Wednesday 27 November 2013

Pantry-shelf chocolate orange cake

This weekend, I was in Brisbane celebrating Christmas with my family. It's still November, I'm aware, but this year I'm not going to be in Australia on the day itself so we needed to rearrange the schedule a bit. Though the date may not have been quite right, everything else felt like holidays in my hometown: heat, humidity and thunderstorms, check, watching cricket with my dad, check, unwrapping presents, check, nice dinner out with friends, check, amazing breakfast in with others, check, cooking in my parents' kitchen, check. The latter is probably one of my favourite parts of coming home. Though I dearly love my kitchen in Sydney, it's small verging on tiny, so it's somewhat novel for me to have space to spread out. Not that I needed it really for this cake, which I made on Saturday. You see, Australia was doing particularly well in the First Test, and I didn't want to divert my attention for too long from the screen. So this cake fit the bill. In more ways than one. Not only was it extremely straight-forward (you can make it in a saucepan!) but it has marmalade as a key ingredient. And my mum happens to make incredible marmalade (with cumquats from her tree) and always has a ready supply. So here it is, the non-Christmas cake I made over my non-Christmas Christmas. So easy to make, it's an excellent everyday cake but the sweet, tart citrus kick of the marmalade makes it just that little bit special. A tangy zing in a deep, dark, densely chocolatey loaf. I'd like to dedicate it to Mitchell Johnson, another ex-Queenslander who had a good weekend in his home state. Thanks to this cake, I didn't miss one of his wickets.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Crack pie

It all began innocently enough. I asked my friend Susan, who was down visiting for the weekend, to pick something for me to cook her from the long list of recipes I'd bookmarked to try. She sat there listening patiently, unexpressive, maybe even a little bored, as I reeled off about six or seven things before her eyes widened and she sat up a little straighter in her chair. "That one." I looked back at my list for clarification. "Crack pie?" 

Where to start? Maybe with a warning. Do NOT make this pie unless you have six or seven people coming over to eat it. Maybe eight. Because once you start, I'm not kidding, you will not stop. You will not be able to eat without examining the sticky beauty of every forkful and quietly mouthing "oh my god". You will not be able to put said forkful in your mouth without reaching for another. You will not be able to rest until... It. Is. All. Gone.

This genius recipe comes from Christina Tosi, the maverick baker behind Momofuku Milk Bar in New York. She makes ice-cream from cereal milk, cake from candy bars and gives as much careful consideration to the naming of her creations as she does their development. When I was there, a couple of years ago, I sampled one of her compost cookies - a crazy composite of oats, potato chips, chocolate, butterscotch, pretzels and coffee, that defies description... in the best possible way. Tosi clearly specialises in highly-addictive sweets that are near impossible to pin down in taste. The best Susan and I could come up with for the crack pie was that it was like a cross between an Anzac biscuit and the coveted corner piece in a tray of caramel slice - chewy, gooey, caramelised, and... dangerous. 

Given my proclivity for sweet stuff, it's kind of amazing it took me so long to make this. The reason was the recipe called for just one tablespoon of non-fat milk powder and my local supermarket only sold the stuff in 1 kilo packets. I sent Susan back to Brisbane with a ziplock bag filled with white powder which looks suspicious enough without having to explain to an airport security screener it's for crack pie. Six pies worth to be exact. Obviously, I still have quite a bit left. To say the least. So if you want some, come on by, I'll be your dealer.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Bread and butter pickles

There's a fine art to making a good sandwich. I speak with some authority having spent countless hours as a student behind the counters of delis buttering baguettes, carving up camembert and doing everything I could to avoid the meat slicer... which meant making sandwiches. You start with good bread, that's a given. Next you need something spreadable - whether butter, mayonnaise, mustard or chutney - to stop it drying out, a protein - like egg, or cheese or meat - for substance, a bit of greenery for virtue (and colour) and then lastly, ideally, you need crunch. Texture is that certain je ne sais quoi that elevates the ordinary sandwich into the realm of the extraordinary. It's the little extra touch that just shows you care, and caring about what you prepare yourself to eat always - always! - makes it taste better. Especially when you make the crunch in question yourself.

These bread and butter pickles are brilliant on a corned beef sandwich, a salad roll, or - better still - a burger. Jarred up, they make excellent presents, and keeping aside at least one for yourself will ensure that any sandwich you make is nothing short of spectacular. And don't we all deserve spectacular? Especially for lunch.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Spiced coffee, date and pomegranate loaf

A while ago, I bought some pomegranate molasses. It was so long ago I'm now no longer able to remember what I bought it for but it had been languishing lonely in my cupboard for some time, so when I happened across this Karen Martini recipe in the Sydney Morning Herald, I knew I had to make it. But not just because of the pomegranate molasses. The list of ingredients sounded intoxicating - orange, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coffee, sesame seeds, dates... all the flavours of the Middle-East combined in a cake. 

Dark, dense and deliciously sticky, this is a Middle-Eastern take on the traditional date loaf (if you want a recipe for that, go no further than Elizabeth's). The pomegranate molasses shellacked glossily on top gives a tart kick that balances the sweetness of the cake, blends beautifully with the spices, nuts and fruit within, and adds a touch of glamour and mystery to what would otherwise be a pretty plain looking loaf. If you don't have any pomegranate molasses in your cupboard, head to your nearest Middle-Eastern food store and pick up a bottle. Or two. Once this is in your repertoire, you'll need them.