Thursday 8 December 2016

Cranberry orange brownies

At times of high stress, sometimes the only solution is chocolate. The fastest way for a fix - other than buying a bar or a block - is the brownie. One bowl, no need for softening of butter or room temperature anything, just melt, stir, pour, bake, slice and serve. This Smitten Kitchen recipe doesn't even require you to have dark chocolate in the house - it uses cocoa instead - and so can be whipped up from pantry staples. My friend Joanna had recently made these with orange zest - to great acclaim - and I further freewheeled by substituting walnuts for cranberries. I used dried, but fresh or frozen would work just as well for that pop of sour among all the sweet. Serve warm, at room temperature, refrigerated or straight from the freezer. It all works.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Norwegian apple pie

In July, I went to Norway for the first time. I was only there a matter of hours, on my way through to Stockholm, and all I remember eating was a burrito. Food was the last thing on my mind really as the priority was getting to Vigeland Sculpture Park. Showcasing the life work of artist Gustav Vigeland, the park sits just outside downtown Oslo and features over 200 sculptures of human figures in bronze, granite and cast-iron. It's a celebration of human life at every stage - from infancy to old age and everything in between.

It's a nice thing to remember as I eat this pie, which is really, much more of a cake. November has been tumultuous for me for many reasons and notably, is not over yet. Over the other side of the world, Americans are gathering for Thanksgiving. Today, an ordinary old Thursday in my Australian apartment so far from Scandinavia, I'm giving thanks for memories, for the crazy complexity of the human experience, and for this pie, which is simple and sweet and made for sharing.

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Calabrian walnut cake

Sometimes, words are hard to come by. And for those times, there's cake. This one happily requires very few words as there are but four ingredients: walnuts, eggs, sugar and lemon zest. Brilliantly simple, deeply delicious and gluten and dairy free to boot. Make it and marvel.

Calabrian walnut cake (torta di noci)
Adapted from a recipe on Food52 from Ada Boni's Regional Italian Cooking (1960)

This is the sort of cake that gets better with age, so is improved by being made ahead of time.

3/4 pound (340 grams or about 3 cups) shelled walnuts
4 eggs, separated 
1 cup (225 grams) caster (superfine) sugar
zest of one lemon
icing (confectioners') sugar for dusting (optional)   

Pulverize the walnuts in a food processor until you have a coarse meal, the texture of sand.

Grease and line a round 9-inch cake pan.
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the lemon zest and walnut meal and stir to combine. 

Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whites bit by bit into the walnut mixture until well combined.  

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake at 375º F (190º C) for about 50 minutes, or until the top is firm and browned nicely. Let cool completely in the pan before removing and dust with icing sugar to serve.

Thursday 27 October 2016

Lemon poppyseed cake

I got gifted some lemons last weekend. Big, beautiful backyard fruit, befitting a cake. So I made one. Though this is an English recipe, poppyseeds in baking are by and large associated with Eastern Europe. Strewn liberally through strudels and sponges and all manner of doughs and batters, these little black speckles are striking here against the pale pastel of citrus, and lend a lovely texture to a traditional tea time treat.

Made mostly with almond meal, the cooked cake is drenched in syrup and drizzled with icing so keeps well should you have leftovers or want to bake in advance. If you're lucky enough to have a lemon tree or be friends with anyone who does, then this is definitely one for your repertoire. It's not a show-off of a cake, it's more subtle and sophisticated, even a little subversive. The beat poet of baked goods. Brilliant.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Beetroot, kohlrabi, carrot and apple slaw with labneh

A few years ago for Christmas I got a mandoline. Not the musical instrument but the kitchen gadget that thinly slices vegetables with razor sharp metal blades. I was a little afraid of it to be honest, so it sat in the drawer til today, when I was motivated to use it by a recipe in Hetty McKinnon's new cookbook Neighbourhood (which is so good I've bought it for two friends' birthdays since it came out in September). I have to say the word "slaw" conjures visions of limp cabbage coated in mayonnaise. A white on white nightmare. But this! This is different. Vibrantly-hued vegetables (plus one piece of fruit) sliced super-fine, doused in sharp/sweet vinegar, offset with liberal dollops of creamy labneh and scattered with crunchy roasted pumpkin seeds. It's bright and beautiful and suitably spring-y. A big reward for a small act of kitchen bravery.

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Mulberry pie

About this time last year my mum called me to tell me she'd had a bumper crop of mulberries. She'd freeze them for my next visit, she said, so we could make pie, a favourite dessert of mine from childhood. For anyone who grew up in Brisbane like me, mulberries will be a major memory. The sprawling trees were found in most backyards, their leaves fed the silkworms we had as our first pets, their berries stained school uniforms and little fingers purple... no matter how many items of clothing you ruined you could never resist. They were delicious. Sweet, fat and juicy. Perfect for pie. Mum never used a recipe so in her absence I cobbled together one from two excellent sources - Bill Granger for pastry, and Smitten Kitchen for filling (those Americans know what they're doing with berries). Technically I suppose this is more of a galette than a pie as it's free-form and open, but I was teaching my dad how to make it and I knew he'd never be bothered rolling out two lots of dough, let alone sealing and crimping a crust. The proportion of pastry to fruit is better too, and without a lid you get to see the berries in all their beauty. I'd been up to Brisbane many times since Mum died, but not been able to face the freezer. But a new crop of mulberries had appeared on the tree since last November. It was time. Mum picked these berries. I made the pie. So it was a joint effort. I like to think we did it together.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Forgotten cookies

Some things are worth making just for the name alone. Or in this case if you're travelling north to work with a colleague who's gluten-free and you need something sweet to power both of you through two days of script meetings. I was tossing up between lime polenta cake (made in a bar tin) or little lemon polenta cakes (small, stackable) when I remembered forgotten cookies. This recipe, from Chicago chef Sarah Gruneberg infuses beaten egg whites with sugar, cardamom and vanilla and winds through sour cherries, dark chocolate and toasted pecans. The dough - such as it is without flour or even, miraculously, dairy - is dolloped into spoonfuls onto a baking tray, sprinkled with sea salt, baked for five minutes and left in the oven overnight. In the morning, you're rewarded with little boulders of meringue. Crisp on the outside, with a chewy, marshmallow-like interior containing crunch, combining sweet and sour... once tried, never forgotten.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Cardamom buns

The only research I did before arriving in Stockholm last month was not on its architecture, or archipelago, its museums or shopping districts. Or even Abba. It was about breakfast, and specifically: cardamom buns. I'd booked an air b n b based on its proximity to a bakery that made some of the best in town, I was reliably informed. However what my narrow band of research did not reveal is that most of Sweden is away during July. Many businesses too, close for the month, including my well-researched bakery. But fortunately Stockholm is liberally sprinkled with bakeries - not that you even need one. Even the convenience stores sell cardamom buns (and, by the looks of them, good ones!), such is their place in the culture. In walking distance of the apartment I stayed in were several excellent sources and I made the most of it. Luckily now I'm back home, it's not too hard to make my own, like most Swedes do (possibly only tourists like me buy them commercially).

Cardamom is a popular flavour in Scandinavian baking, and it's so beautiful here - speckled through these lightly sweet pastries. The crushed black seeds in the dough contrast with the pretty pearl sugar sprinkled on top. Unlike American-style cinnamon buns, these are modestly-sized, and not too heavy on the sugar. The spice is the dominant flavour and goes beautifully with coffee, for breakfast, for fika, for memories of Scandinavian summer.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Blood orange, ricotta and almond cake

There's something extra alluring about fruit with short seasons. I've been waiting for blood oranges since summer, when this recipe did the rounds of several of the American food blogs I read. It was winter on their side of the world at the time, so I had a long six months before I got my turn. I've tried baking many things with blood oranges before, but have always been disappointed. Despite my best efforts, the brilliant colour that so dazzles when you slice into them always amounted to plain old orange. Til now. Whole slices of beautiful blood orange sit atop a cake infused with both zest and juice, allowing you to experience the fruit in all its glory. In texture, it puts to mind a sort of citrus cheesecake, all the easier to make as you don't have to mess around with a crust. And with ricotta, cornmeal, and almond meal it's entirely gluten-free, should that be your thing. Of course you could make this with regular oranges too, should you wish. Six months is a long time to wait. But it was worth it.

Monday 8 August 2016

Hazelnut coffee cake

Perhaps the most perfect place in all the world exists in Stockholm. On an island you can walk to from the city, in what was once the Swedish royal family's game park, is a biodynamic garden called Rosendals Trägåd. Amid the neat rows of plantings and greenhouses, and the nut-brown ladies with wispy white hair working in them, there's a café selling food made from what they grow, which you can take on a tray to picnic tables scattered about an orchard of ages-old pear and apple trees and lounge about in the dappled light, eating or reading or chatting.

I spent a week in Stockholm and went there three times. Three visits, three cakes. The first was a Swiss roll, sweet and sticky with jam. The second a fat slice of cardamom cake, speckled with spice. The third was a technically not a cake, but a cinnamon bun, so much better than any I've ever had at IKEA.

What I like so much about Scandinavian baking is its simplicity. There's nothing tricked up or fussy about it. Its modesty is magnificent - just like Rosendals Trägåd and so many other places in Stockholm. When I got home I craved it and the calm of cooking after so long away from a kitchen. So I made a cake - Swedish, naturally.

From Anna Brones and Joanna Kindvall's very lovely cookbook Fika (the Swedish word for the ritual of pausing expressly for coffee and something sweet) I baked the hazelnut coffee cake. This is not so much a coffee cake in the American sense, but one that contains coffee, a flavour that melds beautifully with the ground hazelnuts and butter to produce a simple but stunning cake that suitably sums up Scandinavia.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Bakewell tarts

I'm sorry this post is so late. I can explain. You see, my cousin got married in London a week or so ago and I took advantage of being over the other side of the world to take a break and recover from the first half of the year, which has been - all cake, pies and tarts aside - pretty brutal. So I've been in my spiritual home, Scandinavia, eating my weight in cardamom buns and trying to sleep in for the first time in ages only to be in a particular place at a particular time of the year where the sun rises at 3.49am (after setting not that many hours earlier). But before that I was in Hobart. Hobart where stone fruit weighs down the limbs of backyard trees, where berries grow by the side of the road, free for the taking... but not so much in winter. Which is where jam comes in - jam made in the warmer months so even with coats and heaters on, it feels like summer. At least in terms of dessert.

I made these bakewell tarts back in early July with the assistance of my favourite Tasmanian red-haired baker, whose mum (an amazing cook in her own right) was responsible for the incredible jam that oozed out of these like a lovely sweet surprise... which sadly I don't have any photographic evidence of. On the southernmost tip of the southern hemisphere we were fighting fast diminishing late afternoon light when these came out of the oven. So you'll just have to trust me that they're good. Very good. Fruity, with smooth frangiapane, the crunch of flaked almonds, and a crisp, crumbly, shortcrust pastry. Save yourself the airfare and the jetlag, making these conjures summer in the depths of winter. And afterwards you can sleep in.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Grapefruit curd cake

It was my friend George's birthday. I asked her what sort of cake she would like and the request was for something seasonal. In April, when she was actually born, that would have meant one thing, but by mid-June, which is when we finally got together down on the Great Ocean Road, for a girls' weekend with our friend Gill, it was deepest, darkest winter which meant one thing: citrus.

It's impossible to feel anything other than sunny when eating citrus, which is why it's so wonderful at this time of the year where the wind howls, the light dims and temperatures drop.  

Grapefruit is the bridesmaid of the citrus family, always overshadowed by oranges and lemons. No-one ever thinks to do anything with it other than juice it or slice it in half, both of which are more associated with diets and cold remedies than anything you actually get excited about. So here's what you do: you cook all that Vitamin C down into a rich, creamy curd, then fold it through a batter flecked with pretty pink-orange zest, reserving some to dollop on top. You decorate the finished cake with candles, sing happy birthday, celebrate being friends for twenty years and look forward to doing it all again soon.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Armenian nutmeg cake

There's a lot to be said for simple. Especially on a spectacularly wet weekend when your options are pretty well limited to curling up on a couch with a cup of tea and a fat piece of cake made with pantry staples and a bit of sour cream you had left over in the fridge

My good friend who came to stay in late May had enthusiastically recommended this particular cake, a recent discovery of hers. On our weekend together, she'd scrolled tirelessly through endless recipes online to find a version of the one she'd tasted without nuts, which from our basic internet search, would appear to be quite common in Armenian nutmeg cakes but - she insisted - were not necessary. After making it, I'd have to agree - this sweet, spice-infused cake is perfect just as it is. Two textures - a crunchy base and a soft, springy sour cream crumb, sprinkled with cinnamon.

Lest you think the two texture thing sounds tricky let me tell you it's not. This is practically a one-bowl affair. The finished cake tastes like the best sort of cinnamon doughnut, even better for not having to drag out a deep fryer or be spattered with hot oil. Plus, with baking you have the benefit of both oven warmth and the seductive, slow-release scent of cinnamon. Hard to beat on a rainy weekend in winter.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Chocolate sour cherry cookies

My oldest friend came to visit last weekend. We've known each other since we were babies, both of us brought up by mothers who were not only good cooks but instilled in us the idea of food as something to be shared - something to welcome, something to celebrate, to comfort, to say thank you. To this end, I made a batch of my favourite cookies for her arrival and she turned up with a tin of her own. Hers were delicious but I don't have the recipe for those (yet!) so here's what I made - the Bourke St Bakery's chocolate sour cherry cookies.

Sour cherries are a little hard to find (if you live in Brisbane, I got mine at the amazing The Source Bulk Foods store in West End on a recent visit) and when you do, they're expensive, but you could easily substitute a good quality dried cranberry as the two are quite similar in texture and taste. Chewy and rich and studded with plump pockets of fruit, these are my regular indulgence if I'm passing the original Surry Hills bakery in Bourke St. But really, you can't beat homemade. We took our cookie smorgasbord to the park with the papers and ate them in the warm winter sun. They spoke volumes.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Cardamom pear sour cream cake

I first discovered cardamon in sweets through Scandinavian baking. Over there, it's a dominant flavour in cinnamon buns, the reason their sort are so different to the American kind. Speckled through dough, or cake batter, it brilliantly balances out the sweetness around it, transforming what would otherwise often be plain and homely into something sophisticated. Here, it works its magic in a cake enriched with sour cream and crowned with petals of pear. It couldn't be less fussy to make or to take... I transported thick slices of this one to Sydney Swans match on Saturday night and down the south coast on Sunday for Mother's Day. I couldn't make it for my mum, but I could feed my friends, and she would have liked that.. and this cake. Very much.

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Rhubarb upside-down cake

For the last month or more I've had to work through weekends. Consequently, I haven't been socialising much, or sleeping either, so Sunday, faced with an actual day off, I found myself a bit confused, like a zoo animal released back into the wild, who doesn't know what to do with their new-found freedom. To get my bearings, I baked. I'd had this recipe bookmarked for a while and on a trip to the shops had been seduced by fat pink stems of rhubarb on sale. There was some rye flour I had in the freezer that needed using up. It was raining outside. The oven was warm, my KitchenAid comforting and familiar. So I greased and floured and measured and chopped and stirred and beat and folded and poured. And unwound. And, as a bonus, vindication of my decision to stay home and bake, the finished cake was fantastic. I ate a slice warm with whipped cream. It was wonderful.

The rhubarb was soft and sour/sweet, the rye flour gave a nice heft and chew to the crumb. There's lots of thoughtful touches in this recipe - from the very talented Yossy Arefi of Apartment 2B Baking Co - the addition of lemon zest to the fruit topping, the use of buttermilk to enrich the rye, a double dose of vanilla with bean and extract... Trust me, it's good. An upside-down cake to make life feel right way up again.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Hash browns

Last year my dad and I did a road trip through the American south. In Florence, Alabama we went to our first Waffle House. I'd read an article about it in Bon Appétit, of all places. Turns out this fast food franchise with its bright yellow sign is beloved of fancy food writers who grew up in the south. And not just them, obviously. In our second Waffle House in Kimball, Tennessee, a couple of loggers in their 60s sat in the booth next to ours and struck up a conversation. Families traipsed in and out. Old people, young people. Open 24 hours, serving breakfast any time of the day as well as familiar fast food fare like burgers and BLTs, furnished with booths and a wraparound diner counter, there was something undeniably cheery about the place, so much so that by our third Waffle House in Dandridge, TN, we were actually picking our motels based on how close they were to one. 

It goes with out saying that they're famous for their waffles. But the other menu mainstay no matter what time of the day or night, are their hash browns. Brilliant for breakfast with eggs and bacon and all manner of greasy goodness, perfect for lunch or dinner too especially if you order them "all the way" which basically means topped with everything from mushrooms to cheese to sausage gravy. There's nothing not to like about fried potato, especially when they're like these: lacy, crispy latticework, golden brown and buttery. Best of all, now I'm back in Sydney and a million miles away from my favourite fried food fix, I just discovered that one of those fancy food writers - James Beard award-winning Josh Ozersky - worked out how to make Waffle House hash browns at home. All you need is a box grater, a potato, some butter, a sprinkling of salt and a cast iron skillet. Oh. And three minutes. Don't believe me? Watch. Then make them yourself. I did. And I'm going to again. For dinner tonight.

Thursday 7 April 2016

Chocolate orange date truffles

Food presents are my favourite. Among the best I've received in recent years: vanilla beans from Bali, a catering-size container of corn relish from Tasmania, biscotti baked in one hemisphere and mailed to another, home-roasted coffee beans, a dozen hot cross buns from my favourite Hobart bakery, a tin of homemade biscuits to last through Christmas and beyond, my mother's green pawpaw chutney (which I'm lucky enough to have a lifetime supply of thanks to her obsessive need to bottle everything she ever grew), and last week, a huge haul of premium grade cocoa from my American cousin Amy, transported across the Pacific Ocean and lugged halfway around Australia by her parents, who've been out here visiting. To thank them for being such good-natured cocoa-mules, I wanted to make them something with it to say thank you. I wanted to make something the gluten-free giver of the gift could eat, even if she wouldn't get to taste this particular batch (her folks are heading home on a three week cruise). Something to showcase the cocoa, in all its dark, bitter beauty. Happily I had just the recipe. It required only a handful of ingredients, all easily available: dates, orange, walnuts and cocoa. Blended together, rolled in extra cocoa to make an elegant truffle that just so happens to be gluten-free and dairy-free too. There's no refined sugar but the natural sweetness of the date and the orange in combination with the richness of the nuts and the cocoa create a taste not unlike the very best dark chocolate... which if you've recently OD'd on supermarket-grade milk chocolate Easter eggs, you will appreciate all the more. Just like a thoughtful gift*. 

* special shout out to my friend George too, for the beautiful plate these truffles sit on, which may not be edible but makes anything that goes near it infinitely more so.

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Red cabbage, date and fetta salad

I've never been big on salad. It can't compete with a sandwich in the lunch stakes and I'm too lazy to whip up a whole separate dish to go along with whatever I'm making for dinner. It's not that I don't eat vegetables (though the name and focus of this blog might suggest otherwise), I just incorporate them into whatever I'm cooking - a soup, a pasta, a curry, risotto, thrown under a roast chicken... But! Along come a new breed of salad which is forcing me to reconsider my long-held position. These salads are robust, verging on hearty. They are colourful and crunchy. Best of all, they're the sort of thing you can make on a Sunday and have on hand for the week ahead. They're all about texture and contrasting flavours - soft, salty fetta, sweet dates, crunchy cabbage, toasted sesame seeds, bright lime... 

I'd had this recipe bookmarked for months but was prompted to finally make it following the enthusiastic endorsement of my friend Joanna, who extolled its virtues as a store cupboard salad. Red cabbage keeps forever in the fridge, and the other ingredients I usually have on hand, so it can be made at a moment's notice. And only takes moments to make.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Lemon bars

It's summer here in Sydney and I've no business buying single lemons for $2 when there's all sorts of amazing stone fruit still in stores but I was craving lemon tart. This presented somewhat of a conundrum as lemon tart is not the sort of craving that can be satisfied quickly. There's pastry to be made, rested, rolled out, refrigerated, a food processor to be dragged from the cupboard (and washed afterwards), not to mention a finished tart to be cooled. Hooray for lemon bars. All the taste of a tart, with none of the hassle. 

The bar cookie is an American baking classic, a mainstay of picnics and potlucks. They're brilliantly portable and utterly unpretentious. What you see is what you get and here it's a burnished gold top, a dense, buttery biscuit base and sandwiched between them, a sweetly tart custardy lemon filling. This recipe uses everyday ingredients, whole eggs (no separating or extra yolks), the zest and juice of a single lemon, and, best of all, one mixing bowl. It takes hardly any time to make, only 25 minutes to bake, and not too long to cool. And because it's meant to be cut, you have no compunction about eating a piece before guests arrive.