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.


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Lemon, blueberry and almond teacakes



It may have something to do with the season, but I have never embraced a cookbook as much as I have Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's recently released Sweet. In Sydney, in late December, I made rhubarb yo-yos and orange and star anise shortbread as holiday gifts. A few days later, in Hobart, I collaborated with a friend (and fellow Ottolenghi disciple) on the rolled pavlova with blackberries and peaches for dessert on Christmas Day, and on a hot, sticky Brisbane afternoon just before new year, I whipped up these lemon, blueberry and almond teacakes with expert bakers Alice (10) and Emily (5) in their new kitchen in Fig Tree Pocket.


Well, to be honest, I really did nothing more than supervise, passing eggs to little hands to crack, reading from the recipe about what to add when and overseeing the distribution of blueberries in batter. Though these look fancy as fancy can be, they are super easy and super fun to make, and showcase the beautiful berries so plentiful at this time of year. You don't need any specialist equipment - they're made in a muffin tin and simply inverted and iced to make little cakes (genius!). Though they're not strictly gluten-free, you could easily make them so by substituting more almond meal for the very minimal amount of flour in the recipe. They're sweet, light and unbelievably good. This recipe makes twelve, which seems like a lot but having had one, you will almost certainly want another. Get in quick.


Lemon, blueberry and almond teacakes 
Adapted from a recipe in Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh

I'm sure you could swap the 45g of flour for the same amount of almond meal if you wanted to make this gluten-free - just make sure the baking powder and icing sugar you're using are gluten-free. Most are, but best to read the label, or check online.


190g unsalted butter, at room temperature
190g caster (superfine) sugar
finely grated zest of one lemon (1 teaspoon)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
190g ground almonds
45g flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
60ml lemon juice
100g blueberries, plus 70g to garnish

icing
160g icing (confectioners') sugar
35ml lemon juice


Preheat oven to 180 deg C. Grease and flour all 12 holes of a muffin tin.

Beat butter, sugar and lemon zest together til light and creamy, then add eggs and ground almonds in three or four alternate batches. Fold in flour, salt and baking powder, then finally add the lemon juice. Spoon batter into the muffin moulds and divide the 100g of blueberries between them - pushing the berries down into the batter a bit.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until edges are golden and a skewer inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean. Remove from oven, let cool in tin for ten minutes then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely, making sure they are sitting upside down (ie: smaller end on top).

Sift icing sugar into a bowl and add lemon juice til mixture is thick but pourable. Spoon icing over cakes and top with remaining blueberries.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Pistachio and rosewater cake with mascarpone and roasted plums



Incredibly, this is the 200th recipe I've posted here. For a while, I wasn't sure if I'd post it at all because in my haste to carve up this cake and serve it I didn't get a great photo but if this isn't a celebration cake, I don't know what is. Nothing says decadence like a dessert containing a budget-blowing boatload of pistachios. Roasted and chopped, they're bound with eggs, sugar, lemon zest and a dash of rosewater and baked into what is essentially, in taste and texture, one large macron - a sweet, chewy centre cased in a crisp exterior... with mascarpone cream and roasted plums piled on top. The end result is elegant, effortless, gluten-free and most importantly, delicious. Especially on a sticky Sunday afternoon in Brisbane surrounded by friends.


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Roasted pear cake with browned butter glaze




Because I read a lot of American food blogs, sometimes I get a bit out of sync with the seasons. Lately online it's been all about turkey and cider and staying in where it's warm, when here in Sydney it's time for tee shirts, swims (to cool off) and summer fruit. I had my first mango for the season this week and it was magic. But! I wasn't waiting til next year to try this cake, especially when pears are so readily available everywhere. Caramel in colour and flavour with its combination of sweet fruit and sticky brown sugar, this cake is undeniably autumnal. The oil/butter blend makes for an extraordinarily soft and smooth texture, with chunks of pear nestled into the crumb for contrast. Warm spices - cardamom and cinnamon - infuse everything and the brown butter glaze is the perfect nutty note to end it all on. If a cake can be cosy, this is it.


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Fresh ginger and molasses cake



I had a traumatic week last week. Not world-endingly traumatic, just the kind that could be cured by cake. So I made one. During a heatwave in southern California a few months ago, I came across this recipe while flipping through my friend's cookbooks, laying low, sapped of energy by the sun. Molasses is such a fantastic sounding word and conjured up how we all felt at the time, sticky and slow. It wasn't the weather for it then, but now in November, during these days of crisp, cool, sunny Sydney weather, the time was right. The fresh ginger sings in this not-too-sweet, incredibly soft, dramatically dark cake, which goes perfectly with a cup of tea. The original recipe is for a layer cake, vanilla cream slathered between the layers and atop, but I just halved the quantities, made a single layer, dusted it with icing sugar and called it done. Delicious.