Tuesday 27 May 2014

Pear and hazelnut cake

On Friday night I flew down to spend the weekend in Anglesea with two friends I've known now for nearly twenty years. There was porridge (with apples, roast almonds and homemade dulche de leche). There were pies (from the local bakery). There were walks on the beach. There were dogs. There were antihistamines (I'm allergic). And, of course, there was cake. I'd spotted this Frank Camorra recipe in the Sydney Morning Herald a few weeks ago and ripped it out thinking it would be the one for this weekend: a sturdy shape (handy for carry-on), seasonal (autumn pears), and nuts and dark chocolate for post-surf (or post-surf watching) indulgence. 

I love the beach in winter. Or, better still, almost winter, when it's still pleasantly walkable but free of beach umbrellas and flying frisbees, when you can see for miles and it's moody and misty and the surfers in their wetsuits bob black like seals in the water - my friend Gill among them! - waiting for a wave. And we were waiting for her when she came in. With cake. Like Gill, it's worthy of applause. The pears are silky, the ground nuts buttery-smooth and the chocolate chunks a sweet surprise crunch. And it's made with brown sugar, which lends a deep caramel to the colour and flavour of the loaf. Not to mention a lovely (almost) winter warmth.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Blue Sky bran muffins

Way back when I was a student and working part-time in cafés, muffins were big. Literally. Huge, puffed-up, cricket ball-size sugar bombs. There was always some sort of vague attempt to present them as a healthy option (often by just placing them next to cheesecake, mudcake or caramel slice), especially if there was fruit involved. Apple cinnamon was popular, as was blueberry, and banana, but the hot seller was triple chocolate. There would have been more nutritional value in eating the tin. While all this was going on, my mother was having a muffin moment of her own. And hers couldn't have been more different. As a teenager, it's your duty to treat with deep suspicion anything a parent makes and tries to sell as good for you. My mother's version of the muffin was dense with bran, and wholemeal flour and fruit and just about anything else she had lying around and needed to use up, causing me to not-so-affectionately refer to them as compost muffins. Mum, I'm sorry. Especially when now as a fully-fledged adult, I'm drawn to a recipe that looks not so different to yours. Plus or minus a bit of brown sugar. And buttermilk. Deb Perelman posted this recipe - from Brooklyn's Blue Sky Bakery - a few weeks ago on her blog Smitten Kitchen, and ever since I'd had a craving. And, after a few failed attempts to find wheat bran, I finally got to satisfy it Saturday. I wasn't disappointed.

These muffins may not be quite as virtuous as the ones my mother makes, but they're a nice in-between: chewy bran, fresh fruit, and a satisfying sweetness. You can use any fruit you like (fresh, frozen, overripe, underripe), they come together in five minutes, bake for not much longer, and freeze well, which means... I can save some for my mother's next visit. It's the least I can do.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Whole chicken and leek soup

This week, it got cold, and I got a cold. Let me start by saying I am no good at being sick. By this I mean I am not stoic in suffering. Because I know this, and don't like to be around sick me as much as anyone else, I throw everything I can think of at getting better. This means gargling with salt water, drinking copious amounts of ginger tea and grapefruit juice, swallowing spoonfuls of Manuka honey and raw garlic, dabbing dots of tea-tree oil at the back of my throat, steaming my bowling ball head with Vicks Vapour Rub, and soup. Lots of soup. 

The restorative powers of chicken soup are well-documented. It's clear, and comforting and well, clean, which, when your body feels like it's been overtaken by germs, is no small thing. This recipe, by Australian cookbook doyenne Margaret Fulton, poaches a whole chicken in an onion-infused water or broth, then takes it out to remove its skin and bones, chops its white flesh into bite-size pieces and adds it back to the pot with fat rounds of leek and carrot. With a bit of parsley torn on top and a few grinds of black pepper it's simple and satisfying and just feels like it's making you better. At the very least, it makes you stop, and sit and savour, while you peruse the official FIFA World Cup Guide and decide which team you will support after Australia (Argentina!) and flip through cookbooks deciding what you will cook when you get up at 2 and 4am for a month to watch matches. It's going to be a busy June/July. Lucky I got the cold out of the way. And some soup in the freezer. Whether you're sick or well, or just crazy enough to forgo sleep for four weeks of football once every four years, it's always good to have on hand.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Lemon moon cake

American cops - or, more accurately, American cops in American movies - are renowned for their great love of doughnuts. The Danish police force, on the other hand, are synonymous with the more romantic-sounding lemon moon cake, or citronmåne. To be fair, it's a cake that's most readily available in long-life form on supermarket shelves, but even still, the flavours are a little more complex than deep-fried dough (much as I love a doughnut). It's citrussy and lightly sweet and in colour, pale gold, like the Scandinavian sun.
When I came to Copenhagen I wanted to learn how to cook something Danish. And one night, in Hellerup, in the cosy kitchen of a lovely Danish family, I was taught how to make this cake. Like a lot of Danish desserts and baked goods, it's made with marzipan, something I'd previously only associated with the icing on wedding cakes. Though you can get it in Australia, I tucked a small package of it in my suitcase to take home with me, just in case. Because I needed to have this cake again. It's that good. This recipe comes from the organic bakery chain emmerys, whose wares I sampled widely while I was in town. The quantity makes one large cake, which traditionally are cut in two to make half-moons, hence the name. Each half moon easily feeds six people, or (as the joke goes) one Danish policeman.