Wednesday 26 March 2014

Honeyed rhubarb with blood orange

In this, my first week in Denmark, I've become a little obsessed with skyr. I first became aware of it when I saw it on the menu at Grød, a cafe on the street I'm staying in, where it was offered as an accompaniment for porridge. Intrigued, I returned to my apartment and did a little research. It turns out skyr is a cultured dairy product from Iceland, dating back to medieval times. If that wasn't enough to make me go out in search of some immediately, it's also made with skimmed milk, so has an extremely low fat content but somehow the same delicious tang and texture as Greek yoghurt. On the way back from the supermarket with my Icelandic treasure, I passed one of the Middle-eastern fruit and vegetable stands scattered all over this neighbourhood and spied quinces for sale. Poached in a sugar syrup til ruby red (if you want the recipe for that, click here), with the skyr they were incredible. So incredible they were gone all too quickly. And that's where rhubarb came in. 

Even though I'm bundled up in winter clothes, signs of spring are everywhere in Copenhagen: flowers pushing up through the frozen ground in the Assistens Cemetery, people sitting at sunny tables outside cafés, and at the farmers' markets at Torvehallerne, where I purchased the most stunning stalks of rhubarb I've ever seen: slender, pale pink, perfect. I wanted both a recipe that didn't mess with their natural beauty too much, and - of course - something that would go nicely with skyr. Nigel Slater had just the thing. The rhubarb is cut into short lengths, and roasted in a low oven with the honey, cinnamon, star anise, and the juice and squeezed halves of a blood orange. Thirty minutes later, dessert was ready. Or breakfast. Sweet and sharp, gently warm in spice and shade: the taste of spring.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Kladdkaka (Swedish sticky chocolate cake)

A year ago I had a birthday cake festooned with little Danish flags. This year, I find myself in Copenhagen for my birthday. Just. Fresh off the plane, I'm still grappling with jet lag. Waking up at 3.30am has its advantages though in that you are somewhat justified in eating two breakfasts. The first - toast made with bread from the tiny yet amazing bakery in the street in which I'm staying, smeared with butter and boysenberry jam - I ate illuminated by the glow of my laptop before the sun got up. The second I ate several hours later at Grød, a café more or less opposite the bakery, that serves only porridge... albeit porridge embellished with homemade dulche de leche, roasted almonds and chopped apple. Good food is not hard to find in Scandinavia. Not on my street. And not in my little apartment either, which has a beautiful kitchen overlooking trees in bud just about to blossom. 

The best way to feel at home in a new place is to cook. There are so many things I've marvelled at in these first few days - the unfamiliar sounds of children's chatter in the stairwell, the shoals of fast-moving cyclists in the streets, the fact that everyone here is ridiculously tall and good-looking - but nothing's given me more pleasure than roaming the aisles of a supermarket, selecting groceries, and bringing them home to bake a cake. Though I'm in Denmark, Copenhagen is in spitting distance of Sweden, so this particular recipe seemed appropriate for the location and occasion. Besides, I couldn't resist the name. In original language or in translation. The cake itself lives up to it. Dark, gooey, magnificent. A lovely way to land.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Plum and vanilla cake

Summer is over. Well, technically. As of the 1st of March. But last I looked, the beaches are still packed, I'm still wearing shorts and stone fruit is still in the supermarkets. So I thought I'd best take advantage. Of the great bounty of summer produce, plums are a particular favourite of mine. They don't have the troublesome fur of peaches or apricots, the straightforward sweetness of nectarines, or the premium price of cherries. They're compact yet substantial and come in all sorts of pretty shades from blue black to pale yellow. I love them firm and somewhat sour, but soft and sweet is just fine too. Especially when used in cooking, whether a jam, a pie... or a cake, like the one I made last weekend. This recipe comes from Bill Granger, whose food I associate very much with Sydney summers: fresh, clean and bright with flavour. This is food to be eaten outdoors, perfect for picnics, or the rooftop deck of a Surry Hills terrace, where I found myself with friends on Friday night. After a hot and humid day, as night fell, you could feel autumn in the air. But the taste of summer was still on our plates. The plums, sandwiched between a rich, butter cake bottom and a crumbly streusel top, slump and soften while cooking, and cut the overall sweetness - and the pale golden interior - of the dessert with a tart thread of red. So it's goodbye to summer... and, for me, to Sydney for a while. I'm skipping autumn and winter and heading straight for spring. See you there.

Tuesday 4 March 2014


The best bit of graffiti I ever saw was on the wall of a lift in an old apartment block in Bondi.  It read "I love scones". I couldn't agree more. I love a scone. And by scone, I mean the kind that rhymes with "Ron",  as opposed to the kind that rhymes with "phone". To be clear: I love both kinds, but they're different things. The former - round, modestly size, served with jam and cream, or slathered in butter and honey - are the traditional sort, as found in England and its far-flung colonies, like Australia. The latter, the giant triangular kind embellished with fruit, nuts and different kinds of flour and grain, are distinctly American. The first time I visited the United States I saw those then-foreign objects in the cabinet of a Starbucks with the familiar label stuck to them and curious, ordered one to go with my coffee. I may as well have been speaking Farsi as the woman behind the counter had no idea what I was saying. I quickly realised my mistake and tried a few alternate pronounciations before finally hitting on the right one, only to run into further difficulty with my own name when it was requested for the order. Server: Name?  Me: Alice. Server: Alex? Me: No, Alice. Server: (louder) Alex? Me: (accepting defeat) Yes, Alex. 

These days, I am bilingual in scone ordering. But these ones require no translation. At least not for me. They're Australian and the recipe comes from a cookbook written by my mother, and a good friend of hers, Judith McKay. There's not much in there I can make as it's an historical cookbook and it's not often I have a spare kangaroo tail on hand for a stew. But scones I can make. I like knowing that generations of women (let's be honest, they were all women) made this recipe before me: rubbed the fat with the flour between their fingertips, gently pressed out the dough, cut it into rounds and swaddled the baked result in a teatowel to keep warm.