Wednesday, 12 October 2016
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
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.
Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Some things are worth making just for the name alone. Or in this case if you're travelling north to work with a colleague who's gluten-free and you need something sweet to power both of you through two days of script meetings. I was tossing up between lime polenta cake (made in a bar tin) or little lemon polenta cakes (small, stackable) when I remembered forgotten cookies. This recipe, from Chicago chef Sarah Gruneberg infuses beaten egg whites with sugar, cardamom and vanilla and winds through sour cherries, dark chocolate and toasted pecans. The dough - such as it is without flour or even, miraculously, dairy - is dolloped into spoonfuls onto a baking tray, sprinkled with sea salt, baked for five minutes and left in the oven overnight. In the morning, you're rewarded with little boulders of meringue. Crisp on the outside, with a chewy, marshmallow-like interior containing crunch, combining sweet and sour... once tried, never forgotten.
Wednesday, 24 August 2016
The only research I did before arriving in Stockholm last month was not on its architecture, or archipelago, its museums or shopping districts. Or even Abba. It was about breakfast, and specifically: cardamom buns. I'd booked an air b n b based on its proximity to a bakery that made some of the best in town, I was reliably informed. However what my narrow band of research did not reveal is that most of Sweden is away during July. Many businesses too, close for the month, including my well-researched bakery. But fortunately Stockholm is liberally sprinkled with bakeries - not that you even need one. Even the convenience stores sell cardamom buns (and, by the looks of them, good ones!), such is their place in the culture. In walking distance of the apartment I stayed in were several excellent sources and I made the most of it. Luckily now I'm back home, it's not too hard to make my own, like most Swedes do (possibly only tourists like me buy them commercially).
Cardamom is a popular flavour in Scandinavian baking, and it's so beautiful here - speckled through these lightly sweet pastries. The crushed black seeds in the dough contrast with the pretty pearl sugar sprinkled on top. Unlike American-style cinnamon buns, these are modestly-sized, and not too heavy on the sugar. The spice is the dominant flavour and goes beautifully with coffee, for breakfast, for fika, for memories of Scandinavian summer.
Wednesday, 17 August 2016
There's something extra alluring about fruit with short seasons. I've been waiting for blood oranges since summer, when this recipe did the rounds of several of the American food blogs I read. It was winter on their side of the world at the time, so I had a long six months before I got my turn. I've tried baking many things with blood oranges before, but have always been disappointed. Despite my best efforts, the brilliant colour that so dazzles when you slice into them always amounted to plain old orange. Til now. Whole slices of beautiful blood orange sit atop a cake infused with both zest and juice, allowing you to experience the fruit in all its glory. In texture, it puts to mind a sort of citrus cheesecake, all the easier to make as you don't have to mess around with a crust. And with ricotta, cornmeal, and almond meal it's entirely gluten-free, should that be your thing. Of course you could make this with regular oranges too, should you wish. Six months is a long time to wait. But it was worth it.
Monday, 8 August 2016
Perhaps the most perfect place in all the world exists in Stockholm. On an island you can walk to from the city, in what was once the Swedish royal family's game park, is a biodynamic garden called Rosendals Trägåd. Amid the neat rows of plantings and greenhouses, and the nut-brown ladies with wispy white hair working in them, there's a café selling food made from what they grow, which you can take on a tray to picnic tables scattered about an orchard of ages-old pear and apple trees and lounge about in the dappled light, eating or reading or chatting.
I spent a week in Stockholm and went there three times. Three visits, three cakes. The first was a Swiss roll, sweet and sticky with jam. The second a fat slice of cardamom cake, speckled with spice. The third was a technically not a cake, but a cinnamon bun, so much better than any I've ever had at IKEA.
What I like so much about Scandinavian baking is its simplicity. There's nothing tricked up or fussy about it. Its modesty is magnificent - just like Rosendals Trägåd and so many other places in Stockholm. When I got home I craved it and the calm of cooking after so long away from a kitchen. So I made a cake - Swedish, naturally.
From Anna Brones and Joanna Kindvall's very lovely cookbook Fika (the Swedish word for the ritual of pausing expressly for coffee and something sweet) I baked the hazelnut coffee cake. This is not so much a coffee cake in the American sense, but one that contains coffee, a flavour that melds beautifully with the ground hazelnuts and butter to produce a simple but stunning cake that suitably sums up Scandinavia.
Thursday, 21 July 2016
I'm sorry this post is so late. I can explain. You see, my cousin got married in London a week or so ago and I took advantage of being over the other side of the world to take a break and recover from the first half of the year, which has been - all cake, pies and tarts aside - pretty brutal. So I've been in my spiritual home, Scandinavia, eating my weight in cardamom buns and trying to sleep in for the first time in ages only to be in a particular place at a particular time of the year where the sun rises at 3.49am (after setting not that many hours earlier). But before that I was in Hobart. Hobart where stone fruit weighs down the limbs of backyard trees, where berries grow by the side of the road, free for the taking... but not so much in winter. Which is where jam comes in - jam made in the warmer months so even with coats and heaters on, it feels like summer. At least in terms of dessert.
I made these bakewell tarts back in early July with the assistance of my favourite Tasmanian red-haired baker, whose mum (an amazing cook in her own right) was responsible for the incredible jam that oozed out of these like a lovely sweet surprise... which sadly I don't have any photographic evidence of. On the southernmost tip of the southern hemisphere we were fighting fast diminishing late afternoon light when these came out of the oven. So you'll just have to trust me that they're good. Very good. Fruity, with smooth frangiapane, the crunch of flaked almonds, and a crisp, crumbly, shortcrust pastry. Save yourself the airfare and the jetlag, making these conjures summer in the depths of winter. And afterwards you can sleep in.