Tuesday, 21 November 2017
I had a traumatic week last week. Not world-endingly traumatic, just the kind that could be cured by cake. So I made one. During a heatwave in southern California a few months ago, I came across this recipe while flipping through my friend's cookbooks, laying low, sapped of energy by the sun. Molasses is such a fantastic sounding word and conjured up how we all felt at the time, sticky and slow. It wasn't the weather for it then, but now in November, during these days of crisp, cool, sunny Sydney weather, the time was right. The fresh ginger sings in this not-too-sweet, incredibly soft, dramatically dark cake, which goes perfectly with a cup of tea. The original recipe is for a layer cake, vanilla cream slathered between the layers and atop, but I just halved the quantities, made a single layer, dusted it with icing sugar and called it done. Delicious.
Wednesday, 8 November 2017
I bought a bundt tin. Actually, it was my sole souvenir from my recent trip to the US. I found it at the Nifty Thrifty on Orcas Island, so I like to think I purchased a little bit of baking history along with my hardware. It's fun imagining who it might have once belonged to, and the cakes it made before it got stuffed with socks, packed in a suitcase and spirited to Sydney, where this weekend it was put to work producing something most spectacular.
In this cake - another from the new Ottolenghi baking bible Sweet - prunes are soaked in brandy overnight and wound through a batter bolstered with walnuts and orange zest. The prunes, plumped with booze, are silky soft, the crumble through the middle a nice contrasting crunch. And the orange goes suprisingly well with coffee.
It's a winner all round. As endorsed by the king parrots of the Illawarra.
Tuesday, 31 October 2017
The weekend before last I flew down to Melbourne, which called for carry-on cake. I alighted on a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's new cookbook Sweet (stupendous - buy it in bulk and distribute to anyone on your Christmas list who loves baking), adapted it accordingly for airline travel (basically, just halving the quantities of ingredients so it could be made in a loaf tin) and before long I was slicing it in my friend George's South Melbourne kitchen.
As students, George and I toiled together in a suburban Brisbane café serving Saturday shoppers coffee and cake, which probably explains why all these years later we particularly delight in staying in on the weekend with a pot of tea and a whole cake all to ourselves.
This is Ottolenghi and his co-author (Australian!) Helen Goh's riff on Rose Levy Beranbaum's revered recipe for "Perfect Pound cake". Light, moist and fragrant with coffee, cardamom and cocoa, it's just as good the next day, and the day after that. If indeed it lasts that long.
Wednesday, 11 October 2017
This week I made two chocolate cakes. Both were oil (rather than butter) based. One was a triumph and the other... the less said about it the better. The big difference in the recipes was in the choice of chocolate. The flop used melted dark chocolate, the success story cocoa.
This cake - from former Chez Panisse chef Samin Nosrat's Salt Fat Acid Heat - is deliciously dark and amazingly, dairy-free (should you choose to serve without the cream). It's brilliant for birthdays and celebrations, and easy enough for weekday cooking. Because of the oil, it keeps beautifully so can always be made ahead of time. Not that it's at all labour intensive. Including cooking time, it takes about forty minutes. So simple. Spectacular. Sold.
Wednesday, 4 October 2017
Wednesday, 27 September 2017
I didn't make it to the east coast on this latest trip to the US, but I transported myself there in a California kitchen by making Christina Tosi's famous compost cookies. Tosi is chef and owner of Milk Bar, Momofuku's bakery offshoot in New York City (and now scattered all over the country... and Canada). Her creations include crack pie - which is as advertised - and these similarly addictive cookies.
Potato chips, butterscotch, pretzels, graham crackers, oats, ground coffee... more is more here - sweet, salty, chewy, crunchy... These have it all. The name is deceptive, implying something just thrown together without much thought but there's a science to these, a precision that speaks to the process Tosi goes through to create. She's an alchemist, engineering quite possibly the perfect cookie. They don't look like much but believe me, they're memorable, and appeal to adults and kids alike. They're especially fun to make with kids as they get to crush up potato chips and pretzels, and sample all the sweet stuff along the way - shout out to Linus, my able apprentice, and his mum for the beautiful photos.
Thursday, 21 September 2017
Coffee cake is quintessentially American. It does not contain coffee, but is made to compliment it. Specifically, the black drip coffee that's the life blood of every kitchen and diner across the country. It's a simple cake, a tray bake really - a buttery sponge, tangy with sour cream, topped with sugary, crunchy streusel strewn with nuts.
Its simplicity is perfection. And oh, is it moreish. As addictive as watching the sun set over the ocean. So good.
Sour cream coffee cake
Adapted from a recipe in The New York Times
This keeps well, due to the sour cream, which stops the cake from drying out.
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking (bicarb) soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
⅓ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
In a separate bowl, sift flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with sour cream and vanilla until just combined. Do not overmix. Pour batter into prepared baking pan.
Make the topping: Combine sugar, cinnamon, flour and nuts in a small bowl and mix well.
Sprinkle the topping evenly over the cake and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in centre of cake comes out clean. Cool, cut into pieces and serve.
Thursday, 24 August 2017
Nutty sesame swirled through gooey chocolate studded with walnuts and little melt in your mouth morsels of halva. There's not much more to say really other than MAKE THEM.
Wednesday, 16 August 2017
In May, I spent three days in Helsinki. Though it was spring in the northern hemisphere, when I arrived it was snowing. No sooner had I made my way to the shelter of my snug airbnb - shielding myself with an ineffective umbrella - did it stop. The sun came out and was still out til close to midnight. The weather continued in this vein - blizzard one minute, blindingly bright the next. The only constant were the cinnamon rolls, which I found everywhere - from the 7-11 on the corner to the beautiful bakery opposite the second-hand store agonisingly overstocked with antique enamel I was unable to fit in my suitcase, from the food hall by the flea market, to the café at the nearby Design Museum, and the canteen at the Marimekko outlet on the outskirts of town, where the shop assistant ringing up my purchase cheerfully advised me that for Finland in May you need both ski gear and a bikini. Maybe that's why saunas are so popular. I went to one, on the edge of the Baltic sea (thanks Ian for the impetus!), and sat in my swimsuit outside, insulated with sweat from the steam, and watched people walking by in their winter wear. Then I went next door to their restaurant and had a coffee and a cinnamon roll.
There's a reason these things are so popular. They're warm and soft, fragrant with spice, and lightly sweet, with crunchy pearl sugar on top. Not too big, not too small - they go beautifully with coffee and function in the culture as a reason to pause... always a good thing, wherever you are.
Finnish cinnamon rolls (Korvapuusti)
Adapted from a recipe by My Blue and White Kitchen
The following recipe makes around 30 (!) rolls. I halved the quantities and ended up with a more manageable 15 - some to eat fresh and some to stash in the freezer. Wrapped in foil, you can throw them direct from there into a preheated moderate (180 deg C) oven and have your morning pause ready in 15 minutes.
2 cups + 2 tbsp lukewarm milk (preferably whole milk)
1 tbsp + 2 tsp instant active dry yeast
1 ½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp + 1 tsp ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
about 1kg flour
170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
for the filling
150g soft butter
6 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp + 2 tsp cinnamon
pearl sugar, to sprinkle
Combine yeast with a tablespoon or two of the lukewarm milk and let bloom (basically just let sit in a warm place for about five minutes until froth/bubbles form on top).
In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, combine the yeast mixture with the flour and add in the rest of the milk. Mix in sugar, salt, cardamom, and egg. Add butter and knead until well combined. Continue to knead the dough, til it comes clean off the sides of the bowl and doesn't stick to your hand. This won't take too long - don't overwork the dough or you'll end up with hard rolls, not soft. Shape into a ball and cover with a clean tea towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour, or until double in size.
Meanwhile, mix together the butter, sugar, and cinnamon for the filling. Set aside.
Line four baking sheets with baking paper.
Punch down the dough and divide into two equal sized portions. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour. Roll out the first piece of dough into a large, about 60 x 40cm / 23 x 16 inch rectangle. Spread half of the filling evenly on top. Beginning with the long side, roll the dough into a tight tube shape, seam side down. Cut into 15 cylinders (alternating the angle of the knife so you end up with vaguely triangular shapes) and press each point tightly into the centre with your finger. If that sounds confusing, click here for how-to photos from the original recipe.
Place the shaped cinnamon rolls on the baking sheets, spacing them about 5 cm / 2" apart. Cover with a clean tea towel and let rise for further 30 minutes, or until they're double in size. Repeat with the second batch.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 225°C (435°F).
For the egg wash, lightly whisk the egg and add to it a teaspoon of water. Before baking, brush each roll with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with pearl sugar. Bake the rolls on the middle rack for 10–15 minutes, or until golden to dark brown in color. Repeat with the other sheets of rolls.
Wednesday, 9 August 2017
This cake is so good I made it twice in the space of a few hours. Never mind that this was because I forgot the baking powder the first time round and the cake came out of the tin beautifully golden but frisbee flat. My point is, I saw the error, weighed it up, and decided it was hardly any trouble to do it all again*. About an hour later, I had a perfectly risen cake, cooled, iced and ready to go. There were so few ingredients, I didn't even consult the recipe the second time, just made a mental note not to make the same mistake twice. This is a sweet, simple citrus cake made more sophisticated by its star ingredient: ruby grapefruit. Its juice and zest give a gorgeous warmth to the colour and a satisfyingly sour tang to the otherwise sweet crumb of the cake. A couple of days later, I packed some leftover slices for a weekend walk through bushland hugging the harbour. Surrounded by green, with blue skies, bluer water, and ruby grapefruit cake eaten outdoors with a view of it all, Sydney winter's sometimes not too bad.
* Lest you wonder what I did with the first cake, which still tasted great despite its density - I broke it up into big pieces and stashed it in the freezer. I couldn't bear to throw it out and figure I can use it to make trifle sometime. Buried under curd and cream, no-one's to know I forgot the baking powder.
Wednesday, 2 August 2017
For me, baking is therapy. If I need to work through something bothering me, or just forget about it for a while, I find myself in the kitchen. There's a particular level of problem you're working through with a pie. Especially the kind with a lattice crust. Though the individual components are all easy enough, there's a process involved.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, l love pie. Every trip I've ever taken to the United States features some photo of me looking ridiculously happy in a diner with a piece of pie in front of me. I'm particularly partial to berry pies but somehow am always suckered in by cherry, even though they inevitably disappoint - gloopy and oversweet. But the colour! It calls me. The solution to perfect pie lies in this combination of rhubarb and raspberry. Brilliant red, both sweet and tart simultaneously. Stupendous.
Don't be deterred by the difficulty implied in the lattice crust. It's just a little fiddly is all, and if you want to simplify things, just plonk the second bit of pastry on top and call it a day. It will still taste just as good and look incredible. In the end, you will not only have achieved greatness (even the most imperfect pie is still wonderful), you get to feed friends. And yourself. And feel better.
Wednesday, 26 July 2017
It was at my friend Elizabeth's urging (via her blog) I made this cake. She promised it was easy, delicious and able to be whipped up when the pantry was practically bare. Can I tell you, it is all of those things. When I made it, I turned it out of the tin and selected a plate to put it on, reaching for one I particularly like but rarely use - one of the few things of my mum's I took with me back to Sydney after she died. It distinguishes itself by being absolutely flat - no sloping sides - and at its centre depicts an English country cottage covered in flowers. It was her mother's and sticky-taped to its underside, remarkably, is still a small piece of paper with my grandmother's name written in careful capitals (lest it be lost after transporting something scrumptious to someone's house).
Instantly, I remembered all the afternoon teas at her house after school. Scones were the main event, if I'm honest, but also on offer with regularity was an apple tea cake. Maybe subconsciously that's why I reached for that plate. Originally from Scotland, my grandmother married a bank manager and raised three children in country Queensland. Before she was catering to hungry grandchildren in her retirement in Brisbane, she was entertaining bank personnel and clients in a succession of small towns. I wonder if she found it surreal serving up on scenes of rural life so different to her surrounds.
This isn't Gran's recipe, but she'd definitely approve. It's not only effortless, but economical (one egg!) and when it bakes, it perfumes the air with the comforting scent of cinnamon. Something to satisfy all ages, eternally.
Thursday, 20 July 2017
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
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
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
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
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
Wednesday, 26 April 2017
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
See more: pears