Archives for category: Dessert

A shadowIt’s funny sometimes how priorities change, stack up against each other, as if the different tasks and obligations one has are in competition with each other rather than with the time manager. This is how I feel sometimes, out of touch as everything seems to change around me, so I sit back and see what happens, see how the priorities rearrange themselves.
CauliflowerReady to roastAn eggplant
I realise, obviously, that how duties, assignments and relationships are prioritised and juggled is directed by me. There is not a universal power calling the shots telling me where to be, what to bring, who to email, who to call, what to read, what to write, how to eat well – though God, sometimes I wish there was. I’m a bit of a worry wart, an over-thinker. Some days my worries about things like climate change, recycling, the media, the food industry, the future, travel, careers, money (the list goes on) I find stimulating and motivating. But then there are days, as there have been recently, where I crave to be reckless, to be irresponsible, to live dangerously for a night – staying awake past midnight would be a good start.
ChoppedIn sunSlater like
At the moment, the best it gets is when I have to abandon everything I’m currently working on, leave the computer, put down the pen, and take care of the fruit and vegetables in my kitchen rapidly nearing the end of their life. There were peaches that needed doctoring earlier this week. Beautifully ripe, flavoursome and meaty golden queens, but with soft, brown spots dotting their velvet skins. I pan-roasted thin slices with butter, honey and cinnamon until the fruit was browned at the edges, golden of a different sort. All I had to take care of were those peaches.
LeekHalf rounds
Food – real food, good food – is my outlet, my down time. I like the quiet that settles over me when I look into the fridge or open the cupboard and know that soup can be made, a salad can be tossed and a cake can be baked. When I am in the kitchen everything else falls by the wayside and the desire to be nourished and to provide takes over – I like it most when this becomes priority number one.
RoastedGreen chilli
That is how we came to have this soup the other night, this earthy red, fiery, richly flavoured soup. With vegetables on hand I found myself there, in the kitchen, present in that moment, chopping carrots and an eggplant, de-seeding a red capsicum, dicing cauliflower florets and peeling cloves of garlic. When tossed with oil, salt, pepper and then baked, vegetables will always soften, sweeten. When soft, sweet roasted vegetables are added to a pot of spicy, lemony cooked leeks with vegetable stock and seasoning, well, there’s no going wrong.
Soup oneSoup two
Like most soups and stews, the flavours need a little time to develop. But after a day, or two, the lemon comes through and the chilli adds a heftiness, coating your mouth and stinging your lips. “Wake up!” it says. You can taste the vegetables, every one if you feel your way – the carrots are earthy and the capsicum is sweet, while the eggplant adds a smooth richness and the cauliflower is present in a “sturdy guy at the back” kind of way. The slow cooked vegetables, allowed to soften and crisp in equal measure, give the soup substance and make a hot bowlfull the right meal, the right answer to whatever is on your mind.

Spicy Roast Vegetable Soup
The inspiration for this recipe comes from one of my favourite food blogs, Food Loves Writing. Like Shanna says, it’s more method than recipe when it comes to making soup like this. My soup was on the thicker end of the soup-consistency spectrum and I thought this would be perfect to slump over some hot brown rice or other cooked grain.

Take a bunch of vegetables, chop them into roughly the same size, toss with a good glug of oil and seasoning then roast for at least an hour at 180°C until tender and golden.

While the vegetables cook take a leek or a large onion, chop into half rounds and cook in a large pot with a splash of oil and knob of butter, with chopped up chillis, garlic, ginger, lemon peel and any other spices you like. Once soften remove from heat and leave to sit.

Once the vegetables are cooked, return the onion pot to the heat and add the roasted vegetables with enough stock to just about cover and the juice of a whole lemon. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer for a few minutes then purée.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream or spiced yoghurt.


Plum and Almond SpongeThe rain came, finally. The hills are misty and the sky is grey and for the first time in over a month the city feels quiet, calm and reflective. We have been high on summer here. Bright days and warm nights, restless without the weight of a sheet or a duvet. There is a sobriety to dull misty rain and while the humidity hangs heavy, for today, this could be the beginning of the end of summer. So to mark the transition of the seasons I sign off to summer with one last plum recipe.
Plums and red wineheartily spiced almond batter
It’s been a bit of a plum summer, really. Plums have been in my fruit bowl more than any other stone fruit this season. There is something humble about the plum quite different to the polished, white-fleshed peaches or nectarines and I don’t feel the plum has the same following of the apricot with their pleasing pink blush, downy skins and child-friendly pull-apart groove. Nearly every piece of food writing or poetry of the plum mentions the bloom – the silvery blue smudge to the skin of the fruit. The obvious association would be with the bloom of a flower, full of the promise of scent and colour. But when I read about the bloom on a plum I tend to think of algae bloom. Moving right along.
fading light, ready to bakegolden and warming
This recipe takes a different sort of plum altogether – the canned plum. The slick patent leather-like skins of the dark purple Black Doris have disappeared and the fruit sits in a sweet, lip-staining juice. (Good for a bit of colour and sparkle in a gin and tonic.) The plums are baked with dollops of heartily spiced, almond sponge spreading over the fruit like a winter quilt. The sponge is tinged burgundy in colour, not necessarily from the plums as you might think, but rather from a splash of red wine in the batter. I’ve made this dish sound decidedly wintery, and the ease of canned fruit does lend this dessert well to cold nights, but come back to the plums for they are sweet and light and fragrant.

The fruit, the fruit – plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines – they’re all so lovely and innocent, but sometimes you just need a bad-ass, a rebel. The red wine is robust; it delivers a strength to the sponge that perhaps contradicts with a traditional Victorian sponge and all its typical associations of lightness and delicacy. But the red wine; it works. It adds ooomph and character.
warm plums and an open crumb
Mum has been making this dessert for a while now; it’s part of our regular repertoire. Like many of the recipes in this rotation, they feel so normal, so regular; delicious for us four perhaps only because of their history in our kitchen. But these recipes are worth sharing and worth eating, no matter the weather.

Plum and Almond Sponge
This recipe comes from a small cookbook from the kitchen of Church Road Winery cook book. Every recipe in here looks great and every recipe lists wine in the ingredients, but we have settled on the plum and almond sponge; it’s our favourite. Time to branch out maybe.

100 grams butter
40 grams brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, separated
130 grams ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon caster sugar
6 tablespoons red wine + 4 tablespoons (preferably a weightier varietal like syrah, merlot or a blend)
1/4 teaspoon ground star anise
1 tin Black Doris plums

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cream butter, egg yolks and brown sugar, then add cloves, ginger, cinnamon and baking powder. Add the first measure of red wine (6 tablespoons), then the ground almonds and stir until just combined. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then whisk in the caster sugar. Fold the egg whites into the creamed butter mixture.

Place the plums in an oven proof dish and pour over the second measure of red wine. Sprinkle the ground anise over the plums. Spoon the almond batter on top of the plums and smooth with the back of the spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

We serve this with cream or yoghurt; crème fraîche would be nice too. The original recipe suggests a slice of blue cheese and a glass of noble semillon. That sounds very nice, indeed.

lentils with scallops and tomato sauceRick Stein is probably the first chef personality I became familiar with and remains the only one who I have any real affection for. I remember watching one of his TV shows as a child, French Odyssey – it was compulsory family viewing. I loved the sound of his voice, his dog Chalky and how he communicated directly and personally with the cooks, gardeners, growers and local food experts he met as they travelled by barge on a canal through south-west France. Rick Stein speaks as if everything is a marvel, a wonder. It’s easy to become absorbed in his language, moving with the intonations of his voice. To be a television chef engaging your audience is part of the job description but there is an authenticity to Stein and he seems so genuinely enthralled about the food and people around him, as if he too, like his audience, is learning and tasting things for the first time. Perhaps it was this show that first inspired a love of France – the countryside, the people, the language, but most importantly, the food.
brandy poured on prunesprunes soakingpastry base
When the show ended we bought the cookbook and after that our collection of French cookbooks seemed to expand – each one offering new ingredients, new stories and new recipes. But every year or so we come back to Rick Stein’s French Odyssey sometimes for a recipe, but often to look at the pictures and to read the words or the funny inscriptions Georgie and I wrote to Mum Christmas 2005.

Mother, my dearest,
This is your Christmas present
for you to use in 2006.
Make lots of dishes so delicious
our lips will be forever licked
Entrées and mains,
with this book you’ll be skipping
through French country lanes.
Savoury, sweet or sour,
everyone knows their mouths will devour!

Before Georgie came home for the summer she emailed us a “List of Delicious-ness,” all the things she would like for us to eat over the summer. Georgie wished for Caribbean pie, lamb and potato curry, Thai beef salad, chocolate self-saucing pudding, roast lamb, pork chops with caramelised apples and onions. Most of the items on the list are firm family favourites that we have been cooking and eating for years and like favourite films and books, none ever tire. I don’t dare to hazard a guess at how many times my mother has made lamb and potato curry. Every time all four of us sit down to a meal, the table set and wine poured, it feels so very long since the last time and even longer since this was habit and normal and the only thing we really knew.
Georgie and IPrunes in light
I have been thinking about what I wrote a few months ago about working and what my working life will look like as it begins to take shape. I thought perhaps I would never have a regular 9 to 5 job, that perhaps I would always have irregular hospitality hours and irregular writing hours on the side. But it’s becoming clear that what I value and look forward to is cooking and eating, most especially dinners. Dinners are great. Irregular hours here and there are not conducive to great dinners, or even dinners at all.
scattered prunesprunes ready for almond brandy mixthick brandy almond cream
So for Georgie’s last night in Wellington we had a great dinner, entrée and dessert taken from Rick Stein’s French Odyssey and the main event taken from Paris, another one of our French focused books. For the entrée Dad and I made seared scallops served on a muddle of lentils with a herb tomato sauce. The lentils were savoury and knubbly, the tomato sauce was bright and garden fresh and the scallops were sweet and tender. For the main course Mum made spiced duck with creamy, wilted, beautiful savoy cabbage. Then Georgie and I made prune and almond tart to honour the list of delicious-ness.
ribbons of brandy almond fillinggolden tart
The pastry is short, almost shatteringly so, with a rich and buttery flavour. The prunes are meltingly tender, moist jubes of brandy sweetness. Then the almond, in its traditional almond role, pulls everything together, balances it out, gives the tart substance and body. The almonds, the brandy, the succulent semi-dried fruit remind me of Christmas flavours. And Christmas in our house really only means one thing – family dinners (and breakfasts and morning teas and lunches and afternoon teas and evening nibbles…)
prune studded tartdessert
This tart recipe reminds me of the economy of many French dishes. While at first glance the ingredients list may appear daunting and the instructions a bit winded, the case is often a little of a lot. This recipe uses only 4 tablespoons of brandy (we add more, as can be seen in our adapted version below), 35 grams of ground almonds and 55 grams of sugar. There is moderation to be found in French cuisine, which Rick Stein I think understands so very well.

Prune Almond Tart
Adapted from Rick Stein’s recipe. Many thanks to Georgie for the gorgeous photos.

300 grams dried or half-dried (mi-cuit) prunes
6 tablespoons brandy
1 large egg, lightly beaten
35 grams ground almonds
55 grams caster sugar
250 grams crème fraîche
icing sugar, for dusting
Extra crème fraîche to serve

225 grams plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
130 grams chilled butter, cut into pieces
1.5 – 2 tablespoons chilled water

For the pastry:
Sift the flour and salt into a food processor or a mixing bowl. Add the pieces of chilled butter and work together until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. With the processor running on low or with the blade of the knife if making pastry manually, stir in the water until it comes into a ball. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until smooth.

For the filling:
Place the prunes in a medium bowl and pour over the brandy. Leave to soak for at least one hour, turning them over every now and then to help them soak up the alcohol.
Roll out the pastry on floured surface and then line a greased tart tin, roughly 25 cm across the base. Prick the base with a fork and chill for 20 minutes.
Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Line the pastry base with baking paper and a layer of rice or baking weights and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for another 4-5 minutes. Remove the pastry base and brush with a little of the beaten egg before returning to the oven for a further 2 minutes. Remove the tart, set aside and lower the temperature to 190°C.
Pick the prunes out of their brandy bath and scatter them on the pastry base. To the brandy add the ground almonds, egg, sugar and crème fraîche and beat until smooth. Pour the almond mixture over the prunes and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the tart comes away clean.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraîche, yoghurt or whipped sweetened cream.

Goodness, that last post was a bit heavy going.

My intention is never to sound political or preachy about food; those conversations can be had via different mediums. This space is simply for the pleasure of good food. So, today let’s talk about cream – beautiful, luxurious, voluptuous cream.
Roasted rhubarb, strawberry punnet, lemon brandy cream
Cream is effortlessly elegant, I think. I love the mouth feel of cream, the softness of the dairy and the savoury richness as it coats my lips. Even when poured onto a dessert or into coffee straight from the bottle with barely a shake, the cream seems to say, “forgive me, dear, for my casual attire.” The jeans and t-shirt of the cream wardrobe.

Cream is so easily transformed from a basic accompaniment to a dessert in itself like rhubarb fool or a frozen parfait. We made syllabub this summer, a light, brandy-spiked cream dessert when strawberries, cream and brandy were a near permanent fixture of our kitchen.
Diced strawberriesSummer redStrawberries and cream
My mother has a forest green ring-bound folder for her recipes. My sister and I have added a few over the years, our handwriting changing with each entry but most of the recipes are written in my mother’s fat, round teacher hand with a little indicator at the top of the page as to the origins of the recipe. We don’t consult this folder much these days; it has become habit to first look through the glossy, well authored cookbooks when seraching for a recipe. So this book, this understated green folder, feels like a memoir of my favourite childhood foods: chocolate caramel slice, weet-bix slice, Jill’s zucchini cake, best ever cheese scones and chocolate oat cookies. Somewhere between chocolate caramel slice and Gaye’s chocolate cake is a recipe for lemon syllabub.
Roasted rhubarb, poached strawberries
I’ve always liked the word, syllabub. Silly bub. Sybil, the silly bub, eats syllabub. It rolls and plays off the tongue in a child-like way. Although for most of my younger years, perhaps even before this summer, I only had the vaguest idea of what syllabub really is. I knew my mother had served it for dinner parties; it sounded exotic and sophisticated, as things are prone to sound when you’re only 8 or 9. Had I tried it, brandy and all, I’m sure I would have loved it.
folded and whippedbest-dressed dessert
But this summer, this best-dressed cream dessert is a new favourite. Cream, like yoghurt and butter, holds other flavours so well, folding them together and nurturing their finest qualities – the warmth of the brandy, the sweet of the strawberries, the tart of the lemon, the sour of the yoghurt. Good enough to eat with a teaspoon from the mixing bowl, but cream so glammed up benefits from a bit of ceremony.

Strawberry Yoghurt Syllabub

We served this syllabub with roasted rhubarb and strawberries, but could also be eaten by itself, perhaps with a dessert biscuit or as dressing for a cake.

250 millilitres cream
1 heaped teaspoon icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 teaspoons brandy
grated zest of half a lemon
8-10 strawberries, finely diced
1 cup yoghurt

In a medium bowl place the cream, icing sugar and vanilla essence. Beat until very softly whipped. Add the lemon zest and brandy and continue to beat until just soft. Fold in the strawberries and the yoghurt.


Greengages At the beginning of January I had to attend a week long uni course for a paper studying the creative process. Long days, 13, 15, 18 hours for some groups, in small rooms on hot afternoons. We had spent hours in the weeks leading up to the course thinking on our own creative process; what drives us, our passions, our forms of expression and our greatest influences. During the course we talked with our group, our lecturers and with complete strangers about our crossroads in our lives, our battles with our past or our present. People were desperate for tragedy, for drama, and for darkness; any of my contributions to these discussions were said to be on the lighter side and for that I was made to feel I should apologise.

When most conversations centred on the dark and twisted side of our lives – broken marriages and families, mental illness, lost love ones, destructive relationships – you can imagine I left the subject of food; how we eat, how we grow, how we buy, well alone during that week. What is important to me, what I am passionate about may have raised a few eyebrows, if not elicited a few indignant snorts. But, really, barely a day goes by when I don’t think about what we eat, how we produce and consume food, and how can I, a student in this strange limbo place between university and the ‘real’ world make better, cleaner, fairer food decisions.
Late afternoon sunautumnal blush across cheeks
This is why I’ve been quiet here recently; I’m figuring out how best to do this, this business of eating. I would like to make radical decisions like completely rid my pantry of white flour and white sugar. I would love to have a no-supermarket policy, except for non-food items. I would like to source some of my food directly from the producer, especially dairy products; raw milk, yoghurt and cheese brought from the farm gate or the farmer at the market. But, like so many things in life, we need to find our own style here – like choosing a car, or building a house, a career, a life with someone; change and decision influenced by personal style. I’m loathe to use this term after my week long uni course, but perhaps I’m at a food crossroads.
Cut halves
So, I start small, the very essence of think global, act local. I love the Sunday farmers’ market for its vibrancy and diversity. There is always a sense of anticipation before going to the market and the often chaotic atmosphere requires focus and a clear head. The market is an affront to the senses but this is preferable to the sterile aisles of a supermarket. I have always loved Moore Wilson’s Fresh for the smell – bottled market place, we’ll call it.
But Commonsense Organics, right next door to Big Bad Wolf, is a new favourite place of mine. There is a feel-good factor to shopping here, even if my purchase is simply a couple of apples or the Little Bird macaroons sold at the front counter in glass jars. There are often specials, show casing the very best of the seasonal produce, which is how I came by a kilo of New Zealand greengage plums.
a honey orange syrupa summer windfall
Google delivered entire articles on the magic of the greengage. This notoriously fickle fruit appears to have a somewhat cult following amongst plum lovers. Their green skins, perhaps with a purple blush across the shoulders, yields to a nectar-like, honey yellow flesh within. I popped a few in my mouth, and felt the skins pull and pucker as the fruit burst and I could taste fragrant honey dew melon then the skin was a slight citric tang at the end.
Collapsed and juicya spoonful
I roasted most of the kilo, and I think this is the way to go. Their best properties – colour, tang and texture – are given the room to shine. Roasted simply with only butter, honey and the juice from one orange, this is one of those dishes where the whole is greater than the sum of all parts. Butter acts as the base on which sits the sweetness of the honey, then the citrus of the orange hops on board, while the greengages, collapsed and juicy, deliver a fragrant sweetness so typical of stone fruit. Right at the end of a spoonful, just shy of getting caught in your throat, these plums give a shout, a rather tart shout to remind us what we miss come mid-winter – the delightful balance of sharp and sweet.
a bright compote
Something as simple as a greengage plum, a little green orb, is perhaps insignificant to some. But right now, ingredients like the greengage are new and interesting. They re-direct my focus to broader issues such as provenance, seasonality and the efforts of the growers. A bowl of greengages on my kitchen table is something of an inspiration.

Roasted Greengages
Recipe adapted from the Martha Stewart site.

De-stoning the plums might seem like a hassle but is worth the effort. Get into a routine – slice, twist, tug out the stone.

1 kilogram greengage plums
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the butter in a roasting dish and put in the oven to melt. Add the honey and orange juice and stir until mixed – depending on the thickness of your honey you may have to place the syrup in the oven before stirring. Add the cut and stoned greengages and carefully mix to cover in the syrup. Roast for 30-40 minutes until beginning to fall apart.

Serve with yoghurt, cream or as a thick compote atop a buttery cake. The plums will keep for up to a week in the fridge but it pays to reheat before serving so the butter in the syrup melts.

There comes a point during winter where enough is enough. Winter-fatigue comes in stages. First there is the surprise that this, winter, has happened yet again. We watch the leaves change colour and slowly fall off the trees. We feel the sun sink lower in the sky, appear less often to warm our faces, and the days grow shorter. It feels like a suitable end for summer, quiet and colourful, but I tend to forget that the grey winter months lie ahead.

Next comes the envy directed at those in the northern hemisphere who are wondering how to use the bounty of vine ripened tomatoes; their red, green, black or stripey skins glistening in the sun; or the endless piles of summer corn. Then I feel an almost physical pain, like an itch you can’t quite reach, in my desperate longing for heat and summer; for long evenings (you still must wear a jacket, possibly two, in Wellington), and light meals, for new season potatoes and stone fruit and for big, blue skies.
This ice cream is the perfect bridge between seasons here in Wellington. Lemons lend themselves well to winter; their bright acidity adds a little pop to all sorts of dishes. This ice cream is similar to the rather unsuccessful batch I made several months ago, as it really is just sweetened frozen whipped cream. The difference here is I know this recipe to be good.

This was my first taste of home-made ice cream as a child, perhaps a reason for my deep-seated love of cream. The recipe comes from our friend Jill, a fantastic cook. I remember meals at her house with carrot sticks, olive bread, baba ganoush, zucchini cake, barbecue lamb cutlets, and this lemon ice cream. I’m sure we saw Jill and her family during winter, but I seem to only have memories of summer nights playing in their backyard. Lemon ice cream seems to suit these days.The fat of the cream coats your lips and the spoon in this gorgeous slick, and the lemon hovers, constant, smooth and sweet. The zest adds little pin pricks of yellow. The heavy slick is lovely, but perhaps not for everybody. This week I wanted something new, something for these days now. I have been looking for an opportunity to drain yoghurt – to wrap it in muslin and extract the whey. After 24 hours in the fridge the sharp taste of yoghurt remains but the texture is transformed into something closer to cream cheese.It seems a shame to break up these beautiful soft curds with a beater, but whipped through the mix they sharpen the lemon and cut the heaviness of the cream. This ice cream is best after it has been out of the freezer for 20 minutes or so. It becomes softer, more like a frozen parfait or semifreddo. In summer it would be well matched with roasted peaches, or a berry soup. In winter perhaps a rhubarb galette, caramelised pears or apples; something warm to loosen the ice cream further into smooth lemon dribbles.

Even this cute thing thinks it sounds blissful. No matter the weather, she is content.

Lemon Ice Cream

Plan ahead for this recipe – it takes a couple of days.

300ml plain yoghurt

300ml cream
4 lemons
1 cup icing sugar

Place a colander or sieve over a bowl and line with the muslin/cheesecloth. Pour in the yoghurt and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight.

When the yoghurt has thickened and the whey has been extracted, beat the cream until softly whipped. Add the zest of 2 of the lemons and the juice of all 4. Add the icing sugar and break in the yoghurt. Beat until smooth and more firmly whipped, but still silken looking.

Pour cream into a freezer container and freeze for 2-3 hours or overnight. Remember to remove from the freezer 20-30 minutes before serving.

Most Monday nights we try to do dinner; Ollie and Jason, Francesca and myself, flatmates, sisters, a few strays we have picked up along the way. Sometimes we are four, sometimes eight. Sometimes the meals are elaborate multiple course affairs, where we sit around drinking tea or wine for hours, only to realise it’s nearly midnight and about time we drag ourselves home. Sometimes they are simple, short and sweet. But there is always cheese, wine and fruit paste. And nearly always dessert. They are a great start to our week.

During the past few weeks we have made cannelloni with spinach from our garden, spaghetti bolognaise cooked slowly in Jason’s Le Creuset, roast red onion and kumara, Nigella’s green beans with butter and lemon, we have made gravy and apple cake. We have eaten a lot of cheese.

Last Monday Jason made Strawberry Cloud Cake. It was delightful, cold and light, with little air bubbles that sort of carried the flavour along. Most definitely worth sharing, I told him. It is less of a cake, I think, and more of a pie with a candy floss pink, softly whipped filling. It sat nestled in our freezer while we ate our very wintery, too wintery, beer and beef stew.

The weather has warmed up recently, a late summer hit. Some days are warm and cloud free, barely a ruffle of a breeze. All I want to eat is crisp salads, and melons, and strawberries. I want grilled pineapple with mint sugar. I want fresh tomato and basil salsa.

And then, Jason arrived with his Strawberry Cloud Cake. It is a little bit like frozen ambrosia, slightly sweet, but not overly so. As you put your fork through the dessert it is the texture of marshmellow, maybe a soft moose, and then you hit the biscuit base below. It breaks cleanly into bite sized chunks, each one like a little pink island. The biscuit base holds it all together; it could be too buttery, too savoury perhaps. But then, you realise, this base with the toasty taste of coconut is just what the pie needs to intensify the flavour of the strawberries. It is just what I needed too.

Strawberry Cloud Cake
From Annabel Langbein, Free Range in the City

For the base:

150g plain sweet biscuits (made into fine crumbs)
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1 1/2 teasspoon cinnamon
100g butter, melted

Line a 26-28cm springform tin with baking paper. Mix base ingredients together and press into tin, along the base and sides. Refrigerate while preparing the filling.

For the filling:

2 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 punnet strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place all filling ingredients in a clean dry bowl of an electric beater. Beat on high for 6-8 mins until mixture is very thick and fluffy and the sugar is dissolved. You should not feel any gritty sugar after this time. If you do beat for longer. Spoon over chilled base, smooth top, cover with baking paper and freeze for at least 4 hours. Will keep in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one month.

Serve with raspberry or strawberry compote, or fresh berries.

I have been in a bit of a French funk since the weekend. These happen every so often, where I seem unable to distance myself from my french memories. I remember going to the markets and the market sellers pulling off a plastic bag, maybe wiping their hands on their apron and then saying in a deep, rolling voice, “Dites-moi, mademoiselle!” I remember learning to ski and mountainside chalets and vin chaud. I remember all the horrific mistakes I made while speaking French: the bumbling, awkward conversations where the other person folded their arms and quizzically repeated my butchered French. But then, I most dearly remember the conversations I had with people, who rather than rolling their eyes and sighing, “Les anglaises…” they said, “Ahhh, vous avez un accent…?” like they weren’t quite sure, like I could be from anywhere. I liked those moments the best. I remember wandering the streets of Bordeaux in the early spring heat with no money and no food and no one to share it with but as happy as I ever thought I could be.

I worked at a wedding on the weekend and the groom was french. It was a beautiful wedding and many of the guests were so excited and relieved that I could communicate with them. They were a lively lot, who smoked and drank and danced all night. They ate with enthusiasm, New Zealand lamb or groper, sampled our wines and cheese. And there was never any question over which was the red or the white wine glass, or whose side plate was whose, because eating is what they do so well. It made me miss France and all the wonderful people I met there.

So Tuesday afternoon, I pulled my tome of french cuisine from its shelf and thought une tarte aux pommes would ease my french blues. I put on my faux-french apron and made pâte brisée. The pastry was soft and smooth, enough to make you swoon, really. I peeled and finely sliced apples, arranging them in haphazard rows. Then covered the apples in a liberal dousing of sugar.

Upon cooking, the apples on the bottom stew and release their juices, while the apples on top became golden and slightly firm to the tooth. The texture changes as you bite through the apples and there are beautiful sing-song lifts of tart and sweet. But let’s not forget what holds this dessert together – the pastry. This pastry softly shatters beneath your teeth, but in a good way, like a buttery crumble. It adds another flavour dimension to this dessert; a little bit savoury, a little bit mealy.

Ideally I would be eating a slice of this with un café at the local salon du thé. But, then again, being able to share this tarte aux pommes with the people I care about here, in New Zealand, is just as wonderful, if not more so.

Tarte aux pommes classique

For the pastry:
200grams standard flour
100grams of butter (let the butter come to room temperature for an hour or so before using it)
2 1/2 tablespoons of water

Place the flour in a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Add the water and quickly work the dough together into a ball. It doesn’t have to be totally smooth, just as long as it is not very wet and mushy. If it is add a sprinkle more flour. Let the dough to rest at room temperature for at least a half hour. Roll the pastry on a floured work surface until it is about 4-5mm thick. Grease the tart pan, preferably round, unlike mine, and lay the pastry in the bottom.

For the apples:
5-6 apples suitable for cooking
100 grams sugar
2 tablespoons apricot jam

Pre-heat the oven to 180°. Peel the apples, remove the core and cut into quarters. Slice each quarter finely to create crescent-ish shapes. Lay the slices in rows, one on top of the other. Sprinkle with sugar. Place the tart in the oven and cook until golden brown and the juices bubble ever so slightly at the edges.

Mix the apricot jam with a dash of warm water and brush lightly over the apples once removed from the oven.

Serve warm with crème fraiche or thick yoghurt or vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate flavoured whipped cream doesn’t sound too bad, does it? But what if I say that this chocolate whipped cream is frozen and somehow meant to be ice cream.

The process of making this imposter ice cream is quite lovely. It feels like you are doing something good, something exciting. With the heart-stopping quantities of cream required it surely is going to be the most lush of desserts, you think to yourself. Firstly, you whip the cream until quite thick – “slovenly folds” as Nigel Slater wrote. Then mix through some icing sugar and a drop or two of vanilla essence. You place the cream in a shallow container in the freezer for 30 minutes or until a sort of thin, icy crust begins to form at the edges.

Meanwhile, melt chunks of chocolate with a slosh more cream in a bain-marie. Once glistening and luxuriously smooth, let cool. Remove the cream from the freezer and place in a bowl, add the chocolate. Begin to fold through; rich dark streaks swirling through the white. Until they swirl no more. The cold cream has in fact hardened the chocolate into grainy, pebbley bits. You must smash through the mix with a fork. Return the chocolate cream to the freezer for a few hours. At this point I had a few doubts.

It almost resembles chocolate covered dirt...

Eating the frozen chocolate cream is what I imagine eating cold sand could be like. Your spoon seems to ricochet off the many minuscule ice shards. It does not delicately curl the contours of your spoon, nor does it tenderly roll through the contours of your mouth. The fine grains of hard chocolate and the tangy taste of cream and the bitterness of dark chocolate jar and clash. It is not the sort of cream to hold on your tongue and allow the flavours to introduce themselves, like the freshness of raspberry or lemon ice cream, or the pleasing familarity of vanilla or strawberry. Instead, you are left with the kind of discomfort that comes from too much chocolate and cream, a head or a stomach discomfort I can never be sure, but either way, you need a lie down.

I had grand ideas for this post. I was going to write about the day I bought this little book for €5 from a stationary shop in Annecy, France. I was going to begin with a description of the weather – a clear and crisp day in late January, how we were wrapped up in hats, scarves, gloves and coats. I would have told you that my friend Ivan and I spent the day walking around the lake ripping off pieces of baguette and eating ham and Swiss gruyère from their paper wrappings. And that we had crêpes for afternoon tea with caramelised bananas, chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Afterwards we walked into the stationary shop and I probably picked up and put back down this petit livre several times. It is called Desserts with the sub title, trop bons. It all looks trop bons too; almond and pear tart, apple and red fruit torte, pears stuffed with figs and then wrapped in pastry, a red rice and sauteed grape risotto, apricot soufflé, tiramisu made with white chocolate and raspberries, peaches poached in Marsala, honey and banana ice cream and yoghurt and pistachio semifreddo. I could make it all.

And yet, of all the desserts, page 172 was selected: glace au chocolat. This post is my entry into the One Year Anniversary of Belleau Kitchen’s Random Recipe Challenge, even though the recipe, or my execution of it, needs some serious work.

Glace au chocolat
Original recipe in French, translated par moi

I am wondering if mixing through the chocolate before freezing would have produced better results.

300ml cream
2 tablespoons milk
50g icing sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tablespoons cream

Beat the cream and the milk until thick- not so much that peaks form but just softly whipped. Incorporate the icing sugar and the vanilla extract. Pour the mixture into a shallow container and place for 30 minutes in the freezer, until the ice begins to take the outer edges.

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie with the second measure of cream. Heat until the mixture is combined then let cool.

Remove the ice cream from the freezer and pour the cream into a bowl. Incorporate the chocolate and work énergiquement with a fork. Pour the chocolate cream back into the plastic container, cover and place back in the freezer. Remove the ice cream from the freezer 30 minutes before serving.

Serve with chocolate sauce.

Bon courage!

We may have over extended ourselves with the bounty of Central Otago. But when apricots are $4/kilo it is hard to resist this pink-gold downy fruit.

During our last few days in Central Otago we were trying to use up leftovers: half a packet of lady fingers, a near full bottle of overly sweet pear cider which seemed to taste strangely of bananas, a sheet of puff pastry and several egg yolks. Plus the heaving box of apricots.

Two surprisingly successful desserts emerged from these ingredients.

Apricot Gallette: I baked about a dozen apricots, cut in half and stones removed, in the strange pear cider and about 5 tablespoons of icing sugar until just beginning to collapse and the liquid almost froths around the edges. I greased a round cake tin, laid the sheet of pastry in the bottom and placed the cook apricots, draining off the liquid, on top of the pastry. I then folded down the edges of the pastry to make a sort of cap encasing the fruit.

apricot gallette

Apricot Trifle-thing: We stewed another 10 or so apricots, halved and stones removed, with several tablespoons of granulated sugar in about 1/2 cup of water. Once the apricots were cooked and soft we drained off the liquid in a wide bowl. To the liquid we added a dash of peach schnapps and dipped about 100 grams of lady fingers, laying them in a rectangular dish. Stewed apricots on top of the soaked sponge and then we made a vanilla egg custard. In the fridge to set overnight. We learnt from these experimental-no-recipe desserts that everything improves after a night in the fridge.

After two days in the boot of our car we feared the apricots were beginning to deteriorate; in spite of the wet, miserable and windy Wellington weather.

Apricot Jam: 2.7kg of apricots, 2.7kg of sugar, 2 1/2 cups water makes a lot of jam. Upon opening a jar there is the scent of overly ripe, sweet apricots and dessert wine. The jam is the colour of roaring, licking flames. The flavour is sharp and sweet and intense. This jam serves as a reminder that summer continues in other parts of the country.