Thursday, 21 September 2017

Sour cream coffee cake



I am fortunate to have good friends. Unfortunately, many of them live a long way away from me, so I don't get to see them as much as I'd like... but when I do, as a bonus I get to experience amazing new places. A few weeks ago, I flew to Los Angeles, took a bus from the airport to Union Station, a train to San Diego, and an Uber to a friend's place in Bird Rock, California. Over the next five days, I survived a heatwave, swam, ate Mexican food, walked straight into a screen door in a jetlagged haze, made her kids laugh when I did it again a day later, saw seals (and many more tourists watching seals), learned a lot about Lego Ninjago, oh... and baked.


Coffee cake is quintessentially American. It does not contain coffee, but is made to compliment it. Specifically, the black drip coffee that's the life blood of every kitchen and diner across the country. It's a simple cake, a tray bake really - a buttery sponge, tangy with sour cream, topped with sugary, crunchy streusel strewn with nuts.


Its simplicity is perfection. And oh, is it moreish. As addictive as watching the sun set over the ocean. So good.



Sour cream coffee cake
Adapted from a recipe in The New York Times

This keeps well, due to the sour cream, which stops the cake from drying out.


cake
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking (bicarb) soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

topping
 ½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
cup chopped pecans or walnuts

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 

In a separate bowl, sift flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with sour cream and vanilla until just combined. Do not overmix. Pour batter into prepared baking pan. 

Make the topping: Combine sugar, cinnamon, flour and nuts in a small bowl and mix well.
Sprinkle the topping evenly over the cake and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in centre of cake comes out clean. Cool, cut into pieces and serve.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Tahini and halva brownies



Brownies don't really need improving but when Yotam Ottolenghi speaks, I listen, and I'm glad I did. On the weekend, I made a half batch (why??), cut them up, packed them into a Tupperware and took them on the train down the south coast to a beach buffeted by wind and shared them with shivering friends.


Nutty sesame swirled through gooey chocolate studded with walnuts and little melt in your mouth morsels of halva. There's not much more to say really other than MAKE THEM.


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Finnish cinnamon rolls



In May, I spent three days in Helsinki. Though it was spring in the northern hemisphere, when I arrived it was snowing. No sooner had I made my way to the shelter of my snug airbnb - shielding myself with an ineffective umbrella - did it stop. The sun came out and was still out til close to midnight. The weather continued in this vein - blizzard one minute, blindingly bright the next. The only constant were the cinnamon rolls, which I found everywhere - from the 7-11 on the corner to the beautiful bakery opposite the second-hand store agonisingly overstocked with antique enamel I was unable to fit in my suitcase, from the food hall by the flea market, to the café at the nearby Design Museum, and the canteen at the Marimekko outlet on the outskirts of town, where the shop assistant ringing up my purchase cheerfully advised me that for Finland in May you need both ski gear and a bikini. Maybe that's why saunas are so popular. I went to one, on the edge of the Baltic sea (thanks Ian for the impetus!), and sat in my swimsuit outside, insulated with sweat from the steam, and watched people walking by in their winter wear. Then I went next door to their restaurant and had a coffee and a cinnamon roll.
 

There's a reason these things are so popular. They're warm and soft, fragrant with spice, and lightly sweet, with crunchy pearl sugar on top. Not too big, not too small - they go beautifully with coffee and function in the culture as a reason to pause... always a good thing, wherever you are.



Finnish cinnamon rolls (Korvapuusti)
Adapted from a recipe by My Blue and White Kitchen 

The following recipe makes around 30 (!) rolls. I halved the quantities and ended up with a more manageable 15 - some to eat fresh and some to stash in the freezer. Wrapped in foil, you can throw them direct from there into a preheated moderate (180 deg C) oven and have your morning pause ready in 15 minutes.




2 cups + 2 tbsp lukewarm milk (preferably whole milk)
1 tbsp + 2 tsp instant active dry yeast
180g  sugar
1 ½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp + 1 tsp ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
1 egg
about 1kg flour
170g unsalted butter, at room temperature


for the filling
150g soft butter
6 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp + 2 tsp cinnamon


for finishing
1 egg

pearl sugar, to sprinkle
 


Combine yeast with a tablespoon or two of the lukewarm milk and let bloom (basically just let sit in a warm place for about five minutes until froth/bubbles form on top). 


In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, combine the yeast mixture with the flour and add in the rest of the milk. Mix in sugar, salt, cardamom, and egg. Add butter and knead until well combined. Continue to knead the dough, til it comes clean off the sides of the bowl and doesn't stick to your hand. This won't take too long - don't overwork the dough or you'll end up with hard rolls, not soft. Shape into a ball and cover with a clean tea towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour, or until double in size.

Meanwhile, mix together the butter, sugar, and cinnamon for the filling. Set aside.

Line four baking sheets with baking paper.


Punch down the dough and divide into two equal sized portions. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour. Roll out the first piece of dough into a large, about 60 x 40cm / 23 x 16 inch rectangle. Spread half of the filling evenly on top. Beginning with the long side, roll the dough into a tight tube shape, seam side down. Cut into 15 cylinders (alternating the angle of the knife so you end up with vaguely triangular shapes) and press each point tightly into the centre with your finger. If that sounds confusing, click here for how-to photos from the original recipe.

Place the shaped cinnamon rolls on the baking sheets, spacing them about 5 cm / 2" apart. Cover with a clean tea towel and let rise for further 30 minutes, or until they're double in size. Repeat with the second batch.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 225°C (435°F).

For the egg wash, lightly whisk the egg and add to it a teaspoon of water. Before baking, brush each roll with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with pearl sugar. Bake the rolls on the middle rack for 10–15 minutes, or until golden to dark brown in color. Repeat with the other sheets of rolls.

Serve warm.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Ruby grapefruit tea cake



This cake is so good I made it twice in the space of a few hours. Never mind that this was because I forgot the baking powder the first time round and the cake came out of the tin beautifully golden but frisbee flat. My point is, I saw the error, weighed it up, and decided it was hardly any trouble to do it all again*. About an hour later, I had a perfectly risen cake, cooled, iced and ready to go. There were so few ingredients, I didn't even consult the recipe the second time, just made a mental note not to make the same mistake twice. This is a sweet, simple citrus cake made more sophisticated by its star ingredient: ruby grapefruit. Its juice and zest give a gorgeous warmth to the colour and a satisfyingly sour tang to the otherwise sweet crumb of the cake. A couple of days later, I packed some leftover slices for a weekend walk through bushland hugging the harbour. Surrounded by green, with blue skies, bluer water, and ruby grapefruit cake eaten outdoors with a view of it all, Sydney winter's sometimes not too bad.

* Lest you wonder what I did with the first cake, which still tasted great despite its density - I broke it up into big pieces and stashed it in the freezer. I couldn't bear to throw it out and figure I can use it to make trifle sometime. Buried under curd and cream, no-one's to know I forgot the baking powder.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Rhubarb raspberry pie



For me, baking is therapy. If I need to work through something bothering me, or just forget about it for a while, I find myself in the kitchen. There's a particular level of problem you're working through with a pie. Especially the kind with a lattice crust. Though the individual components are all easy enough, there's a process involved. 



At the risk of sounding like a broken record, l love pie. Every trip I've ever taken to the United States features some photo of me looking ridiculously happy in a diner with a piece of pie in front of me. I'm particularly partial to berry pies but somehow am always suckered in by cherry, even though they inevitably disappoint - gloopy and oversweet. But the colour! It calls me. The solution to perfect pie lies in this combination of rhubarb and raspberry. Brilliant red, both sweet and tart simultaneously. Stupendous.


Don't be deterred by the difficulty implied in the lattice crust. It's just a little fiddly is all, and if you want to simplify things, just plonk the second bit of pastry on top and call it a day. It will still taste just as good and look incredible. In the end, you will not only have achieved greatness (even the most imperfect pie is still wonderful), you get to feed friends. And yourself. And feel better.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Simple apple cake



It was at my friend Elizabeth's urging (via her blog) I made this cake. She promised it was easy, delicious and able to be whipped up when the pantry was practically bare. Can I tell you, it is all of those things. When I made it, I turned it out of the tin and selected a plate to put it on, reaching for one I particularly like but rarely use - one of the few things of my mum's I took with me back to Sydney after she died. It distinguishes itself by being absolutely flat - no sloping sides - and at its centre depicts an English country cottage covered in flowers. It was her mother's and sticky-taped to its underside, remarkably, is still a small piece of paper with my grandmother's name written in careful capitals (lest it be lost after transporting something scrumptious to someone's house). 


Instantly, I remembered all the afternoon teas at her house after school. Scones were the main event, if I'm honest, but also on offer with regularity was an apple tea cake. Maybe subconsciously that's why I reached for that plate. Originally from Scotland, my grandmother married a bank manager and raised three children in country Queensland. Before she was catering to hungry grandchildren in her retirement in Brisbane, she was entertaining bank personnel and clients in a succession of small towns. I wonder if she found it surreal serving up on scenes of rural life so different to her surrounds.



This isn't Gran's recipe, but she'd definitely approve. It's not only effortless, but economical (one egg!) and when it bakes, it perfumes the air with the comforting scent of cinnamon. Something to satisfy all ages, eternally.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

St. Clement's cake



One of the nice things about doing this blog has been more awareness of the seasons, tailoring my baking to make use of what's available right now where I am rather than over the other side of the world (and at big mark-ups in grocery stores here). Winter is not as showy as summer, with its bounty of mangoes and stone fruit, but there's a lot you can do in these colder months with a surfeit of citrus. This cake uses both oranges and lemons, and is satisfyingly substantial (all that almond meal) and suitably celebratory (sherbety lemon icing)... which was appropriate as it was a birthday cake for my oldest friend in all the world, who, last weekend in Canberra, made me lasagne and my mum's apple crumble. Both of which are even better in winter, as is this cake, which conjures up warmth in its colour. And comforts when it's cold outside.