Archives for category: Baking

I read a lot of recipes, everyday on blogs, in the newspaper, magazines, websites. Some recipes cement themselves in my conscious, a bookmark so clear and vivid I have no need for an electronic or paper page marker. Sometimes I think there must be a part of my brain solely charged with storing food information. Like a niggle to not forget a dentist appointment or to pay a bill or return a library book, I have a niggle to not forget about this bread I just read about, or to remember a recipe for olive oil cake while Perrin still has a 20 litre container of his family’s press under his kitchen table.

red wine red wineciambelline al vino

Most recently I read about a biscuit, simple and straightforward enough on paper, five main ingredients, made mostly by hand in one bowl – the ease is appealing. But I only realised this as I made them; they first caught my attention with this summary – biscuits made with wine for dipping in wine! That was all I needed to know.

red reflectionsred wine days

And really, that’s all you need to know too. There is no story here, although I did start a draft post on a rather overwrought, melodramatic note about earthquakes and high winds and rumbling ground and beautiful Italian biscuits for dunking in wine. But in a bid to keep things real, I’ll focus on the biscuits.

swirly doughrolling and pinching dough

They look delicate but are hardy. They can withstand a good dunking and being carted about town in containers. They are sugar crusted and look like doughnuts with dark, caramelised bottoms and just blushed tops. They contain generous sprinkles of fennel seeds adding the sweet-savoury lilt of aniseed. When they bake, and this is my favourite part, the kitchen smells like baking bread, a yeasty, oily focaccia perhaps. Even after they have cooled, a biscuit brought to your mouth will still smell of yeast and grassy olive oil.

Fennel seedsready to bake

These flavours, a seemingly ill-aligned profile of oil and wine and aniseed, are a bit like chilli and chocolate, maple syrup and bacon, avocado and raspberries, that is, they work. In fact these ciambelline could be the most adaptable biscuits you make – we’re thinking they really could be dipped, dunked and spooned into all manner of things. Hot chocolate and black tea for slow days then stiff drinks for later – a sweet sherry, a dry sherry to compliment the savoury, yeasty tones; cointreau for a bit of zest; eaten with rosé at lunch or a hearty red on a dark night. Creams – perhaps lemon syllabub, or soaked prunes mashed into a thin creme fraiche or perhaps eaten on the side of a panna cotta.

There’s no story today – just biscuits with red wine for dunking in red wine – all you need to remember them by.

Ciambelline al Vino
Recipe from Rachel eats

On the original post no measurements are included in recognition of true Italian cooking style – a ‘feel your way/you’ll know when you see it’ approach. I have included measurements but the recipe should be easy enough to halve or double as you like. Equal quantities of sugar, olive oil and wine are key. Next time I might add a smidgeon of grated lemon zest.

1 cup sugar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup wine – red, white or fortified (I used red)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
flour – I needed close to 5 cups in total
sugar for dusting

In a bowl stir together the sugar, olive oil and wine. Add the salt and fennel seeds then begin to add flour in small measures, mixing at each addition until a soft dough has formed and comes away from the sides.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead lightly for several minutes, adding more flour until the dough is smooth. Cover and rest for at least an hour. Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with paper.

Break off walnut size pieces and roll between your hands or on the bench until a slim log forms – about 8-10cm. Wrap the ends around to meet and pinch together. If the dough gets too oily, rub your hands with flour. Pour a bit of sugar in a small bowl and place the ciambelline in the sugar until lightly covered. Place the biscuits on the oven tray and bake for 20-25 minutes.



citrussimple lemon cake

Ever since I made Skye Gyngell’s lemon and poppyseed cake last year I have been meaning to share our standard, go-to lemon cake recipe. It’s so understated that we often forget it about. But the recipe, copied in my mother’s hand into the green binder, shows it came from a 1998 issue of Cuisine magazine. We have been making this cake, and often forgetting about it, for nearly 15 years. You could say we’ve had small lemon cake revelations for 15 years.

recipe binderLimeWhen life hands you a lemon (lime)zest

This cake is little, almost pathetically so. But it’s light, moist and the lemon flavour is bang on the mark. This cake is of my favourite sort, the no-icing sort. Instead a sugar and lemon juice syrup is poured on the cake fresh from the oven. Like pouring brandy on a hot Christmas cake, this seems the most kindly of gestures for a cake. Like tying a child’s shoelace or wrapping a scarf around a loved one’s neck, it’s a small gesture but it makes a difference. The sugar forms a thin crust on top so there is the slightest crunch when you eat it, and if, like me, you never bother to strain your citrus juice, there are small bursts of lemon flesh scattered across the cake.

cut limejuicemore juice

I was going to began this post in what I feel follows a common thread amongst blog writers – the constant search for the better, different, more exciting, more challenging recipes, but then so often the family classics prove to be the best. If nothing else, these recipes are dependable. They can often be made in a jiffy, are very forgiving in terms of swapping this for that, and they please a crowd. These are all valid points and no reason at all to discredit the everyday and the dependable, but I’m beginning to see a trend in my kitchen.

lime juice and sugar syrupcake with bumpy edgesLemon cake

I made a crumble last week; rhubarb and apple with a spiced topping packed full of nuts and oats. I like my crumble to be a perfectly suitable substitute for breakfast, the crumble to be more liked baked muesli than dessert. With crumble I feel you can skimp on the sugar as long as the ratio of fruit to crisp is 2:1. You see, I’m intimate with the crumble. But the other dishes that make up a varied, diverse and exciting life? I’m less intimate with those.

There are so many opportunities to progress as a cook. I’m going to start reading cook books again, and actually cook from them. I’m going to experiment with flavours and ingredients.

On that note, I share with you a dead easy lemon cake recipe because, let’s face it, despite promises to be brave and fearless in the kitchen, we all need an easy lemon cake recipe up our sleeves.

Sugar and Lemon Cake

A quick note – I made this recipe with limes instead of lemons, so feel free to play around with the citrus. I didn’t have any milk so used lime juice instead. This worked out fine, except I think the extra fat from the milk helps to keep the cake moist and round out the flavours. Perhaps go half and half, milk and citrus juice, if after a stronger citrus flavour. The recipe below is the original.

125 grams butter
175 grams sugar
2 eggs, beaten
175 grams self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
zest of lemon
1/2 cup milk

juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar

Pre-heat oven to 180°C and line a small 20 cm tin. Cream butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Add the beaten eggs, a little at time, beating after each addition. Fold in the dry ingredients plus the lemon zest and the milk. Pour into prepared tin and bake for 35-45 minutes. (Check after 30 minutes depending on how much extra citrus you added.)

Stir together the sugar and lemon juice for the syrup. Pour over the hot, cooked cake. Leave to cool in tin, however, best served slightly warm.

Orange ginger honey cakePeople are going to think all I eat are cakes and desserts soon. People are going to think I look like all I eat are cakes and desserts; rolling about the place like a big, round cookie. But really, most of the time the meals I eat are simple and easy – salads, soups and what I call funny stove-top vegetable throw-togethers. There really are no boundaries with these sorts of meals. Last Tuesday night’s dinner was a fine example: Brussels sprouts halved, cooked in a tablespoon of oil and a knob of butter then two diced tomatoes thrown in, salt and pepper, fresh thyme and cubes of stale bread. The bread had been sitting on the kitchen table for a few days so I diced it up before I could think too carefully and threw it in with a “what the hell” flick of the wrist. Sometimes not thinking in the kitchen is a damn good idea; this dinner was very, very good.

The Brussels sprouts browned at the cut edge while the outer leaves softened into translucency and the tightly wrapped insides were sweet and toothsome. The tomatoes simmered down to a sauce, herbaceous and with a bit of tang. The pieces of bread, nestled amongst the red and the green, absorbed the sauce and the juices until almost cake-like in texture.
HoneyOrange and Ginger
Occasionally I think people may want to read about these sorts of dinners; this funny, made-up on the spot sort of food. I could write about my mother and her funny, made-up on the spot sort of food. I think I learnt that brazen flick of the wrist motion from her. I love it when she says, while stirring a pot or searching through the spice shelf, “I have no idea what this is or what I’m doing, I’m just going with it.” I love that honesty in cooking, the thrill of being guided by instinct. Forget the recipe books for a while, I say, cook with abandon.
Beaten egg whites
But then I bake a cake and it seems exciting and something of a revelation. The margin for error is greater in baking, I think, than simply throwing together vegetables and herbs in a pan. When a cake emerges from the oven golden and perfect there is a small sigh of relief and then a celebration to be had for this small victory. My kind of cooking, my week day throw-togethers, take place in the moment and without occasion so very rarely are they eaten by anyone but me. These meals are flavourful, yes, and healthy, yes, but they’re not pretty like a cake or uniform like a biscuit.
Olive oil, honey cake
This cake, though, it’s a keeper. It has earthy, floral notes of olive oil and is sweetened with honey and fresh orange juice. The ginger and the orange and the honey; they go very well together. A honey sweetened cake is much more interesting than any white processed sugar counterpart. Honey feels balanced and produces a sweetness with a real flavour. Sugar is not a flavour. There are jubes of crystallised ginger in the batter and grated ginger throughout so there is a spicy warmth to the cake.

There appears to be a lot going on here – Orange! Ginger – ground, root, crsytallised! Olive oil! Honey! Wholemeal flour! But it works, perhaps it’s the wholemeal flours toning everything down a bit, maybe it’s the savoury of the olive oil. This cake is simple and honest. It’s wholesome, a quality I love in a cake. It feels approachable and user-friendly; it’s a scone cake, a Sunday morning tea cake, a snacking cake, a breakfast cake. It is not striving for centre stage or a grand feast, much like my on-the-spot dinners.

Orange Ginger Olive Oil Cake
I adapted this recipe from the Eating Well website – a very good reminder that sweet treats can be made and eaten well. I think this cake would almost be better with ground almonds instead of the mixture of plain flour and wholemeal. Let me know if you try this.

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup mild flavoured olive oil
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger root
5 tablespoons chopped crystallised ginger
1 cup wholemeal flour
2/3 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

juice of an orange
1/4 cup icing sugar

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.

In a small bowl mix together the honey, olive oil, egg yolks, orange zest, grated fresh ginger and the crystallised ginger.

Into a large bowl sift the flours, baking powder, ground ginger and salt.

In a third bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir the honey mixture into the flours then gently fold in the egg whites with a spatula until the mixtures are well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared tin.

Check the cake after 20 minutes, or bake until golden in colour and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the tin before turning onto a wire rack to cool. Mix the orange juice and the icing sugar together and drizzle over the warm cake.

Georgie Lowe Photography
After Christmas Perrin brought me a bag of plums from his sister’s tree. He called to tell me he had picked a handful to make a cake. I remember smiling down the phone at this guy who picks me plums and suggests cake making. He brought the plums back in a supermarket shopping bag, the plastic threatening to tear. Nearly three kilos of small cherry-like fruit with dark skins and flesh the colour of a ruby sunset. The ripe skins were beginning to burst. We got to work fast.
Georgie Lowe Photography
This french plum cake recipe comes from an old Annabel Langbein book, the font and photos harking back to the nineties. It has been years since we have made this cake, maybe not so long ago as the nineties but I had forgotten the exciting bite of a plum cake – the soft buttery crumb with tart lush plums, their juices bursting, running red through the pale batter with the pierce of a fork.

Normally the plums sink as the cake cooks and the batter envelops the dimple of the cut half, but our plums were too small, light enough to gently nestle into the top of the cake. It was a polka dot cake and, when you think about, there is a happy simplicity to polka dots whether on a dress, around the lip of a bowl or spotted across the surface of a cake.
Georgie Lowe Photography
A few years ago, for a creative writing course, I wrote a story about making plum and apricot cakes. The story, the way it read, was largely fiction but the memories it conjured for me were true. My mother, sister and I picked the fruit from our elderly, dying neighbour’s tree. I wrote of standing on vinyl covered chairs at the kitchen bench with tea towels tied around our necks pulling the stones from the halved fruit with our fingers. The fruit in the story was over-ripe too, nearly stewing in their ripeness, I wrote.
Georgie Lowe Photography
It was summer time in the story and ripening stone fruit – the scent, soft fruit in hand, juices seeping from torn skin – then and now, create a sense of urgency; these need to be used, no waste. There were associations made between the fragility of a life of a plum and that of a person. Perhaps a more straightforward theme of my story was the simple pleasures cake baking can bring to both the cook and the recipient. These feelings are only heightened when the plums have been hand-picked off a neighbour’s or a sister’s tree.

French Plum Cake

This recipe, from Annabel Langbein‘s book More Taste than Time, makes two cakes; one to keep, one to give away.

6 to 8 fresh plums or other stone fruit
3 tablespoons sugar
300 grams butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup milk
3 1/2 cups high grade flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Slice plums into a bowl and sprinkle with the 3 tablespoons of sugar. (If plums are small like ours slice in half, but quarter if using bigger plums.) Toss plums and leave to sit while preparing the rest of the cake.

Cream together the butter and the sugar. Add eggs, lemon rind, vanilla essence then stir in the milk, flour and baking powder. Divide batter between two tins and arrange plums on top.

Cook for 60-65 minutes – the fruit will sink into the cake as it cooks.

Serve warm with yoghurt or whipped cream. Best eaten the day of making – the second cake can be frozen.

PearsIt’s Christmas Eve and it’s sticky, muggy, humid, hot. The air is thick and still beneath the high wispy cloud – so typical this change in the weather after my last post despairing of Wellington’s Christmas climate. Long may it continue, until tomorrow at least.

Today we have made fruit and nut truffles of the whole food kind – walnuts and sunflower seeds blended until gritty then bound together with prunes, dried apricots, raisins and a glug of brandy. We have iced the Christmas cake with brandy butter icing; Christmas smells of brandy in our house. Today we made mayonnaise for our hot smoked salmon hors d’oeuvres platter we are having tomorrow. On one of our first truly hot days Mum and I decided to whip, vigourously I might add, home made mayonnaise. Michael Bublé’s Christmas album took a welcome break and The Eagles, Pearl Jam and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah played as we whisked and coaxed a buttercup yellow egg yolk and olive oil into beautifully thick, rich and bright mayo. Droplets of sweat appeared on our foreheads and our arms ached, but goodness, that mayonnaise, I could eat it with a spoon. Tomorrow will be delicious.
a de-constructed Christmas treefairy lights
On Friday we had our Christmas dinner with Ollie and Jason at their flat. A de-constructed Christmas tree is tacked to their kitchen walls, fairy lights are woven among branches, candy canes hooked between sprigs and baubles hang from the ceiling. We drank bubbles and pulled Christmas crackers; it felt very festive.

The boys cooked an absolute feast that we devoured with greed, each mouthful taken with a hmm and aah, and exclamations of “these potatoes!” “these beans and olives!” “this chicken!” Ollie makes the best roast chicken: moist and tender with crispy skin. There were potatoes roasted in duck fat to a crisp outside with soft white insides; a vegetable tian with eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic and herbs; and green beans lightly sautéed to bright forest green in colour with black olives, lemon and garlic.
Christmas feastJason's lemon tart
For dessert Jason made the best lemon tart I have ever eaten. The filling was thick, high on the pastry and luxuriously creamy like a custard with the sweet tang of lemon. It was light yet rich, sweet yet thrillingly citric, the way only a good lemon tart can be.
bosc pearspear upside down ricotta cake
For dessert I made an upside down pear ricotta and lemon cake. We hardly needed two desserts but the idea for this cake had crept into my head and wouldn’t leave. After Christmas tea and episodes of 30 Rock this cake became our midnight feast.
roasted pearsyellow ricotta cake with roasted pearsimproved the next day, softer
I roasted slices of bosc pears in butter, brown sugar and a little salt until they become slips of sweet juicy fruit. I layered these on the bottom of the pan, a haphazard layering far from a delicate spiral, with the lemon ricotta mix on top. The ricotta lends the texture of ground almonds and gives an open crumb. The cake beneath the pale pears is buttery in colour and in flavour – the smooth, rich butter flavour that becomes soft and sweet in the oven. This is the same mellow butteriness that can be found in a good Chardonnay, in a pear itself and perhaps, even, a tissue thin slice of prosciutto or salami. There is comfort to be found in this buttery warmth, even when it is nearly 100% humidity.

Upside-down Pear Ricotta Cake
The ricotta cake base I adapted from a recipe I found on the BBC Good Food website: a wonderful site and one of my most trusted sources of online recipes. A few extra notes: I used defrosted ricotta which I had frozen a few weeks ago. It worked fine but I made sure to squeeze any extra moisture out before adding to the mix.

For the pears:
3 bosc pears, peeled, cored and sliced
a generous knob of butter
half cup brown sugar loosely packed
pinch of salt

For the cake:
175 grams softened butter
175 grams caster sugar
zest of 2 lemons
3 eggs, separated
250 grams ricotta
125 grams flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Place the sliced pears in a roasting dish with the butter, sugar and salt and roast until tender. About 20-30 minutes. Line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.

Meanwhile prepare the ricotta cake mix. In a bowl cream the butter and sugar together until pale and smooth. Then beat in the lemon zest, egg yolks and ricotta. In a clean dry bowl using clean beaters beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold into the ricotta mixture. Sift the flour and baking powder together then fold into the cake mixture until just combined.

Once the pears have roasted use tongs to layer the pear slices with on the bottom of the cake tin with the least amount of excess juices as possible. Sprinkle over a teaspoon of brown sugar. On top of the pears pour the cake mixture and smooth. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for one hour before turning upside down onto a serving plate. Serve with cream or yoghurt.

Almond and Orange ShortbreadI remember one particular Christmas day when I was probably about 8 or 9 and it was hot. I was given bright yellow togs (swim suit) for Christmas that had a keyhole clasp at the back and I think they had a brocade like pattern on them. I swam in those togs until they near wore through and the bright yellow faded to the colour of butter. But that Christmas we spent all day in the garden playing petanque and in the afternoon we turned on the sprinkler and christened our new togs. I remember these togs so fondly for this was possibly the last Christmas day of endless hot sunshine.
rolled in almondlike a dough caterpillar The next year we were in long sleeves and jeans. And every year since then our summer in Wellington seems to have shifted and come Christmas we are still plagued by spring winds and the accompanying unpredictability. Last week we had two days of 25 degrees and it was glorious. Everyone was optimistic for a hot, even if brief, summer. But north of New Zealand cyclone Evan lashes the islands of the Pacific and the cyclone’s most southern tendrils might just whip the North Island by the end of the week. Two days ago, from the hills down to the harbour, Wellington was shrouded beneath a thick fog.
orange and almond log
When we wait with trepidation nearly every year to see what Christmas weather will bring, knowing it’s likely to be dull, it seems quite sensible for Christmas to be in winter. A day spent inside with a lit fire, hot drinks, heavy roasts and biscuits scented with the most warming of spices. But down here in the south Pacific we hang on desperately to this idyllic image of a barbecue Christmas playing beach cricket and wearing t-shirt and shorts. In Wellington we should find a happy medium. I’m guessing we’ll find this through food, somewhere between the spinach and tarragon stuffed turkey breast wrapped in bacon and the bright red strawberries and soft raspberries.
like a long ficelleorange and almond shortbread
However, after all that hand wringing and lamenting at the often appalling Wellington climate which, I’m sorry, seems such a feature of this blog, there are a few Christmas mainstays no matter which you hemisphere you reside: Christmas cookies. I like the romance and the heady spice of an Italian or German Christmas biscuit; spiked with citrus, perhaps of the candied variety, and almost potent with cinnamon, ginger, mace and cloves. But it is the decidedly more British biscuit, the shortbread, that caught my attention this year.
almond crusted shortbreadbrushed with orange blossom
Whether the Scots believe in adding ground almonds, orange zest and a splash of orange blossom water to their beloved shortbread is yet to be investigated, but I definitely do. These biscuits are good; it’s barely half six in the morning and I’ve already eaten two, contemplating the crispness, the shortness, if you will, of the biscuit. There is the smallest of shatters as you bite beneath the almond crust, and the familiar flavour of buttery, mellow shortbread comes to the fore. But then there is something else entirely – the sweet zest of orange, the woody green hint of cloves and the dab of orange blossom water brushed onto the surface of the hot biscuits whispers floral notes.

It’s strangely Christmas-y in this regard, perhaps of the southern hemisphere sort with summer flowers and our native Christmas tree.

Orange and Almond Shortbread
Recipe heavily adapted from here.

It is best to be timid when brushing the liquid onto the hot biscuits. The almond is a subtle flavour and you don’t want anything too overpowering nor do you want to soften the biscuit.

180 grams soft butter
125 grams icing sugar
80 grams ground almonds (plus extra for dusting and rolling).
115 grams plain flour
65 grams cornflour
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
finely grated zest of half an orange
orange blossom water or orange liqueur

Cream the butter and the icing sugar until pale and creamy. Sift the dry ingredients plus the orange zest. Mix with a spoon or your hands until just combined. On a clean dry surface sprinkle ground almonds and turn out shortbread mixture. Roll dough through the ground almonds and form into a long sausage shape, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. In the meantime pre-heat the oven to 160°C and line a baking tray.

Unwrap the dough and slice into 1.5 centimetre rounds. Place on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes. Once the biscuits have been removed from the oven use a pastry brush to lightly brush on orange blossom water or another orange liqueur like Cointreau. Leave to cool for 30 minutes before dusting in icing sugar if you choose.

Chocolate Oat CookiesIt’s nearly Christmas which in a strange contradictory way feels like it should come as a great shock, as in “good grief, what happened to November, or the rest of the year for that matter?”, but at the same time I feel I can wave my hand nonchalantly and say Christmas schmistmas (try saying that out loud, difficult.) Not because I don’t care and not because I don’t crave more than anything a day or two to spend with family and friends eating and drinking, but because when it all boils down, that’s really all we need to worry about in our house – the food and the wine.

In November blog readers around the world were inundated with Thanksgiving recipes and stories and photographs of turkey. Most writers spoke of the comfort that can be found in having the traditional Thanksgiving menu year after year, while other writers posted recipes for the new and the different. After several weeks of pumpkin pie recipes and cranberry sauce and tales of gathering at the family table I had had enough. If I read another turkey stuffing recipe or ideas for how to use the leftovers I might have screamed. My animosity towards Thanksgiving might very well stem from jealousy, I’ll be the first to admit it. I would love another holiday so close to Christmas, another opportunity to cook and eat with the people I love, but I must wait to Christmas here.
Sweetened condensed milk
So I became eager and excited for the days when our family could plan our Christmas meal. We usually try new things, experiment with new flavours. There are special ingredients, like scallops, that we save for days like Christmas but otherwise the wonderful thing about our Christmas table is the food doesn’t seem too far from our everyday. This makes our Christmas menu sound a bit boring, perhaps? As if quick week night meals were on par with our Christmas fare. The difference between the everyday and Christmas is time – we have all day to prepare our meal. We spend the day pottering and tinkering about in the kitchen, occasionally taking breaks to eat chocolates, pour more bubbles, open presents or lounge in the sun (the joys of a southern hemisphere Christmas). Then, suddenly it’s 2 in the afternoon and our table is full.

I love the rituals of our Christmas, the unstated guidelines our family has about how long to spend in your pyjamas in the morning, how we set the table, the bowls of chocolates or roasted nuts for people to pick at during the day and the annual trip to Kirk’s Christmas shop to choose our decoration. This reflection on Thanksgiving and Christmas, family and food, prompted me to think of my family’s favourite recipes – the ones held constant throughout my life. There are quite a few on this list but whether they were held constant in the reality of my childhood or whether I have fabricated their near perpetual existence in my memory, as I am prone to doing, I cannot say. But they are good and I hope to share them all here, one day. First though is the chocolate oat cookie, revered in Lowe family lore.
Whittaker's dark chocolate

Whittaker's dark chocolate
All four of us have made this recipe countless times and nearly every time the cookies have turned out differently. Someone may have added too much butter and the biscuits become flat crisps. Other times perhaps the butter and sugar were not creamed properly, or maybe a smidge too much baking powder and we have high, fluffy, scone like biscuits. Every time these biscuits have been good, perhaps made in haste but never without love. These inconsistencies are not a fault of the recipe, instead they are testament that with chocolate, oats and butter there is not a lot that can go wrong.
Pressed and ready to bakeChocolate oat cookie
Sometimes these biscuits have been made with chocolate chips, other times with a roughly chopped block of dark chocolate. A few times we have abandoned the chocolate altogether and used raisins instead. These days roughly chopped Whittaker’s dark chocolate is the way to go; the hunks of chocolate are molten fresh from the oven but hold their shape within a thin seal ready to burst into warm fudge as you bite through. The binding flavour here, what differentiates this cookie from a regular chocolate chip, is not the chocolate used, or the (significant) quantity of butter, or the addition of sweetened condensed milk, but the oats. That nutty, soft flavour I find irresistible in so many things seems to bring me home every time I eat them. Chocolate oat cookies did that perhaps, and for that I am thankful.

Chocolate Oat Cookie

Once you’ve added the flour and the rolled oats, the ratio of dry to wet ingredients seems a bit out and the mixture too dry. Work it well with your hands or a really large spoon and all will be ok.

250 grams butter
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 cups flour
1 and 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
150 grams roughly chopped dark chocolate

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray. Cream the butter, condensed milk and sugar together for at least 8 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Cook for 15-20 minutes until a nice golden brown.

As a child it would be fair to say I had a few food related issues. I liked to eat and was an adventurous eater compared to some children, but the seed of healthful eating had been planted early on. I remember asking my mother before I tried something new like an avocado or a zucchini, “Is it good for me?” I would probably have eaten anything had I believed it was good for me. I don’t think I was motivated by a desire to be thinner – body consciousness had not yet become a catch phrase at the tender age of 7 or 8 or 9 – rather I was aware of having healthy insides. The body is a temple, as my father says.

Fast food very rarely tempted me as a child, in fact I was known to pale and dry retch at the thought of McDonald’s or Burger King. I couldn’t go to the movies for a while due to the hideous smell of butter popcorn and the thought of sitting in a movie theatre with chocolate and greasy hands. After birthday or sleep over parties, days and nights spent gorging on cake, lollies, chips and fizzy drinks, I would come home feeling like I needed a cold shower, to go for a 100 kilometre run and to eat nothing but raw carrot sticks for a week. I felt I needed to redeem myself in some way, to take care of my body. Instead, possibly trying to instill a sense of rationality and moderation in her children, my mother would feed us a bowl of mashed vegetables – potato, carrot, pumpkin, cauliflower, broccoli, sometimes blanched spinach streaked throughout. We felt better instantly.

These days, this need for cleansing food comes around less often mostly because I have a natural inclination towards salads and lean proteins. I enjoy eating well. But working in the hospitality sector can be challenging in trying to have some sense of control over what and when I eat. Sometimes the food is just so damn good I really do need two helpings of chocolate mousse cake for dinner. And other times I find myself nibbling on bread crusts and that’s that.

Working at Big Bad Wolf Charcuterie is wonderful. The sausages, terrines, dried and cured meats, pork pies and spit roast pork sandwiches are the best around, and when people say gosh, it must be great to work here, it really, really is. But I’m exhausting myself living on a diet of meat, meat and more meat. Sausages for breakfast – I want to try them all – tomato, beef and bacon; pork and fennel; pork, watercress, anchovy and potato; beef, cheddar and caper. The day I had the Big Bad Blood sausage for breakfast (kidney, heart and liver) was a wild day indeed. But now is the time to bring a little greenery and, that all important word, moderation into my diet.

This blog is not motivated by a specific diet, vegetarianism, veganism, a carb free diet, or low fat. This is not a space to extol the virtues of healthy eating, for while they are numerous and important, this blog and my food is dictated by taste. This space is for the appreciation of all good food – the fruit and vegetables, the fish and seafood, the nuts and grains, yoghurt and ice cream, the cakes and sweet treats, the dinner meals; light soups or salads alongside the heavier stews or highly spiced curries or pastas. Moderation is the name of the game.

So today, I made these fruit and nut truffles – vegan, dairy and gluten free. These baby truffles are sweet with dried fruit, with the slight crunch of sesame seeds and blitzed almonds, the faint creaminess of coconut milk and all wrapped up with the bitterness of cocoa. These baby truffles are my re-aquaintance with a different way of cooking and a different way of eating. It helps that they are bite sized, perfect for a little sweet treat.

There is something so festive about truffles coated in cocoa, chopped nuts or dessicated coconut. The truffles sit beside me as I type and I can smell their nutty, bitter aroma. We always make several types of truffles for Christmas. This year I’m adding these to the list for moderation applies at Christmas, too.

Fruit and Nut Truffles

A quick note on the dried fruit: Soak in hot water for 10 or so minutes, then drain but reserve a tablespoon of the soaking liquid. Also, I used one third of a cup of raw almonds as that is all I had. A half cup would be fine, possibly even better. On that note, feel free to play with the fruit and nut varieties and quantities.

1 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/3 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 tablespoons ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut cream – the thick layer from the top of the can
zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Blitz the almonds in a food processor until finely chopped. Pour into a mixing bowl with the sesame seeds, ground almonds and cinnamon. Mix well.

Place the soaked fruit in the processor with the tablespoon of reserved soaking liquid and the vanilla extract. Pulse until the fruit is nearly a paste. Spoon into the bowl with the almonds and seeds. Add the coconut cream and grated lemon zest and mix until thoroughly combined.

Place the cocoa powder on a plate and roll each truffle into a tiny bite sized ball – they are quite sweet so you don’t need a lot. Roll the truffle through the cocoa powder. Once all the truffles are coated keep truffles refrigerated.

Serve as an after dinner sweet treat with tea, or during the day as a little pick-up.

I’m not sure what else can be said about spiced apple cake that hasn’t been said before. I could follow suit of the northern hemisphere at the moment and talk about the latest windfall of apple picking, and how ever to use up 20 pounds of apples if not in a spiced apple cake, earthy and sweet and unequivocally autumnal? (Although they would say fall.) But it is not fall here, and apple picking, for all its romance, is not available.

I could write of the warming homeliness of cinnamon, allspice and ginger, of how it seems appropriate to bunker down, perhaps beneath a blanket and with a mug of black tea when eating spiced apple cake. But here, summer is finally waving hello. It is the time of year to stay outdoors, to eat ice cream and, in a few months, juicy stone fruit.

I could write of the nubbliness of rolled oats. Of how oats undergo an amazing transformation from plain cereal to soft and luxurious and worthy of the title sweet treat or dessert when mixed with butter and brown sugar. I could write about the contrast in texture with, perhaps, broken walnut pieces. But truth be told, this is a simple spiced apple cake, plain and sweet, no walnuts or nubbly oats, just apple, spice and a few raisins.

I could write about the spiced apple cakes my mother used to make, for there have been several. Our most popular apple cake has a strudel-esque topping that always seems to marble with the cake batter, ruining the effect, but is no less delicious.

Perhaps, like banana bread, we do not need any more words or recipes for spiced apple cake.

And yet, here I am.

For me the most surprising part of this cake is the preparation of the two apples. Peeled, yes. But rather than roughly diced apple breaking the surface of the cake and creating little pockets of soft apple within the batter, the apples are thinly sliced, as you would for an apple tart. The sliced apples are then covered with all of the sugar, not a modest few tablespoons while the rest of the measure is creamed with butter as we would expect.

The two apples go a long way. The thin slices fill the cake out nicely; no ounce of batter is left apple-less. The slices cook down to near nothingness, their fragrance seeping throughout the cake, but cut a slice and pale streaks of apple are throughout.

I may make apple cakes like this from now on – apples sliced over apples diced.

And there we are, those are my words on spiced apple cake.

Spiced Apple Cake

I doubled the measure of spices and reduced the amount of sugar by 25 grams; below is the recipe to my adjustments. I also used one Granny Smith and one braeburn apple as that’s what I had on hand, but any good cooking apples will do. If you are using a sweeter variety, or adding more dried fruit the sugar can be further reduced to 200 grams.

The cake is best served warm with crème fraîche.

2 apples (see note above)
1 egg
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
125 grams butter
225 grams sugar
185 grams flour
75 grams raisins

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20 cm round cake tin.

Peel and slice apples thinly. Place in a large bowl and mix in the sugar.

Melt butter then leave to cool for several minutes before mixing in the egg. Pour the butter mixture over the apples and stir well. Sift dry ingredients over the apples and combine until just mixed.

Pour into cake tin and bake 50 minutes to an hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Dust with icing sugar to serve.

It’s probably a terrible thing when a decision over a simple, basic, yet elegant cake or a layered, complex and indulgent cake becomes a problematic internal conflict.

For my birthday I wanted a project, something challenging, something a little spectacular. But I had to wrestle with my love and trust of simple snacking cakes, like this one and this one. They never fail, these cakes. They are all-purpose, all occasions, suit everyone sort of cakes. But for a cake that may spend an evening sitting on a pretty plate, on a clothed table, near beautiful flowers in the window of a bar, and sparkling with lit candles – well, the cake must rise to the occasion. (Pardon the pun.)

Lemon cake, I thought. Lemon is classic and timeless, a strong, fresh flavour. Perhaps lemon curd for a bit of glamour – rich, smooth, beautiful and bright, bright yellow. Genoise sponge, thought my mother. And so this cake came to be. It’s quite amazing to make: beat eggs, yolks and whites, with sugar in a bowl over simmering water. After ten minutes the mixture is smooth and pale but doubled, tripled, possibly quadrupled in volume. It could resemble risen dough – full of air, light and there is a fragility to it.

Next, just two-thirds of a cup of flour – it seems an impossible amount. Slowly sifted and ever so gently, carefully folded with a grating of lemon zest. Then 60 grams of melted butter, again folded, but with a smooth deliberate motion. Quickly, into the oven.The sponge is light, yes, but it has a flavour more rich and charismatic, if flavour can have such a quality, than other sorts of sponge (read: store-brought sponge). Between the layers the lemon curd settles in, singing its bright notes.

Oh, and the icing – whipped cream spiked with Grand Marnier. It kicks it up a notch.

Lemon Genoise Sponge

I’ll share the recipe for one sponge cake and one measure of lemon curd, about a cup and a half. We made two cakes (this is an egg intensive recipe!), then split each cake in half to create four layers. The lemon curd is lovely on so many things – a dollop in muffins before they are cooked, drizzled on ice cream, or my favourite, spread thickly on toast with a smidge of butter.

The Genoise recipe comes from an old Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook French Cooking Made Easy. The photos are terrible – over exposed and almost clinical in style as if showing a medical procedure, but the recipes, or at least this one, have proven to be quite successful.

4 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
2/3 cup plain flour
60 grams butter, melted

Liqueur Cream
300ml cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease a 20cm round cake tin, line with paper and grease again. Combine eggs and sugar in a large bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water. Do not let the water touch the bottom of the pan. Use an electric mixture to beat mixture until thick and creamy, 10 minutes. Remove bowl from water and continue to beat until mixture has returned to room temperature.

Sift half the flour over the egg mixture and carefully fold in. Fold in the remaining flour. Quickly and carefully fold in the melted butter.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake in for 20 minutes. Turn immediately onto a wire rack to cool.

For the liqueur cream simply beat ingredients together until the right consistency to spread on the cake.

Lemon Curd

This recipe comes from Jo Seagar’s You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble, darling. It’s a go-to recipe in our house.

4 large lemons
100 grams butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten

Scrub lemons then finely grate the rind and squeeze for the juice. Place the juice and grated rind in a small saucepan. Add eggs, sugar and butter cut into little cubes. Stir over a very low heat until the sugar dissolves and then stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until the mixture thickens.

Pour into a jug and then fill clean hot sterilised jars. Seal and keep refrigerated.