Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Spice cake



As I get older I have a greater appreciation for simple cakes - the sort that wouldn't turn a head in a display case beside chocolate extravaganzas, towering layers of cream, or pretty pastel citrus showstoppers. These runners-up in the great beauty contest of the cake world are homely to say the least but what they lack in looks they more than make up for in flavour. This simple spice cake from Sweet is case in point, its boring brown exterior belying its complexity. Each bite contains so many different tastes - caramel from the brown sugar, tang from the sour cream, zing from the orange zest and peppery punch of mixed spice to round things off. Plain is perfect.


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Spelt orange cake



I've had my head down with a deadline and haven't been baking, but last Thursday I felt an irresistible pull towards my KitchenAid mixer. For my birthday recently, some good friends gifted me not one, not two, but three Scandinavian cookbooks. In the interests of hygge, it seemed necessary to step away from the laptop and make a cake. I couldn't take too much time off so this recipe jumped out immediately as both simple and comforting.



I have a soft spot for orange cakes. This one adds a wholesome element by cutting the pale sweetness of the citrus with the grainy goodness of spelt flour. All the things you love about orange cake. And more. Highly recommended for anyone with a baking itch that needs to be scratched - hygge in a hurry.


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Coconut, almond and blueberry cake



I love it when friends come to stay. In the interests of repeat business, I usually ask them what sort of cake they'd like for their arrival, offering a selection of a few I've had bookmarked. This is how I came to make this, the latest in my Ottolenghi-athon. Modest but moreish, its mixture of nuts, berries and coconut is intensely satisfying. 



We had ours with milky tea and memories and semi-delusional conversation about a shack in the woods we hope to co-own one day. It was delicious. I think she'll be back.

 

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Waffles!



When I was a kid, my brother and I would get up early on Saturday morning and make waffles. It was a team effort. One of us measured flour, sugar, and milk, the other separated eggs. One of us melted butter, and the other took the bowl of egg whites out the front door and up the stairs to the footpath outside our house to noisily beat them into stiff peaks. All this was in the interest of keeping our parents asleep, which was in the interest of us being able to watch TV until they woke up and normal rules of the house resumed. But until then, in those dark early hours of the weekend, our life was a paradise of waffles and cartoons so it paid to keep things quiet. I'm pretty sure the electric waffle iron we had was something my grandfather won at golf. Certainly my mother would never have purchased anything so frivolous. Plus, she considered pancakes and waffles a bit déclassé, preferring instead thin, lacy crêpes. Not me! I'll take fat, fluffy and unrefined any day of the week.


My more recent waffle memories are from a road trip I did with my dad a few years ago, in the American south. We fell in love with a fast food chain called The Waffle House, whose cheery yellow sign seemed to greet us from whatever highway we travelled or motel we ended up in. Quite frequently, we'd begin or end each day with a stop there, and one of us would always get waffles. Look at us. See. We look happy. That's what waffles do to you.



To this end I asked my dad on a recent trip down to see me if he could bring the waffle iron. Not the electric one - that died long ago, in a cloud of black, acrid smoke - but one of my grandmother's old ones that had been relegated to my parents' camping kit. I don't remember Mum and Dad ever using them, nor does my father ever remember his mother - who he inherited them from - using them in her lifetime. It's entirely possible she bought them as kitchen accessories as they're so pretty with their jaunty red wooden handles, and my grandmother did love a theme in her kitchens. Anyway, Dad duly packed it in his suitcase and brought it down and one Saturday not so long ago, I whipped up some waffles. For old times' sake. For my family. And our history of waffles.


Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Nora Ephron's peach pie



Nora Ephron was a writer. Though she wasn't a food writer, all of her work, in one way or another, features food - from her screen adaptation of Julie and Julia (about how Julia Child became Julia Child), to perhaps her most-well known script When Harry Met Sally (whose most memorable scene takes place in Katz's Deli) to an early novel of hers I read just a few weeks ago, titled - memorably, perfectly - Heartburn. The book is the account of a marriage ending. Its heroine is a food writer who discovers her Washington journalist husband is having an affair while she is pregnant with their second child. It's funny, it's heartbreaking, it has recipes. Just like life.


To all those people who think making pie is hard (and that includes me), this recipe is for you. It's so simple, it's not even written in recipe form in the book, just unfolds in a few sentences. And in actuality, it really is that easy. No need for rolling pins, resting times, or chopping more than three pieces of fruit, it really is a marvel. Ephron's heroine makes hers at a lake house in West Virginia over summer, a time you're so hot and lazy you really can't be bothered to cook at all. It's the sort of thing that is perfect holiday house food - no need for fancy ingredients, or heavy reliance on an unfamiliar oven. The crust is crisp and buttery, the filling oozy and extravagant with the juicy sweetness of ripe peaches. Nora knows her stuff.


Heartburn is said to be a thinly veiled account of the end of Ephron's own marriage - to Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein, memorably portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in All The President's Men. Heartburn itself was made into a film in 1986, with Meryl Steep and Jack Nicholson, and is every bit as delicious as this pie. 


Though she'd achieved so much in her career, Nora Ephron died too soon in 2012. She is survived by her husband, writer/producer Nick Pileggi, and her two sons, Jacob and Max. In addition to her screenplays and novels, she wrote a lot of essays. In one - much earlier in her life - she reflected on dying and, as ever, came back to food. The New York Times included it in her obituary of June 26, 2012:

Ms. Ephron’s collection “I Remember Nothing” concludes with two lists, one of things she says she won’t miss and one of things she will. Among the “won’t miss” items are dry skin, Clarence Thomas, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and panels on “Women in Film.” The other list, of the things she will miss, begins with “my kids” and “Nick” and ends this way:

“Taking a bath

Coming over the bridge to Manhattan

Pie.”


Nora Ephron's peach pie
From Heartburn by Nora Ephron, first published in 1983

I am going to just print the recipe exactly as it appears in the novel because it is perfect. A Cuisinart is a brand of food processor. Any will do. Only when transcribing the recipe did I see that it called for the peaches to be peeled. I didn't do that and was so pleased with my pie I couldn't imagine it could be any better. I'm sure Nora would approve of my minor (unconscious) adaptation.


Last summer they came to visit us in West Virginia and Julie and I spent a week perfecting the peach pie. We made ordinary peach pie, and deep dish peach pie, and blueberry and peach pie, but here is the best peach pie we made: Put 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup butter and 2 tablespoons sour cream into a Cuisinart and blend until they form a ball. Pat out into a buttered pie tin, and bake 10 minutes at 425°. Beat three egg yolks slightly and combine with 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and 1/3 cup sour cream. Pour over 3 peeled, sliced peaches arranged in the crust. Cover with foil. Reduce oven to 350° and bake 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more, or until filling is set.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Banana, date and walnut loaf



I do not like banana. My mother claimed this is because she fed me too much of it as a baby. She had a lot of weird theories so I've no idea if this is in any way accurate but for whatever reason I've long steered clear of banana bread, banoffee anything or that "one ingredient" ice-cream people swear is just like the real thing but to me tastes only of its one ingredient - blended up frozen bananas. Blechhh. But I had this tin.


It was my grandmother's. I can't remember what she made in it. Possibly nothing in my lifetime. By the time I came along, she'd retired a lot of her repertoire and mostly stuck to scones. But I always remembered the tin, which Mum inherited - specifically having to fossick around it in the cluttered cupboard full of bakeware to get to the more regular round ones. But there comes a time in your life when you yearn for something different. Something cylindrical. Something showcasing what you've eschewed for an eternity. 


To say I've been converted would be a bit much. In truth, you can't taste the banana at all in this and for me, that's all to the good. What shines through strongly are the dates and the walnuts - caramel and crunch in one perfect mouthful. The banana binds it together, keeps it moist. It has its place and I wouldn't think of substituting it. Not when it works so well. Especially sliced thickly and slathered with butter.


Thursday, 18 January 2018

Custard yo-yos with roasted rhubarb icing



Lately, I've been the lucky recipient of several batches of homemade biscuits. Just before leaving for holidays I was presented with some of Elizabeth's amazing shortbread. On arrival in Hobart, a jar of assorted Ottolenghi was waiting for me by my bed. Back in Sydney, the postman delivered a batch of biscotti sent at great expense and with much love from afar, and last weekend, my friend from Canberra came to stay bearing cinnamon meringue stars. So I hope the ones I made for Christmas gifts inspired the same warm feelings.


I made a few different sorts (including these and these) but the custard yo-yos with roasted rhubarb icing were the undisputed stars of the show: a creamy pink fruity filling sandwiched by two perfectly pale yellow cookies. The secret ingredient is custard powder, but if you don't have it, cornflour (cornstarch) will do just as well though your biscuits will be a little less yellow. The pastel palette is part of the appeal I think so if you can find custard powder (it should be readily available in any supermarket), it's worth the sub-$2 investment for the child-like delight those nursery colours inspire. I'll definitely be making them again. Next time, all for myself.