Tuesday 29 April 2014

Orange blossom cake

Quite a while ago now - I can't remember when - I bought a bottle of orange blossom water. After using it for whatever it was I purchased it for, it languished in the back of my cupboard (like the pomegranate molasses that suffered a similar fate before I discovered this cake) until the revelation of this recipe. Scanning the list of ingredients, it seemed like a cross between a Middle Eastern orange cake (without the advance prep of boiling oranges) and a Sardinian ricotta cake (without the flour). I was intrigued, and not least by the name, which put orange blossom water front and centre rather than its usual place - one of the cast of thousands in the myriad tastes of a tagine, or overshadowed by the intense caramel of dates in dessert.

Though you only use a very small amount, all the other elements of the cake - the creamy ricotta, the chewy almond meal, the orange zest, all work to showcase the delicate floral perfume of this colourless liquid, resulting in a sweet that's both subtle and substantial. Dinner party dessert-worthy, as well as lunchbox-hardy. Prettily pale, yet bright with flavour. Oh, and it's gluten-free too, did I mention that? With everyday ingredients. Apart from the orange blossom water that is. But given how seriously good this cake is, it's on its way to everyday.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Apple brown betty

If Hans Christian Andersen's right and to travel is to live, then I've been doing a lot of living lately. This Easter long weekend, I was in Tasmania, where my friends have a lovely kitchen with a view of the Hobart city skyline, a backyard full of apple trees (four different varieties!) and a twelve year old who makes the most incredible vanilla bean ice-cream. And on Sunday, these three things came together for dessert.

Though I love bread, I've never been terribly excited by its dessert possibilities, which are usually variations of soggy-sounding puddings. But this - the superlative brown betty - is made with fresh crumbs (rather than stale slices) tossed with (rather than soaked in) butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. When they're popped into the oven atop of a layer of fat apple slices, they crisp. While cooking, they crackle, and, when bitten into, crunch - a lovely contrast with the tender apples beneath, and the silkiness of the ice-cream melting into a milky pool beside it.

There are many different recipes out there - the brown betty dates back to the 1800s - but this one uses a combination of apple slices and puréed apple, which gives the filling a nice body and added texture. And the layer of crumbs on the bottom of the dish handily soak up any excess water from the fruit. It's best eaten with Edie's vanilla bean ice-cream but if you don't have the very good fortune to know Edie, then the stuff you buy at the supermarket (or make yourself!) will do nicely.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Yoghurt cheese rolled in herbs and lemon zest

A minor miracle took place while I was away. The herbs in my window box did not die. This probably had less to do with divine intervention than it did the care of the thoughtful people staying in my apartment, the change of season and copious amounts of rain Sydney received in March/April, and (almost certainly) the absence of my black thumb for a month. In any case, to celebrate, I picked a bunch, chopped them up finely, combined them with lemon zest, salt and pepper and used the mixture to coat little balls of cheese I'd made from doing no more than draining yoghurt in the refrigerator overnight. I then ate it smeared on a rye cracker with smoked salmon and it was so good. The cheese is smooth and tart, fresh and light, a lovely counterbalance to the richness of the salmon. Jarred up, submerged in olive oil, they'd make lovely gifts, or a pretty addition to a cheese board. 

They'd go well with other meats too I imagine, but particularly nicely with roast pumpkin or spinach or beetroot or anything else that pairs well with goat's cheese, which this quite ressembles - except in its dreamily spreadable consistency, its pricetag (if you too have herbs growing, it's really just the cost of a tub of yoghurt and a lemon) and - of course - in the novelty of having made it yourself.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Strawberry sonker

My Danish has not come along a great deal in the three weeks I've been here. My one complete phrase which translates to "Do you speak English?" consistently elicits blank stares and when I revert to actual English to say it, I am met with relief, a smile and "of course". But - what I have picked up here and there have been words I see again and again - økologisk for example, which means organic. And, lately, jordbær - strawberries - because they're everywhere: red, fat, and juicy. This is not a Danish recipe, but something I'd been meaning to try out since reading this fantastic article in The New York Times about regional pie variations in the United States. I could have made a grunt, or a crisp or a crumble, but it was the sonker from North Carolina that called me.

It's my general belief that strawberries should really not be messed with at all. They're best eaten fresh, at room temperature, but when it's really, really cold outside - still! turns out Danish spring is icier than Sydney winter - you want something a little warm in your belly. So, the sonker. Apart from its charmingly strange name, it had the advantage of being made with items I already had in my kitchen, and needed to use up: milk, butter, flour, sugar. Despite the simplicity of the ingredient list, it turns out it's not as straight forward as just combining them into a batter to pour over the fruit. There's a definite technique to the sonker. And multiple saucepans and bowls. But the end result is well worth it - tender, jammy fruit tucked beneath a lightly golden, pancake-style crust. Another word I've learnt during my stay is hygge, which roughly translates to cosiness, the cornerstone of the Danish way of life. It can be seen here everywhere and in everything - in candles on tables set for dinner (or even breakfast!), pots of bulbs and herbs in the windows of apartments, impromptu gatherings anywhere outside when the sun is shining no matter how freezing the actual temperature, children clustered together in custom-built boxes on the front of bicycles pedalled by a parent... This dessert, while nowhere near Nordic, encapsulates that philosophy beautifully. Homey and warm, simple and sweet: wholly hygge.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Toasted barley risotto with spinach and herb purée

My friend Gill gives the best presents. For Christmas this year I got a year's subscription to Bon Appétit. And, through the magic of the internet, the latest issue found its way not just to my letterbox in Australia, but onto my iPad here in Denmark. I don't know whether it was overconsumption of kanelsnurre (can there be such a thing?), or the sight of all the green in the markets and on the trees, or that I'd just had the most incredible dish featuring barley (with roasted Jerusalem artichokes and pickled onions) at a local restaurant here, but when I saw this recipe, I headed straight out to get the ingredients.

As an alternative to rice in risotto, barley is a revelation. As much as I love risotto, the heaviness of it is inescapable. I've no idea whether this is true or not - and no interest in my homegrown theory being disproven - but barley feels like it's good for you. It's brown for a start, nicely chewy and has a lovely natural nuttiness. The risotto technique suits it well, the lightly-toasted grains fed slowly with stock til they are plump and bursting with the fresh flavour of the herbs and spinach, bright with lemon, and rich with butter and cheese... and it still feels like it's good for you. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Like barley to your ribs.