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.


Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Prune cake with brandy and walnuts



I bought a bundt tin. Actually, it was my sole souvenir from my recent trip to the US. I found it at the Nifty Thrifty on Orcas Island, so I like to think I purchased a little bit of baking history along with my hardware. It's fun imagining who it might have once belonged to, and the cakes it made before it got stuffed with socks, packed in a suitcase and spirited to Sydney, where this weekend it was put to work producing something most spectacular.


In this cake - another from the new Ottolenghi baking bible Sweet - prunes are soaked in brandy overnight and wound through a batter bolstered with walnuts and orange zest. The prunes, plumped with booze, are silky soft, the crumble through the middle a nice contrasting crunch. And the orange goes suprisingly well with coffee.


It's a winner all round. As endorsed by the king parrots of the Illawarra.




Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Coffee and cardamom pound cake



The weekend before last I flew down to Melbourne, which called for carry-on cake. I alighted on a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's new cookbook Sweet (stupendous - buy it in bulk and distribute to anyone on your Christmas list who loves baking), adapted it accordingly for airline travel (basically, just halving the quantities of ingredients so it could be made in a loaf tin) and before long I was slicing it in my friend George's South Melbourne kitchen. 


As students, George and I toiled together in a suburban Brisbane café serving Saturday shoppers coffee and cake, which probably explains why all these years later we particularly delight in staying in on the weekend with a pot of tea and a whole cake all to ourselves.


This is Ottolenghi and his co-author (Australian!) Helen Goh's riff on Rose Levy Beranbaum's revered recipe for "Perfect Pound cake". Light, moist and fragrant with coffee, cardamom and cocoa, it's just as good the next day, and the day after that. If indeed it lasts that long.


Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Chocolate midnight cake




This week I made two chocolate cakes. Both were oil (rather than butter) based. One was a triumph and the other... the less said about it the better. The big difference in the recipes was in the choice of chocolate. The flop used melted dark chocolate, the success story cocoa.



This cake - from former Chez Panisse chef Samin Nosrat's Salt Fat Acid Heat - is deliciously dark and amazingly, dairy-free (should you choose to serve without the cream). It's brilliant for birthdays and celebrations, and easy enough for weekday cooking. Because of the oil, it keeps beautifully so can always be made ahead of time. Not that it's at all labour intensive. Including cooking time, it takes about forty minutes. So simple. Spectacular. Sold.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Marble cake



When I was growing up, there were a limited number of cakes in the family repertoire. Basically, there were three: Devil's Food, orange and marble. Devil's Food was in high rotation, obviously - what kid doesn't agitate for chocolate? - orange was the adult's choice and marble got trotted out for company as its swirls of chocolate and vanilla were suitably showstopping. Alas I don't have Mum's original recipe, but this one, from American baking authority Martha Stewart, is exceptional. And easy. Made in a loaf tin, its golden exterior slashed with satiny chocolate exempts you from fiddly frosting. It's airy and light yet satisfying sturdy. Rich but not too sweet. And oh so pretty.


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Compost cookies



I didn't make it to the east coast on this latest trip to the US, but I transported myself there in a California kitchen by making Christina Tosi's famous compost cookies. Tosi is chef and owner of Milk Bar, Momofuku's bakery offshoot in New York City (and now scattered all over the country... and Canada). Her creations include crack pie - which is as advertised - and these similarly addictive cookies.


Potato chips, butterscotch, pretzels, graham crackers, oats, ground coffee... more is more here - sweet, salty, chewy, crunchy... These have it all. The name is deceptive, implying something just thrown together without much thought but there's a science to these, a precision that speaks to the process Tosi goes through to create. She's an alchemist, engineering quite possibly the perfect cookie. They don't look like much but believe me, they're memorable, and appeal to adults and kids alike. They're especially fun to make with kids as they get to crush up potato chips and pretzels, and sample all the sweet stuff along the way - shout out to Linus, my able apprentice, and his mum for the beautiful photos.



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.