Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Orange blossom, yoghurt and cardamom cake


 

If you like to bake, birthday cake is the best. There is nothing nicer than making one for someone you love, unless that person is under ten and the cake in question has to resemble a Disney character or something similarly complex requiring graph paper, a work plan and multiple tins. I'm in awe of my friends with kids who routinely turn out these marvels. This cake was not for a kid but for a very good friend with a big double digit birthday, but there's no need for birthday cake to be grown up. All that matters is that it's sturdy (to hold up all those candles), sweet, and good enough to go back for seconds...

 

This one succeeds on all scores. As I gave as a birthday present, Hetty McKinnon's first cookbook Community, it was fitting that this recipe comes from her second, Neighbourhood. It's full of all sorts of good things (pistachios! orange blossom water! cardamom! yoghurt! cream cheese!) and presents the prettiest palette of pale orange, pink and green. I'm predisposed to orange as a cake flavour for birthdays - it's not just sweet but somehow joyful in its brightness, both in flavour and hue. 

 

Though fittingly celebratory, this is actually quite a modest cake, requiring only two eggs, a small (but sufficient) amount of icing and seriously, no technique at all - the butter is melted, so it's just a matter of combining the wet ingredients with the dry and bundling the resultant batter in the oven. Minus the candles, it's an effortless everyday cake, good for lunchboxes and picnics, easily cut and carried. Equally suited to forks or fingers.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Norwegian crispbread



It's been way too hot. On days where the only way to survive is to seek out a cinema or shopping centre and its air-conditioning, on nights where the temperature doesn't drop below 30 degrees (86F), I can't even contemplate turning on the stove. In such times, these crispbreads have been my salvation. Topped with whatever you like - blue cheese and pear paste, goats' cheese and salmon, butter and Vegemite - they offer up something substantial and stunning for times when you don't even have the energy to eat. And they conjure up cold with their Scandi sensibility when you're in the middle of a stinking Sydney summer.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Carrot and cardamom cake



Curiously, I've become a convert to carrot cake. Not so curious perhaps, when I report that this recipe comes from a café I consider possibly the most perfect in all the world - that of the Rosendals Trägåd, a beautiful biodynamic orchard on an island in Stockholm. If you find yourself in that city, you really must go, though June rather than January would be advised. In Swedish summer, it recalls a scene from a Carl Larsson painting - nut-brown blondes of all ages grazing on cardamom-scented cakes in the dappled light of apple and pear trees. 


Made moist with oil and carrots, infused with Scandi staples cinnamon and cardamom, and lashed with creamy lemon icing, this is cake to convert anyone who believes (as was my firm opinion for most of my life) that vegetables have no place at all in baked goods. I have relaxed this stance once before, for the beloved Bourke St Bakery, whose carrot cake I've blogged already on this site. That recipe - though sublime - is somewhat fiddly. This one has the advantage of being made in one bowl, and once cooked, needs only to be cooled and icing slathered on top. Australian summers are a little harsher than Nordic ones, so keep it indoors unless you choose a mild day for a picnic. The icing is the issue and believe me, you don't want to skip that. One solution could be to keep it separately in an esky and pile it on just before serving. If it oozes a little, all the better.



Monday, 9 January 2017

Spiced pear paste



December was destined to be a downer due to a deadline. So to counter the crankiness of working while everyone else was on holidays, I made a pact with myself that I would see or swim in the sea every day of that month. I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of three stunning Sydney beaches, and multiple ocean pools. Last year I didn't go once to any of them all summer. My mum had just died and I found it hard to be around beauty like that at a time when things felt so dark. A year on, it felt like the policy needed to change. I'm not sure I felt any more festive but it definitely felt good to be floating, if only for five minutes a day.


I'm grateful for being able to do it at all. And for good friends, one of whom has his birthday on the 25th of December. Being folded into that celebration allowed me to formally give Christmas the flick this year. Instead we ate birthday cake, drank wine and grazed on cheese... and this was what I made to go with it. 


Mum used to make guava paste, which I loved, but I didn't have guavas, so with a bit of inspiration from Maggie Beer's peerless products, whipped up a spiced pear paste, which was wonderful. Here's to horizons.




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.