Tuesday 24 February 2015

Root vegetable tarte tatin

I had a really bad day Friday. The sort where one thing rolls into another and somehow by late afternoon you've managed to lock yourself out of your apartment. Fortunately I have a lovely neighbour, who let me use her phone, and a good friend with a spare set of keys who drove heroically across town in peak hour traffic to my rescue. Fortunately, when I got back into my apartment, this was waiting for me in my fridge.

Tarte tatin is one of my favourite desserts. Root vegetables lend themselves well to this savoury version - sweet potatoes in particular, especially if you can find them in a variety of colours. At my local fruit and veg shop, I was able to get purple and white varieties as well as the familiar orange. Sliced thickly and roasted, along with carrot, parsnip and red onion, they make a gorgeous patchwork of colours, their natural sweetness enhanced by a lick of caramel, offset by chopped herbs and goat cheese and complemented perfectly by a rich, all-butter pastry. 

The kindest thing you can do for yourself when you're feeling low is feed yourself well. And ideally, share that food with someone, like I did Friday night with a good friend who came around to cheer me up. Sitting on the grassy headland at Coogee, watching the sun set and the waves break, drinking red wine from plastic cups and nibbling tarte tatin from an alfoil package, the day ended so much better than it began. And that was enough.

Thursday 12 February 2015

Chocolate rye crumb cake

When I travel these days I'm more drawn to supermarkets than musuems. I could spend hours wandering the aisles, entranced by unfamiliar packaging, exotic ingredients and produce from opposite seasons or different climates. My best souvenirs come from here. I brought back juniper berries from Denmark last year, apricots from Tasmania in January and a few days ago, in Portland, I picked up some cacao nibs. I couldn't wait til I got home to open the packet. An opportunity presented itself to make a cake and I jumped on it. Lately I've been experimenting with different kinds of flours. The wholemeal chocolate chip cookies started it all, but then there was an apple, rye and ginger teacake that left me with extra rye flour for another project. And in the January 2015 issue of Bon Appétit I found it. It called for cacao nibs, something I'd looked for in Sydney without success. I'm sure they're somewhere to be found in the city but with a deadline looming, a suitcase to pack and little point in making a cake just before getting on a plane, I decided to pick some up on my holiday.

Cacao nibs are cacao beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks and broken into little pieces. They taste chocolatey but not sweet. A little fruity, a little nutty, they're like the thinking man or woman's chocolate chip. Here, they add a bittersweet crunch to the crumb topping, a beautiful contrast to the rich, smooth, darkly sophisticated cake beneath. Made with both yoghurt and buttermilk, it's incredibly moist and keeps well for days if you store it in an airtight container. This is good news for anyone with people coming for dinner on a weeknight or a school bake sale to cook for. It was good news for me, just eating a piece outside in the cold with a cup of drip coffee and a view of a snow-covered mountain that came out from behind a screen of cloud as if just for me. And when I make this cake again back on the other side of the world sometime, I'll remember that moment.

Chocolate rye crumb cake
Adapted from a recipe in the January 2015 issue of Bon Appétit

As it contains more essential oils than other flours, rye flour is best stored in the fridge or freezer.

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup rye flour
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons cacao nibs
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (or 1/8 teaspoon table salt)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and chopped into pieces

3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup rye flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup Greek yoghurt

First, make the crumble: whisk sugar, both flours, cacao nibs, cocoa and salt in a medium bowl til blended. Work in butter with your fingers to form large clumps - there should be no dry spots. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Grease a 9 inch springform tin and line the base with baking paper. 

Now to the cake: whisk both flours, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl, cream butter and both sugars til light and fluffy (about 5 minutes in a mixer). Mix in eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla and stir til blended (another 2 minutes). Fold in half the dry ingredients, then the buttermilk. Once combined, add the remaining dry ingredients, followed by the yoghurt to make a stiff batter. Scrape into prepared tin and scatter crumble over.

Bake, rotating once, til cake starts to pull away from sides of pan and a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean - about 60-70 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack before turning out.