fruit, which is, incidentally, a vegetable. Galettes are great - basically a pie that requires no top crust, crimping or special tin to bake in. What's more, their appearance is actually enhanced by imperfection - the pastry simply rolled out then pulled up and over the rhubarb, which rightfully claims centre stage.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Pear tart

By and large I cannot be bothered with pastry. It's all to do with the rolling out really. The flour that goes everywhere. The dough that does not spread in a perfect circle, or any sort of circle at all. So I was excited to come across this recipe for a tart in which the pastry is just pressed with your fingers into the tin, baked for a bit, then packed with pear slices and a filling of butter, sugar and eggs that transforms in the oven into a silky, sweet custard. In many ways it's like the winter equivalent of Nora Ephron's peach pie - easy to make, even easier to eat. I took a couple of slices on a walk last weekend with my cousin, where they were enjoyed with a view of the harbour... as well as by the kookaburra who swooped and snaffled the last bite.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Blood orange and walnut cakes

I was unbelievably excited to come across a bounty of blood oranges in the imperfect pick section (there is a special place in my heart for wonky produce) of my fruit and veg store last week. But the thrill of the find fast faded when I remembered that previous excursions into baking with blood oranges had ended in disappointment as their stunning colour is never replicated in the end product. At best you end up with something that just looks like you'd used regular oranges, at worst, baked goods the unappetising shade of a Band-Aid. So I scoured the internet searching for a recipe that promised to preserve that glorious kaleidoscope of red, pink and orange. 

I'd had some success before, with this upside-down cake. Clearly the key is keeping slices intact, so as to showcase the spectacular colour of the fruit in all its glory. This recipe for blood orange and walnut cakes, from Anneka Manning, uses a similar technique but goes a simple step further by first poaching the orange slices in a sugar syrup, which seems to even intensify the colour. The bright slices fit neatly into the bottoms of a muffin tin, the batter - ground walnuts, olive oil, sugar and the zest and flesh of a blood orange bound with a bit of flour - is dolloped on top and twenty minutes later, you have a dairy-free dessert (that can be augmented with ice-cream), an easily transportable treat and something to marvel at: sublime imperfection.

Blood orange and walnut cakes
Adapted from a recipe by Anneka Manning, via SBS Food 

Once the oranges are out of the sugar syrup, you could return the saucepan to the heat and boil the syrup five minutes longer til it's thickened then brush this on the cakes once they come out of the oven. I would have done this but I took my eye off the ball and burned my syrup so decided to do without - to no ill effect so if you can't be bothered, know that these are brilliant just as below.

75 g walnuts, toasted
1 blood orange
220 g (1 cup) sugar
100 ml olive oil, plus extra to grease
2 eggs, at room temperature
150 g (1 cup) self-raising flour (or 1 cup plain flour and 2 tsp baking powder)
cream or ice-cream, to serve, optional

Blood orange topping
220 g (1 cup) sugar
185 ml (¾ cup) water
2 small thin-skinned blood oranges (about 160 g each), thinly sliced (you need at least 12 slices)

Preheat oven to 190°C (170°C fan-forced). Grease a 12-hole 80ml (⅓ cup) muffin tin with extra olive oil.

To make the blood orange topping, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the orange slices and bring to a simmer. Simmer over medium-low heat, without stirring, for 10-15 minutes or until the rind become translucent but the flesh is still intact. Carefully remove the orange slices and place a slice in the bottom of each of the greased muffin holes to line the base.

To make the cake, blitz the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor until finely ground. Zest the blood orange, then use a small sharp knife to remove the white pith. Roughly chop the flesh and discard any seeds. Place the orange rind and flesh, sugar, olive oil and eggs in the food processor with the ground walnuts and process until well combined. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the flour.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin pans over the orange slices. Bake in for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Moroccan-spiced tea loaf

Once a year, in December, I make fruitcake. It's my grandmother's recipe. In my family, it was first made by her, then by my mother, now by me, and mainly for my dad, who's been eating it at Christmas for pretty well all of his life. It requires a truck load of dried fruit, soaking it liberally in booze, and a sleep after eating a slice. Sometimes, in seasons other than summer, I have a craving for fruitcake but just thinking about what making it entails - a trip to the supermarket, an overnight soaking of fruit, an enormous cake that takes weeks to get through - is enough to quell that desire... or at least it was until I came across this recipe in the newspaper last weekend.

Miraculously, this is a fruitcake in loaf form that can be whipped up semi-spontaneously (granted you still need to a trip to the supermarket and to soak the dried fruit but ingeniously, in hot tea rather than alcohol), contains only one egg, and no dairy at all. I was dubious, at first thinking there must have been a typo in the recipe, but no. It works wonderfully. The resultant loaf is rich and fruity, warm with spice, and scrumptious sliced thickly and slathered in butter. My grandmother would certainly approve, even if she might swap the unfamiliar Moroccan spice for something more standard like cinnamon, and write it up in her recipe book as Fast Fruitcake.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Welsh cakes

Once upon a time, I went to Wales. Well, it was May to be precise but the faraway is for its fairytale feel. My memories are of lush green, soft sun and sea mist. There were single lane roads (taken up with travelling tractors), and leeks on toast and Sunday roasts and... Welsh cakes. They were everywhere in Cardiff and the countryside - in specialty shops, in supermarkets, pubs and road side stalls. Eaten equally by builders, children and toffs in tearooms, there's something charmingly democratic about the Welsh cake.

Like a cross between a scone and a pikelet, Welsh cakes are a friendly tea-time treat. The traditional type are studded with sultanas, but you can use whatever you like - chocolate chips, orange zest, or any sort of dried fruit... Easy to whip up at short notice, these will keep in a tin to sustain you through a week of school lunches, a month of middle of the night football matches, or indeed, just morning tea.