Thursday, 20 July 2017

St. Clement's cake



One of the nice things about doing this blog has been more awareness of the seasons, tailoring my baking to make use of what's available right now where I am rather than over the other side of the world (and at big mark-ups in grocery stores here). Winter is not as showy as summer, with its bounty of mangoes and stone fruit, but there's a lot you can do in these colder months with a surfeit of citrus. This cake uses both oranges and lemons, and is satisfyingly substantial (all that almond meal) and suitably celebratory (sherbety lemon icing)... which was appropriate as it was a birthday cake for my oldest friend in all the world, who, last weekend in Canberra, made me lasagne and my mum's apple crumble. Both of which are even better in winter, as is this cake, which conjures up warmth in its colour. And comforts when it's cold outside.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

Semolina, coconut and marmalade cake



There are certain cooks whose recipes you trust unreservedly. Yotam Ottolenghi is one. Though he's famous for elevating the vegetable to the main course at dinner parties, it's the sweet chapters in his books I'm most drawn to. Perhaps because they have fewer ingredients than the others, or maybe because of my memories of visiting his delis in London, where you're greeted with Alice in Wonderland-style displays of dessert: little lime polenta cakes, massive meringues, spice-infused cookies... It's a cacophony of colour and flavours and as such the antithesis of the traditional English afternoon tea. No wonder his new cookbook focuses solely on sweet. Til it's released in September, I'll make do with the slim non-savoury sections in his other books. From Jerusalem comes this cake - ideal for making ahead (always a bonus) as it keeps well, and tastes even better the next day. It's a good one to have in your repertoire if you're catering for anyone with an intolerance for dairy - just leave off the Greek yoghurt when serving. And in loaf form it makes for the best sort of carry-on cake - whether you're boarding a flight or transporting it to the park for a picnic.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Chocolate caramel crack(ers)



Salty/sweet is a particularly satisfying combination. This toffee, which takes no time at all to make, hits that brief squarely. Consisting of a single layer of savoury crackers smothered in caramel, topped with dark chocolate and sprinkled with nuts (or not), it's made in one spectacular slab and then broken up into bite-size pieces. As the name suggests, it's insanely moreish and makes for great gifts - if only to save you from eating it all yourself.





Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Danish dream cake



In May I spent three weeks in Copenhagen. It was surprisingly sunny, even warm (I say this as I had a suitcase full of woolen clothing and a raincoat). Unsurprisingly, my Danish did not improve despite daily one-on-one lessons from a bilingual four year old (though I did learn rather more than I wanted to about Frozen). I did decode some language mysteries - for instance, that the V is always dropped in words like havn, or Torvehallerne (my favourite food haunt, so therefore something I said a lot). I spent time with so many impressive English speakers, canoed on the harbour (havn!), and ate my fill of cinnamon buns and smørrebrød and sausages. Back in Sydney, in grey midwinter, it all feels a bit like a dream, which makes this cake all the more appropriate. With its cornerstone ingredients of sponge and coconut, drømmekage, or "dream cake" in Danish, is - to Australians anyway - a bit like a caramel lamington. Here, the coconut is tangled in brown sugar and butter (rather than chocolate) and crowns the cake rather than coating it. This makes it infinitely easier to whip up spontaneously for afternoon tea or school lunch boxes - a tray bake, essentially. I can't think where the coconut came from - it's certainly not a traditional Scandinavian ingredient. I can only imagine this cake - a staple of supermarkets - was conceived as a way to conjure up a tropical island in the darker winter months. So serve with cream and coffee and dream of summer. Or in my case, Scandinavia.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Pink Lady Cake



With a name this enticing, I'm amazed it took me so long to make this cake. It was possibly because the original recipe involved strawberry jelly crystals and boxed white cake mix. Leave it to Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen to find a way to transform a cake beloved of little girls all over America into a more wholesome (in relative terms - the cake still contains a LOT of sugar) celebration of strawberries. I've just come from the northern hemisphere, where strawberries were sprouting in farmers' market for summer, and having returned to Sydney, spied the most juicy Queensland winter ones at my local fruit and veg. So within the space of weeks, I'd made this cake in each season, first for a four year old, then for a friend turning forty. It works for both ages. As much for the cream cheese icing as the pop of pink within. Speaking of pink - while the mixture just flavoured with fruit will be bright as can be, when baked - without an extra drop or two of food colouring - will be disappointingly beige. I found out the hard way, on the four year old's cake. For the fortieth (pictured here), I perhaps upped the colour too much, but who cares? The scent of strawberries comes through strongly, and, with a little help, you can see them too.



Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Pistachio cake



Though I often wish it were otherwise, I am not a terribly spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. I arrive at airports with so much time to spare, I don't miss deadlines, I am always early to everything... which is why I love a cake you cake make a bit in advance. The sort that is actually improved with a day or two to sit and let its flavours settle. This is one of those. Pistachios are pricey to be sure but believe me, this is worth the splurge and anyway, if you buy in bulk, it's not so bad. A friend of mine who doesn't drink points out that people think nothing of spending money on a nice bottle of wine, so why not good grocery items... particularly when they're the star of the show, and such a pretty colour. I can't say enough good things about this cake. Its texture is quite unlike any I've encountered before - a dense crumb but not dry in the slightest - the oils in the nuts take care of that. The flavour all comes from the pistachios, with the sticky lemon syrup drizzled over the top a satisfyingly sweet/sharp accent to it all. It's excellent with black coffee with which I had it for breakfast this morning - an uncharacteristically spontaneous act inspired by something I prepared earlier.


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Orange polenta cake




Winter is coming. And with it, citrus. On a sunny Saturday over Easter, I made this orange polenta cake and shared it the following day with family friends in Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden, a special Sydney spot over by Lavender Bay. It was perfect for picnicking - sturdy and transportable - extra lovely to eat outside, especially in such surrounds as it's laced with the delicate perfume of orange blossom.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Almond cake



When I moved to Sydney and, ultimately, out of home, my farewell present from my friends was a food processor. The same one is still going strong today, pulverising and puréeing like the day I got it, about eighteen years ago now. I used it last week to make an almond cake for a friend who's dairy-free. A little like a Middle-Eastern orange cake in that its keystone ingredients are whole, boiled citrus (in this case, lemon as well as orange) and almonds - both of which necessitate sharp blades to blitz and blend - it also incorporates olive oil and a small amount of flour, for leavening. Something a bit different for a kitchen work horse that I'm grateful remains exactly the same. 


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Orange blossom, yoghurt and cardamom cake


 

If you like to bake, birthday cake is the best. There is nothing nicer than making one for someone you love, unless that person is under ten and the cake in question has to resemble a Disney character or something similarly complex requiring graph paper, a work plan and multiple tins. I'm in awe of my friends with kids who routinely turn out these marvels. This cake was not for a kid but for a very good friend with a big double digit birthday, but there's no need for birthday cake to be grown up. All that matters is that it's sturdy (to hold up all those candles), sweet, and good enough to go back for seconds...

 

This one succeeds on all scores. As I gave as a birthday present, Hetty McKinnon's first cookbook Community, it was fitting that this recipe comes from her second, Neighbourhood. It's full of all sorts of good things (pistachios! orange blossom water! cardamom! yoghurt! cream cheese!) and presents the prettiest palette of pale orange, pink and green. I'm predisposed to orange as a cake flavour for birthdays - it's not just sweet but somehow joyful in its brightness, both in flavour and hue. 

 

Though fittingly celebratory, this is actually quite a modest cake, requiring only two eggs, a small (but sufficient) amount of icing and seriously, no technique at all - the butter is melted, so it's just a matter of combining the wet ingredients with the dry and bundling the resultant batter in the oven. Minus the candles, it's an effortless everyday cake, good for lunchboxes and picnics, easily cut and carried. Equally suited to forks or fingers.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Norwegian crispbread



It's been way too hot. On days where the only way to survive is to seek out a cinema or shopping centre and its air-conditioning, on nights where the temperature doesn't drop below 30 degrees (86F), I can't even contemplate turning on the stove. In such times, these crispbreads have been my salvation. Topped with whatever you like - blue cheese and pear paste, goats' cheese and salmon, butter and Vegemite - they offer up something substantial and stunning for times when you don't even have the energy to eat. And they conjure up cold with their Scandi sensibility when you're in the middle of a stinking Sydney summer.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Carrot and cardamom cake



Curiously, I've become a convert to carrot cake. Not so curious perhaps, when I report that this recipe comes from a café I consider possibly the most perfect in all the world - that of the Rosendals Trägåd, a beautiful biodynamic orchard on an island in Stockholm. If you find yourself in that city, you really must go, though June rather than January would be advised. In Swedish summer, it recalls a scene from a Carl Larsson painting - nut-brown blondes of all ages grazing on cardamom-scented cakes in the dappled light of apple and pear trees. 


Made moist with oil and carrots, infused with Scandi staples cinnamon and cardamom, and lashed with creamy lemon icing, this is cake to convert anyone who believes (as was my firm opinion for most of my life) that vegetables have no place at all in baked goods. I have relaxed this stance once before, for the beloved Bourke St Bakery, whose carrot cake I've blogged already on this site. That recipe - though sublime - is somewhat fiddly. This one has the advantage of being made in one bowl, and once cooked, needs only to be cooled and icing slathered on top. Australian summers are a little harsher than Nordic ones, so keep it indoors unless you choose a mild day for a picnic. The icing is the issue and believe me, you don't want to skip that. One solution could be to keep it separately in an esky and pile it on just before serving. If it oozes a little, all the better.



Monday, 9 January 2017

Spiced pear paste



December was destined to be a downer due to a deadline. So to counter the crankiness of working while everyone else was on holidays, I made a pact with myself that I would see or swim in the sea every day of that month. I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of three stunning Sydney beaches, and multiple ocean pools. Last year I didn't go once to any of them all summer. My mum had just died and I found it hard to be around beauty like that at a time when things felt so dark. A year on, it felt like the policy needed to change. I'm not sure I felt any more festive but it definitely felt good to be floating, if only for five minutes a day.


I'm grateful for being able to do it at all. And for good friends, one of whom has his birthday on the 25th of December. Being folded into that celebration allowed me to formally give Christmas the flick this year. Instead we ate birthday cake, drank wine and grazed on cheese... and this was what I made to go with it. 


Mum used to make guava paste, which I loved, but I didn't have guavas, so with a bit of inspiration from Maggie Beer's peerless products, whipped up a spiced pear paste, which was wonderful. Here's to horizons.