Tuesday 24 June 2014

Old-fashioned chocolate cake

If you're a kid and it's your birthday, then there's only one cake you want. And because all of us have been kids (or perhaps have never really grown up), chocolate cake brings out our inner seven year old, and we too hoe into it with gusto. Anyone who likes to bake has a go-to recipe for chocolate cake and this is mine. I'm not a parent but the average person (baker or not) with a lot on their plate can appreciate a recipe where all you have to do is pile the ingredients into a food processor and press ON. Especially when the results would indicate it was a lot more work - the most delicate crumb, a perfect balance of tangy and sweet, and a sturdy structure which allows it to be comfortably held by fingers big and small.

It's so good in fact, it befits two choruses of happy birthday - one with candles, one with sparklers. The secret is sour cream, which enriches both icing and cake and cuts the sweetness of the sugar in each. It also makes it beautifully moist, which means the slice you get to take home will be just as delicious the next day.

Tuesday 17 June 2014


Once every four years, I spend a month watching football. A month setting my alarm for the early hours of the morning, staggering up, bleary-eyed, turning the television on and surrendering sleep for the wonder of the World Cup. I love the crowds, I love the personalities (the countries! the haircuts! the celebrations! the heroes! the villains!), I love the drama, I love the football. And I love an excuse to cook for friends, like this Saturday, when Australia took on Chile at the entirely civilised hour of 8am Sydney time. I suppose I should have themed our meal to the cuisine of one of the countries involved, but really what it came down to was something I could make in between matches (Spain v The Netherlands - a cracker of a game - finished around 7am), so as not to miss a second of play. And so, shakshuka: a way to cook eggs for a crowd without being chained to the stove. 

A staple of many Middle-eastern cuisines, shakshuka - traditionally made in a cast-iron skillet - consists of eggs poached in a tomato sauce enriched with onion and chilli. This recipe, from one of my favourite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, adds smoky cumin and spicy paprika to the sauce and scatters fetta and parsley over the top. Served on a slice of toasted sourdough, it's utterly delicious - as satisfying as a Tim Cahill header into the back of the net in the second half... no matter what the final scoreline.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Carrot pancakes with salted yoghurt

Since I made the decision to get rid of my car, my grocery buying habits have changed. Rather than a big weekly shop, I tend to go more regularly, every couple of days even, on an as-needs basis. A friend of mine described this as "very European" which makes it sound more glamorous than the reality of "there are only so many tins of tomatoes/pumpkins/bags of rice I can carry at once". Another six year old friend of mine (who technically wouldn't call herself a friend as kids can't be friends with adults apparently) recently opened my fridge, scrutinised its contents (or lack thereof) and proclaimed that I needed to go shopping. Though my fridge might be frequently bare, there are some things that are pretty permanent residents. Carrots for one. Greek yoghurt for two. Eggs for three. All these things last for ages which for someone lugging groceries home on foot, is nothing but good news.

A bit like an Indian pakora, these carrot pancakes - from LA café Sqirl, the recipe for which I came across in this month's Bon Appétit - are an explosion of colour and flavour. The carrots are sweet, the yoghurt tangy, smooth and salty, complementing the crispy crunch of the pancake and the peppery bite of the rocket. And best of all, all I had to get from the shops to magic them from the pages of a magazine to my plate was rocket and coriander. Both of which are an easy carry home. Win win.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Gingernut rhubarb crumb bars

I grew up in a house without store-bought biscuits. Before you start to feel too sorry for me, I should qualify by saying that my mother made any biscuits we ate. With maybe one exception. The only packet of biscuits that could ever be found in our pantry were gingernuts - dark, spicy and rock hard... and as such, totally uninteresting to children. I only started to appreciate gingernuts when I began drinking tea - they're ideal partners, especially if you're partial to dunking. And this weekend, I discovered something else they're brilliant with: rhubarb. 

Sydney's been out of sync seasonally the last few months. The summer sun has barely receded and my winter coat has languished in my wardrobe. You could be forgiven for thinking it's spring, not autumn. Especially by the look of the rhubarb - rich red fat stalks, bundled in bunches and impossible to resist. This recipe sandwiches wonderfully pink fruit between a layer of dense, spicy biscuit crumb and a comforting, cinnamon-flecked oat and almond crumble. It's pretty near perfect as far as bar cookies go: sweet and tart and crunchy, with the gingernuts providing a peppery punch. Another reason to keep a packet in the pantry. And the first slice for the cook.