Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Daring Bakers #14 - Yule Log



With plenty of Christmas baking happening, it was appropriate that the Daring Bakers join in with the festive Yule Log. There are many versions of this classic, but the version we were assigned to make involved a genoise sponge filled and iced with coffee buttercream and decorated with meringue or marzipan mushrooms.

The actual recipe was straightforward and simple to make but it involved several steps and a bit of time set aside to make it and the commodity most lacking in December is time. As my mum's birthday is on Christmas Eve, I thought it would be nice to share the Yule Log as her birthday cake (she's very used to the blurring of Christmas and birthdays!) I intended to make and blog about this cake on 23 December (as we were supposed to post our Daring Bakers blog entry on 22 or 23 December)and then serve it for mum's birthday lunch the next day.

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men of course went astray and so I found myself taking over mum's kitchen on Christmas Eve to make up the Yule Log. The genoise sponge was very easy to make, involving a mixture of eggs, egg yolks, sugar and flour that baked for just 10 minutes. It made a lovely light airy sponge cake. Although the instructions said to let the sponge cool and then roll up, I've found from previous swiss roll cake making that it's best to roll the sponge in a tea-towel when hot and let it cool in that shape, which helps prevent cracking.

The buttercream was made by beating egg whites and sugar over hot water until hot, then beating to a meringue and then mixing in a large portion of butter, followed by coffee granules dissolved in liquor. Not having made buttercream like this before, I was a bit dubious but the end result was a light, sweet cream that spread easily on the cake. I found that there was far too much buttercream for the cake and I could easily have used half the amount that was made. As it was, my Yule Log increased greatly in size as I piled on spoonful after spoonful of buttercream.

The final step was to make meringue mushrooms for decoration. Unfortunately I ran out of time to make these, so my Yule Log was served up with no decoration. Apologies to Lis and Ivonne, this month's hosts, for not quite completing the challenge as specified (and for being a day or two late in posting).

To assemble, the sponge was unrolled and filled with buttercream. I sliced off the ends and put these on the log to make a stump shape, which was then iced all over with buttercream. A fork drawn through the buttercream helped to give it the appearance of bark.

The Yule Log was eagerly received by the assorted family members and birthday girl, although opinions differed as to whether it really looked like a log or was more like a submarine or tank! However, all were agreed that the buttercream was probably too rich and sweet and so small portions of this cake were more than enough. While I would definitely make the genoise sponge again, as I think it would lend itself to all types of fillings, I would probably make less buttercream or adjust the recipe in some way to make it less rich and sweet.

Once again, this was a fun challenge to make. Thanks to Lis and Ivonne for choosing a fun, festive treat to make and I look forward to more DB challenges in 2008!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Spiced biscuits for Christmas



With just 10 days to go until Christmas Day, it's time to get serious about Christmas baking. Now is the time to organise ingredients and a timetable for making sweet little edible gifts. My files are bulging with ideas, including recipes for gingerbread, nougat, shortbread, chocolate fudge or truffles, panforte and mince tarts. It's just a matter of deciding what to make. There are some old favourites that I love to make every year but I also like to try something new each year.

Last year, I gave little boxes of chocolate fudge and pistachio and cranberry nougat. I planned to repeat the process this year until I ran into the great liquid glucose brick wall. Last year, liquid glucose was on the shelf at my supermarket but this year it's nowhere to be seen and the local health food shop is out of stock.

With the clock ticking, as I needed my gifts ready for the next day when we were catching up with several groups of friends, the fudge was fine but I had to quickly come up with something else to accompany it. I wanted something quick and simple but with a Christmas theme, so I decided to give a festive twist to my grandmother's burnt butter biscuit recipe by adding some spices commonly associated with Christmas. The result was so good that I may make the spiced version far more often than the original!

These biscuits are another entry into Susan from Food Blogga's "Eat Christmas Cookies" event (in which I've previously entered lebkuchen). This event, which has been running all month, is a great source of inspiration and is providing me with a whole lot more biscuit recipes for my already massive file. Recipes have been posted from all around the world and it's been fascinating to learn about different traditions and ingredients, not to mention the lovely stories that accompany these recipes.

These little biscuits are extremely easy to make, keep well, are easy to store and transport as gifts and will be quickly devoured!

SPICED CHRISTMAS BISCUITS

115g butter
115g caster sugar
1 egg
200g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon each of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom
almonds for decoration (optional)

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat until it is a light brown colour. Cool. Add the caster sugar and beat to a cream, then add the egg and beat well. Sift the flour and spices together and mix in until you have a soft dough. Roll into small balls and press half an almond in each (this is optional. The biscuits are just as nice without the almonds, so please leave out if you're worried about nut allergies). Leave room on the tray for the biscuits to spread. Cook in a moderate oven (180 degrees Celsius) for 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Beautiful berries



I can't believe that it's almost berry time again. This year has flown so quickly. It seems like barely yesterday that I was busy filling up containers with juicy jewels of raspberries, blackberries, youngberries and brambleberries and now it's time to pick again.

Berries are my favourite of fruits. I love them fresh from the vine (one for the container, one for me...), mixed into fresh tarts, desserts and cakes and used to make jam or ice-cream.

Each year my family and I go berry picking. Not only is it cheaper than buying punnets from the markets but it's so much more fun to fill your own containers and we make quite a day of it. The first thing I do when I get home is to make raspberry jam and a fresh raspberry tart and then I divide the berries up into containers to freeze and use throughout the year. This year, I've been quite frugal with the berries, not wanting to run out, so now I'm frantically using up the last batches before they are filled again next weekend.

While deciding what to make, I found a recipe by Stephanie Alexander called "Prue's Blueberry Bake". Despite the name, the recipe says you can substitute raspberries or mulberries instead of blueberries. As I had blackberries, I used them instead and they worked well. The berry bake is a cross between a cake and a slice: you make a basic butter cake and then spread it into a lamington tin, top with berries and walnuts, and bake. Although it tastes like a cake, it looks like a slice. It is extremely easy to make and is perfect for a mid-morning snack or for afternoon tea.

PRUE'S BLUEBERRY BAKE

125g unsalted butter, soft
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
200ml sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
250g blueberries, raspberries, mulberries or blackberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Icing
3/4 cup icing sugar
About 2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time. Sift flour, bicarb soda and baking powder into a bowl and fold into the butter mixture alternately with the cream and lemon juice until you have a smooth batter.

Pour into a lined lamington tin (30cm x 21cm) and sprinkle over the berries and walnuts (these will sink as the cake bakes). Bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden on top. Cool in the tin.

To make icing, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl. Add hot water and mix with a fork until you have a thick, smooth pourable paste. Mix in the vanilla extract. Drizzle over the cooled cake and allow to set before serving.

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's Christmas time - lebkuchen



Now that it's December, I feel I can officially get excited about Christmas. The trees and decorations have been all around town since November, but I don't feel like I can start celebrating until December begins. But now it's time to get into the full swing of Christmas baking!

I've already made my Christmas pudding and cake and they are maturing nicely in cool, dark places. Now I can turn my attention to spiced biscuits, panforte, panettone and all sorts of other sweet treats that will make good presents.

I'm not the only one preparing for Christmas baking. Susan from Food Blogga also feels that baking and eating is part of the true Christmas spirit and she is hosting an "Eat Christmas cookies" blog event. People from around the world have been sending in their favourite recipes, usually accompanied by a story about why these biscuits are special in their family.

There's many dishes I associate with Christmas, As I've already blogged about my grandmother's shortbread, this post is about my Aunt Margaret's lebkuchen biscuits. Margaret is of Austrian heritage and each Christmas she always made a huge batch of lebkuchen biscuits, a spicy biscuit topped with lemon icing. Rather than being eaten on Christmas Day, we feasted on them in the lead-up to Christmas and afterwards. After many years, I've finally obtained the recipe and this year I made my first batch of lebkuchen. They were delicious and will definitely become part of my Christmas baking repertoire each year.

LEBKUCHEN

1 cup honey
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup treacle or molasses
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons finely chopped mixed peel
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 cup finely chopped blanched almonds (or use almond meal)
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
2 teaspoons hot water
1 egg, beaten
3 cups self-raising flour
1 1/2 cups plain flour

Mix honey, treacle, sugar, spices, mixed peel and almonds. Stir soda into boiling water and add to the fruit/sugar mixture along with beaten egg. Mix in flour, one cup at a time. This makes a very stiff mixture and must be thoroughly blended. Leave at least overnight in the fridge to ripen*.

Next day, roll out mixture to approximately 1/2 inch thick, cut into bars/shapes, place on baking paper-lined baking trays and bake in moderate oven (180 degrees Celsius) for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. While still warm, ice with lemon or orange-flavoured icing (I prefer lemon). Leave to set completely before storing in airtight containers. Makes approximately 80-90 biscuits.

* Note - dough can be left two or three days to ripen in fridge if desired - it only improves the flavour.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Daring Bakers challenge - potato bread




Cows and chooks around the world breathed a sigh of relief as this month the Daring Bakers had a savoury theme. There was not an egg or any milk in sight as we made tender potato bread.

This month's host, Tanna (My Kitchen in Half Cups), had thoughtfully provided metric and imperial measures, so this was an easy recipe to tackle. The only ingredient I didn't recognise was "whole wheat flour" but I assumed that is what we know in Australia as "wholemeal flour". The recipe was very straightforward: boil some potatoes and mash, mix with the cooking water, add yeast, wholemeal and plain flour, and then knead. We were warned that the dough was extremely sticky and we would probably need to knead in 1-2 extra cups of flour to get it to the desired consistency. I have made potato bread before (to a different recipe) and I don't remember it being so soft and sticky. Anyway, despite the softness of the dough, it rose beautifully in two hours and was extremely light and airy to touch. Once we reached the point of forming the bread, we were invited to unleash the Daring Baker within and to make the dough in whatever form we saw fit (loaves, focaccia, rolls etc).

I decided to make focaccias. For one topping, I fried up bacon and red onion and spread that over the top. For the other, I scattered sea salt, chopped rosemary and an olive mix over it. Then it was 10 minutes in a hot oven to cook.

Both focaccias turned out beautifully. The texture of this bread was soft and fluffy but the potato lent it a denseness. We ate portions of it after it had cooled a little from the oven and the next day, we heated up some leftovers and filled them with salad. Both worked equally well.

This was a great recipe to try. Like most yeast recipes, it requires time but the recipe was straightforward and easy and the end result was a big hit. Thanks to Tanna for hosting this month and for choosing such an excellent recipe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A month of Christmas baking



It might feel too early to be getting into the Christmas spirit, but Christmas decorations are being put up all around the city and boxes of shiny tinsel and fat mince pies have been in the supermarkets since October. I feel like we've barely packed up the decorations from last year and it's time to get them out again.

But I don't really mind because Christmas is my favourite time of the year. I love the preparations, particularly planning the Christmas Day menu and the food treats that I'll make as gifts.

Regardless of the weather, we've always had a traditional Christmas lunch in our house, with ham, roast turkey, roast vegetables, peas with mint sauce and tomatoes topped with breadcrumbs, followed by plum pudding with brandy sauce and thick custard. It's a menu more suited to the snowy English season than to a hot Australian summer but it's our tradition and we love it, despite the fact that seafood is now becoming a much more popular (and well-suited) choice. As my mum's birthday is on Christmas Eve, we usually have seafood or a BBQ that night (and Santa and his reindeer were always guaranteed a big slice of birthday cake to keep them going!)

November is the time to make plum pudding and Christmas cakes and to get organised for other baking. I've been stockpiling my supplies of butter, flour, sugar, dried fruit and nuts in preparation and have already picked up frozen suet from my butcher. I'm the designated pudding maker in my family and I'm also the custodian of my grandmother's recipes for shortbread and fruit mince tarts. To these old favourites, I've added new ones over the years, including a chocolate panforte, panettone, assorted gingerbread and spice cookies, and sweet treats for gifts, such as pistachio and cranberry nougat and chocolate fudge.

I wish I could say that I use an old family recipe for our Christmas pudding but that's not the case. My dad has fond memories of the rich plum pudding his mother made each year, with a penny hidden inside. It hung in its cloth wrapper in a cool dark place for at least six weeks before Christmas. Alas, the recipe appears to have died with her. The recipe I do use is an old one and it is from Stephanie Alexander's grandmother. It was first published in The Age many years ago and also appears in her book The Cook's Companion. I've been making it for many years now and it's always eagerly received. I make it in two old pudding tins that belonged to my great-aunt, rather than in cloth, as I've never had any luck using cloth. The pudding is extremely easy to make and the only drawback is that you need to set aside a day to make it, as it requires six hours boiling time (plus at least an hour's boiling time on Christmas Day to reheat it). But the end result is well worth it.

Here is my grandmother's recipe for shortbread. My grandmother and mother have made this every year for Christmas that I can remember and it makes a lovely gift. You can make this at any time of the year but it is a nice festive treat, particularly if you use a Christmas tree-shaped cutter.

SHORTBREAD

270g plain flour
60g rice flour
210g butter
90g caster sugar
a few drops of vanilla extract

Beat the butter until as white as possible. Add vanilla extract and then slowly add sugar. Continue beating until soft and fluffy. Sift flours, add to mixture and stir to a fairly dry dough.

Press dough out to approximately 2-3cms thick. Cut out with a Christmas tree cutter (or other shapes). Place on baking trays lined with baking paper and cook at 180 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Gently lift with a spatula and cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Empanadas


I recently discovered a wonderful New Zealand food magazine called Cuisine.<Hausfrau bakery in Yarraville thoughtfully has a stack of food magazines and cookbooks available for customers to browse through as they sip coffee and munch on one of their delicious European-inspired cakes. I picked up Cuisine and was instantly impressed. The photography is wonderful and inspires you to try the wide range of recipes. It is a little simliar to the Australian magazine Delicious, but obviously the food and wine news is centred on New Zealand. Cuisine was recently judged the best food magazine in the world at the Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards, beating other prestigious food magazines such as Gourmet Traveller, Vogue Entertaining & Travel and Donna Hay magazine (all of which I love as well), so I thought it was definitely worthwhile surfing around on Cuisine's website to learn more.

Cuisine
has a great website, with an archive of more than 1000 recipes to search, as well as a recipe of the day to try. A recipe for beef and spinach empanadas was recently featured and, with a backyard vegetable garden overflowing with fresh spinach, I decided this would be a good recipe to try. The empanadas were easy to make and extremely delicious. We ate them as a main course with sweet chilli sauce for dunking and a salad on the side, but they would also make excellent nibbles at a party. I'm looking forward to trying more Cuisine recipes soon.

BEEF AND SPINACH EMPANADAS

For the pastry
3 cups white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup ice-cold water

For the filling
300g minced beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 large tomato, chopped
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 chilli, chopped
1 large bunch spinach, washed, wilted over heat in a saucepan then chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil for frying

To make pastry: place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. With the motor running, tip in the oil until it is all incorporated. Add the water slowly and, when the dough starts to come together in beads the size of tiny pearls, switch off the motor and tip the mixture out onto a floured board. Draw the dought together by kneading gently. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. (Note: I found the dough quite dry and needed to add some extra water).

For the filling: heat a large frying pan and cook the mince for about 10 minutes until it is crumbly and lightly browned. Add the onion, garlic and spices and cook a little longer until the onion softens. Add the remaining ingredients, except the spinach, and cook over a high heat until the juices start to evaporate. Stir in the spinach and adjust the seasoning. Allow to cool.

To assemble the empanadas, roll out the pastry to about 3mm thick. Using a 10cm-diameter pastry cutter, cut out 15-20 circles. Place about one heaped tablespoon of the filling in the centre of each dough round and fold over to form a half-moon shape. Seal the edges with a little water and crimp together. Heat oil to a depty of about 2.5cm in a frying pan until it is quite hot but not smoking. Fry the empanads until golden brown on each side, about 3-5 minutes. Drain and serve.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Daring Bakers: Bostini cream pie



After the success of my first Daring Bakers* challenge last month, I was looking forward to this month's recipe: Bostini cream pie. Not being familiar with either Boston cream pies or the Bostini version, I'm grateful to definitions from this month's host Mary (from Alpineberry): a traditional Boston cream pie is a vanilla layer cake filled with cream and topped with chocolate glaze, while the Bostini is a vanilla bean pastry cream topped with an orange chiffon cake and drizzled with a rich chocolate glaze.


My biggest challenge this month was the conversion of the American recipe into Australian measurements and then, as it was such a large recipe (nine egg yolks for the custard alone!), to somehow scale down these measurements (what's 1/3 of 1/2 cup?)


I found a convenient conversion chart on the Internet and discovered that 3/4 of a US cup is 2/3 cup + 1 dessertspoon in Australian measurements. I converted/estimated all measurements as best I could and they obviously worked, as this recipe was a great success.


The custard was rich and creamy and very moreish. Other DBs have noted that the custard was quite runny and more like a pastry cream, but I found that my custard set nicely and was quite firm, similar to the custard in a trifle (it oozed a little bit when I turned it out onto a plate, but it managed to stay in a mound, rather than running all over the plate). I would normally make a custard with eggs and milk, rather than cream, but this was a nice change and the dessert certainly benefited from having such a rich custard.


The next step was the chiffon cake. A chiffon cake is a light cake made with vegetable oil, eggs, sugar, flour and flavourings. As it doesn't use butter, the texture of the cake is derived from beaten egg whites (similar to an angel cake). The lack of butter in the cake means that the flavour is light and delicate and makes it perfect for partnering with custards, pastry creams and sauces. Other DBs had warned that the recipe made a huge cake, so I made a half-quantity (and had plenty left over). The recipe called for cake flour, which is not available in Australia, but Bill Granger came to the rescue, noting on the Sydney Morning Herald website that 1 cup of cake flour equals 3/4 cup of plain flour plus 2 tablespoons of cornflour. The cake was extremely easy to mix up. I chose to make it in a large cake pan and cut out pieces for the dessert, rather than baking it in individual pans.


So, to the final result! I served this dessert in two different ways. On the first night, we had the Bostini cream pie in fancy little glass dishes, filled with custard, topped with circles of cake and drizzled with the chocolate glaze (the easiest part to make, as the glaze is equal parts of chocolate and butter melted together). On the second night, I scooped out the custard (which I had set in little espresso cups) onto a plate, topped the custard mound with chiffon cake and then drizzled over more glaze. Either way of serving it worked well.


The Bostini cream pie was a taste sensation! As I was making the individual parts, I thought it would be a nice dessert but nothing special. One mouthful though and both Adam and I were in raptures! The chiffon cake was dense but airy and was a perfect foil to the sweet custard, with the chocolate glaze soaking in to the cake and adding extra flavour. I was thrilled with the final result and would definitely make this dessert again. The individual parts of the dessert are easy to make and not very time-consuming and the final result is so impressive that people think the dessert is more difficult to make than it is.


Thanks to Mary for hosting this event and for choosing such a wonderful dessert to make. The recipe is available on Mary's site, Alpineberry. Several points to note: as I mentioned, I converted all measurements to Australian measurements. Cake flour is made with plain flour and cornflour, and the American cornstarch is cornflour in Australia.




I'm eagerly looking forward to the next challenge!


* The Daring Bakers are a group of foodbloggers who, once a month, receive a recipe chosen by that month's host, make the recipe without modifications (unless allowed by the host), and then blog about the experience on the same day.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A savoury dish


My friend Alison recently commented that my blog seems full of sweet recipes. I do love a good cake, biscuit or pudding, but I'm equally keen on savoury dishes, so why am I not inspired to write about them as much as about sweet dishes? I'm not alone in this. As I've written before, my grandmother's cookbook is full of recipes for cakes, slices and desserts. Yet sweets would have been much more of a treat in her day than a regular occurrence, so it seems surprising that she would have so many sweet recipes in her cookbook.

It got me thinking about the nature of baking, as opposed to cooking. My theory is that, in general, baking is much more precise than cooking, and therefore more detailed recipes are needed. For example, for pesto I throw together a big bunch of basil and add garlic, olive oil, pinenuts and parmesan to taste. The idea of precisely measuring these ingredients seems ridiculous. Yet, by the same token, I would never make a cake by throwing together estimated ratios of flour, butter and sugar. Even as fine a chef as Stephanie Alexander agrees: "My [recipe] boxes labelled vegetables, meat and poultry, and fish are not nearly as full [as the sweet recipe boxes]. Is it because baking really does need more precision? I can always put together a savoury dish without instruction but would never dare start a cake without a formula." (Epicure, The Age, 15 May 2007).

Although I cook a lot of savoury dishes, they seem to easy or ordinary to write about. When I was a child, we had a roast for lunch every Sunday (my favourite is roast beef with Yorkshire pudding) and I've continued this tradition (although we have it for dinner, rather than lunch). But I've never thought about writing about it because it doesn't seem exotic enough and also because there's no set recipe to share.

But in the interests of balance, I've decided to feature a savoury dish. My backyard vegetable garden is full of spinach, which I love, so spanakopita seemed like a great dish to use up plenty of spinach. This version comes from The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander.

SPANAKOPITA

1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 spring onions, very finely chopped
1 large bunch spinach, steamed, washed, dried and finely chopped
2 tablespoons freshly chopped mint
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
finely grated nutmeg
2 eggs
125g fetta, crumbled
125g ricotta
60g grated parmesan
black pepper
120g melted butter
10 sheets filo pastry

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Saute the onion in the oil until softened. Add spring onion, spinach, herbs and nutmeg and cook, stirring, until spinach is very soft and there is no liquid in the pan. Tip into a colander resting over a plate and allow to cool. Beat eggs in large bowl, add cheeses and cooled spinach mixture and season to taste with pepper.

Choose a rectangular metal baking dish (28cm x 18cm x 8cm - I used a slice tray). It should be a bit smaller than half a sheet of filo. Brush the dish with a little melted butter. Cut the filo sheets in half. Brush each sheet with melted butter and settled 10 sheets in the dish, pressing up the sides. Spoon in spinach mix. Settle a further 10 buttered sheets over the top and tuck in any overlap down the sides. Score the top of the pie but do not cut through to the bottom. Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm or cold.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Celebrating chocolate week




According to English newspaper The Guardian, October 15-21 is Chocolate Week. What a great thing to celebrate! Chocolate recipes are by far my favourite and, out of the thousands of recipes I've collected over the years, the chocolate file is the largest. No matter how many chocolate cake or biscuit recipes I have, I can never resist collecting a new one. They essentially all use the same ingredients but there's always a new twist that entices me to try it - perhaps some coffee granules added to a choc-chip biscuit recipe, or a white chocolate fondant centre in gooey chocolate puddings.

What else is there to say about chocolate that hasn't been written before? We all know its wonderful properties and how a piece of moist chocolate cake can fix almost anything in the world. Whether you choose to whip up a basic cake on a whim, a more grand affair that requires a long list of ingredients and concentration in the kitchen, or some choc-chip biscuits to share with friends, there's always a chocolate recipe available to satisfy.

I've noticed recently that most chocolate recipes call for the "best quality chocolate you can afford", usually meaning expensive Vahlrona or Callebaut chocolate. I have no doubt that in some recipes you may notice the difference if cheap chocolate is used but I also think that this is another example of food snobbery, something that seems to be creeping in more and more to modern recipes. There's been quite a few occasions when I've gone to the trouble and effort of sourcing difficult and expensive ingredients only to end up disappointed with the final result. The recipe works, the end result is fine and yet there's a feeling of flatness, that the end did not justify the means. But that's another article all together!

I'm a sucker for any food recipe that has a chocolate picture on the front cover. It doesn't matter if I've already got 10 versions of the recipe; I have to add this one as well. Clearly I'm not the only one who feels this way, judging by how often chocolate will appear on a front cover.

Chocolate is indulgent and chocolate is fun. You can get a mini-hit through a choc-chip biscuit or a major overdose through a decadent dessert. It's not something to scoff but to savour. A French chocolatier once told me that you should eat a little bit of chocolate every day and that you should make it the best piece of chocolate you can afford (there's that phrase again!) so that you can savour it and then feel satisfied. My preference is for dark chocolate and I find that I am satisfied after a couple of small squares, whereas a chocolate bar leaves me feeling like I've had too much.

In Melbourne, we are spoiled for choice with our chocolate shops: Koko Black in Royal Arcade, Haighs Chocolate shops around the city, Cacao in Fitzroy St, St Kilda, Fraus in Victoria St, North Melbourne for wickedly rich hot chocolate, and chocolate afternoon teas at the Sofitel are just some of the treats on offer.

To celebrate Chocolate Week, here's a recipe for Choc-Nut Biscuits that I made up. It's an easy and fast recipe and will satisfy any mid-afternoon craving for chocolate.

CHOC-NUT BISCUITS

125 g butter
125g white sugar
125g brown sugar
250g self-raising flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g chocolate chips
100g chopped nuts (your choice - I find walnuts or blanched almonds are good)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla, then stir in the sifted flour. Add the choc chips and the nuts, mixing well.

Put spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking trays (it may be quite sticky, so shape as best you can), and allow plenty of room for spreading. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden. Cool on the tray for about five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The great lamington debate

A plate of lamingtons at a work morning tea has been the catalyst for a great debate among my colleagues: should lamingtons have jam in the middle or not? My answer is an unequivocal no!

First, some background. A proper, home-made lamington is a true delight: a cube of light, airy butter or sponge cake, dipped in chocolate icing and rolled in desiccated coconut. Lamingtons are one of my favourite cakes and there is nothing more delightful for morning tea when made properly. Get it wrong, though - the cake is too dry and crumbly, or the icing is not the right consistency - and there's nothing worse.

There's no clear indication of when or how lamingtons were first baked, with many weird and wonderful anecdotes on the internet. Some stories say that a cook improvised when discovering that the sponge cake to be served up for afternoon tea had gone stale and the chocolate icing and coconut was used to disguise this and make it more palatable. It is thought that the cakes were named after Charles Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901.

However they came into being, lamingtons have become a recognisably Australian cake - indeed, in 2006 the National Trust of Queensland named the lamington as one of Queensland's 12 favourite icons. When I was growing up, lamington drives were very popular as fund-raisers for schools and the football and netball clubs. I think this is where some people developed a preference for jam-filled lamingtons, as these lamingtons were flatter and drier than home-made ones and the strawberry jam helped to moisten and flavour the cakes.

The classic Australian cookbooks all agree that lamingtons do not have jam or whipped cream in the middle. The Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union (PMWU) cookbook (first published in 1904), Cookery: the Australian Way (the standard home economics textbook for secondary school students, first published in 1966) and Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion all feature similar recipes for butter cake and chocolate icing, although Stephanie prefers a Genoese sponge cake to butter cake.

It is easy to get lamingtons wrong. The cubes should not be too big, nor too small (too many bakeries sell gigantic lamingtons that are disappointingly dry and tasteless). The cake should be moist and not dry or crumbly. The cubes are much easier to cut and ice if you make the cake the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. I like the contrast of the butter cake with sweet chocolate icing and the coconut. To me, a filling of jam or whipped cream makes the cake too sweet and detracts from the lamington's pure simplicity. Those who prefer otherwise say that the jam adds a sweetness and texture to what is an otherwise bland cake.

Let me know what you think - jam or no jam?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Addictive small bites

Several years ago, Adam and I house-sat for our friends Kerry and Matt while they were overseas. Apart from leaving me an impressively stocked pantry and cupboards bursting with cookware, Kerry also left out a large pile of Delicious magazines (my first taste of my new favourite cooking magazine) and a pile of books. Among the pile, I found a book called On Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis. Although I had a pile of my own books to read, I quickly became immersed in the world of Susan, an American who spent a year as a chef in Paris and then returned several years later with her husband to buy a 300-year-old house in Louviers, Normandy.

Susan is an excellent writer and her tale of life in France was beautifully told, interspersed with delicious recipes that reflected the best of Normandy produce and the love that the French have for good food. Her second book, Tarte Tatin, continues the story of her life in Louviers and the cooking school that Susan has opened, where visitors stay for a week of cooking classes and meet with local producers and artisans. I highly recommend either of these books, although be warned that it may induce feelings of envy! Susan also has an excellent website: http://www.onruetatin.com/

In her book, Susan featured a recipe for les scourtins des vieux moulins (olive cookies from vieux moulins), a very old recipe from a family who produced olive oil at Les Vieux Moulins, an ancient olive mill in Provence. The recipe is an intriguing mix of sweet (icing sugar) and salty (olives) and I've been longing to try it since I first read it. Of course, like many of my clippings, it got put aside until recently when I decided to whip up a batch for morning tea. I'm sorry I waited so long now! These biscuits are totally addictive and, if it wasn't for the fact that I was making these for others, I would have devoured the whole lot on the spot! Enjoy.

OLIVE COOKIES FROM VIEUX MOULINS

125g unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (110g) pure icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/3 cups (200g) plain flour
1/2 cup (100g) cured olives, such as kalamata or nicoise, pitted and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.

Cream the butter until soft and pale yellow. Mix in the icing sugar until blended, then drizzle in the olive oil until combined. Add the flour and a pinch of fine sea salt, then mix gently but thoroughly until the dough is smooth. Add the olives and mix until they are thoroughly incorporated into the dough.

Place a piece of baking paper on the bench and put the dough in the middle. Cover with another piece of baking paper and roll out the dough until it is about 0.5cm thick (the dough is very sticky and the paper will make it possible to roll out). Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, and up to 24 hours.

Cut out 5cm rounds of dough and put them about 1.5cm apart on the prepared baking trays. Bake until golden (about 15 minutes), then cool on wire racks. Gather the leftover dough trimmings into a ball and roll out into a 2.5cm diameter log. Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready to bake. Then cut off 0.5cm-thick rounds from the log (this avoids over-rolling the dough) and bake.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Comfort food

We all have our comfort food recipes, standard dishes that we return to time and time again because they work, because they're easy to make, or because of the memories they evoke. Some days the larder is bare, or you're not feeling inspired to create a new masterpiece and that's when the tried and true recipes come in handy.

Zucchini slice is such a recipe for me. It's easy and fast to make, can be eaten warm or cold, can be successfully reheated in the oven or microwave, can be frozen, and you can omit the bacon for vegetarians. My mum has made this slice all my life and it's starred at many different occasions: at family picnics, a quick Sunday night meal, or something to take over to sick relatives or friends. When I was a university student, I moved house every year and mum always made this slice for us to eat, as it was an easy lunch for hungry workers.

I find myself making this slice more and more frequently, as it just seems to hit the spot at so many different occasions. Plus it's a hit with my toddler son and that makes it worth its weight in gold!

Zucchini slice

2 medium zucchini, grated
4 bacon rashers, diced
1 onion, diced
150g cheddar or parmesan cheese, grated
170g self-raising flour, sifted
3 eggs, lightly beaten together
a pinch of nutmeg

Mix all the ingredients together and put into a square cake tin lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake at 180 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown on top. Cut into slices and serve warm or cold. The slice can also be frozen.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Daring Bakers: cinnamon and sticky buns

After recently discovering the Daring Bakers group, I’m thrilled to participate in my first challenge this month. The Daring Bakers are a group of cooks and food-bloggers from around the world who, each month, all bake from the same recipe (chosen by that month’s host) and then post about it on a nominated date.

Some of the previous challenges have looked difficult, so I was pleased that my first challenge, hosted by Marce at Pip in the City) was Cinnamon and Sticky Buns. I love baking with yeast, so this, to me, was the perfect introduction to the Daring Bakers world.

The recipe was relatively straight-forward and easy but, because it involved yeast, it also involved time. The recipe called for instant yeast, but I only had dry yeast, so I warmed the milk and sprinkled the yeast over, then set it aside for 10 minutes to activate, rather than mixing it at the same time as the flour and milk, as specified in the recipe. I also struggled a little with the conversions from American measurements to Australian. The recipe called for 1 1/8 to 1 ¼ cups of milk. I used 1 Australian cup (250ml) but I think this may have been too much, as my dough was sticky and I needed to add extra flour. However, it didn’t make a difference to the final result. I used my trusty Kitchen Aid to do the kneading for me and the dough rose beautifully in the two hours’ proving time.

The recipe provided information for both cinnamon and sticky buns, so I decided to make half a batch of each. The cinnamon buns are made by sprinkling a mixture of sugar and cinnamon over the dough. Because we were allowed to modify the spices to our taste, I used a mixture of cinnamon, ginger and allspice.

The sticky buns are made the same way but they are then baked in a tray filled with caramel glaze, which adds an extra sweet dimension. The cinnamon buns are delicious but I found them to be a touch dry, so the stickiness of the caramel glaze alleviated the dryness. I wasn’t going to make the fondant icing but the cinnamon buns looked bare and dry without it, so I decided to quickly make a batch. Other Daring Bakers had warned that the quantity was far too much, so I only used 2/3 cup icing sugar with a teaspoon of milk and even this was far too much. The icing was excellent though and enhanced the buns.

I imagined the caramel glaze to be like a thick, hard caramel but it was more like a thick butter icing. The recipe called for corn syrup, which is not used very much in Australian cooking. I actually had a jar in my pantry, as I recently used it in a chocolate cake glaze, but I think golden syrup would make an acceptable substitute. I find corn syrup to have a weird aftertaste but it is strangely addictive.

My husband and family adored these buns, particularly the sticky buns, and they quickly disappeared. The recipe looks long but, broken down in steps, it’s actually quite easy and the results are rewarding. I will definitely be making these buns again. Congratulations to Marce on a great choice of recipe and I’m looking forward to next month’s challenge!

I’ve copied the recipe below as it was published to me, but I’ve added in metric conversions where I can.



Cinnamon and Sticky Buns
(from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice)


Days to Make: One (1)
Active/Resting/Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3 1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 - 40 minutes to bake
Recipe Quantity: Eight(1) - twelve (12) large rolls or twelve (12) - sixteen (16) small rolls

Making the Dough

Ingredients:
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) (95g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) (455g) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast*
  • 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or any other spices you want to use, cardamom, ginger, allspice, etc.)
  • White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns or caramel glaze for sticky buns (at the end of the recipe.)
  • Walnuts, pecans, or other nuts (for sticky buns.)
  • Raisins or other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or dried cherries (for sticky buns, optional.)
*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.

Step 1 - Making the Dough: Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).

Note: if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast.

Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Step 2 - Fermentation: Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Step 3 - Form the Buns: Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Proceed as shown in the photo below for shaping the buns.

(A) Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Don´t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump.
(B)Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and (C) roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.)









Step 4 - Prepare the Buns for Proofing:

· For cinnamon buns: line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren´t touching but are close to one another.
· For sticky buns: coat the bottom of 1 or more baking dishes or baking pans with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high with a 1/4 inch layer of the caramel glaze. Sprinkle on the nuts and raisins (if you are using raisins or dried fruit.) You do not need a lot of nuts and raisins, only a sprinkling. Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.

Step 5 - Proof the Buns:
Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.

Step 6 - Bake the Buns:

· Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle shelf for cinnamon buns but on the lowest shelf for sticky buns.
· Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or the sticky buns 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you are baking sticky buns, remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. The tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked. It takes practice to know just when to pull the buns out of the oven.

Step 7 - Cool the buns:
· For cinnamon buns, cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops, while the buns are warm but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving.
· For the sticky buns, cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.

Toppings for the Buns: White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns
Cinnamon buns are usually topped with a thick white glaze called fondant. There are many ways to make fondant glaze, but here is a delicious and simple version, enlivened by the addition of citrus flavor, either lemon or orange. You can also substitute vanilla extract or rum extract, or simply make the glaze without any flavorings.

Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.

When the buns have cooled but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops. Or, form the streaks by dipping your fingers in the glaze and letting it drip off as you wave them over the tops of the buns. (Remember to wear latex gloves.)

Caramel glaze for sticky buns
Caramel glaze is essentially some combination of sugar and fat, cooked until it caramelizes. The trick is catching it just when the sugar melts and lightly caramelizes to a golden amber. Then it will cool to a soft, creamy caramel. If you wait too long and the glaze turns dark brown, it will cool to a hard, crack-your-teeth consistency. Most sticky bun glazes contain other ingredients to influence flavor and texture, such as corn syrup to keep the sugar from crystallizing and flavor extracts or oils, such as vanilla or lemon. This version makes the best sticky bun glaze of any I´ve tried. It was developed by my wife, Susan, for Brother Juniper´s Cafe in Forestville, California. NOTE: you can substitute the corn syrup for any neutral flavor syrup, like cane syrup or gold syrup.

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 pound (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.
  2. Cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup corn syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange or vanilla extract. Continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
  3. Use as much of this as you need to cover the bottom of the pan with a 1/4-inch layer. Refrigerate and save any excess for future use; it will keep for months in a sealed container.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Random food jottings

A few days of annual leave from work gave me the opportunity to wander Melbourne's streets and sample our eclectic range of foodie treasures. We are so spoiled for choice in Melbourne with the quality and range of the food venues we have. Here's a sample of what I found in my jaunts around our fair city.

Noisette, Bay St, Port Melbourne
I've heard good things about Noisette patisserie and boulangerie in Bay St, Port Melbourne, so it was great to drop in for breakfast and sample the range. Noisette has a modern, stylish interior, with a chocolate-brown banquette lining one wall, facing out towards glass cabinets loaded with sweet and savoury delicacies: pain au chocolat, almond croissants, danishes, brioche, baguettes and boxes of little biscuits. We planned to share an escargot and an almond croissant, but I took one bite of the croissant and knew I couldn't share. The crescent of flaky pastry is filled with a dense sweetish almond filling and topped with almond flakes dredged in icing sugar. We ordered a pear and chocolate danish to share instead. The escargot was filled with plump sultanas and had a nice firm texture, while the chocolate and pear combination was a perfect match and not too sweet. The coffees were smooth and well-brewed and the cafe latte was served in a groovy giant egg-shaped cup. We left empty-handed but could easily have loaded up with some baguettes and sweet brioches. I will definitely be revisiting Noisette.

Babka, Brunswick St, Fitzroy
In all my years living in Melbourne and dining in Brunswick St, I can't believe I've never visited Babka. It was time to rectify this, so I popped in at lunchtime and perched myself in a window seat. The window bench is nice and wide, allowing plenty of room to spread out a newspaper to read without encroaching on your neighbour's space. Despite the note on the blackboard menu warning of a 20-minute wait, I ordered the dumplings, and enjoyed a well-made flat white while I waited. The 20 minutes passed quickly, as I had my head buried in Epicure, and soon enough a plate of fat dumplings was placed before me. I ordered the mixed dumplings - some came with potato and others with a mushroom mix. The texture was beautiful - filling but not heavy. A plate of dumplings with no greens or salad might seem like a heavy dish, but the accompanying dollop of sour cream, topped with snipped chives, was a perfect counterbalance and this was a satisfying meal. I enjoyed many types of pierogi in Poland and these dumplings reminded me of the pierogi - something I had not yet found in Melbourne.

Jasper's Coffee, Brunswick St, Fitzroy
This is heaven for a caffeine addict. The aroma of coffee beans greets you was you walk in the door, with buckets of coffee beans from around the world on display to tempt you. There are descriptions of the different characteristics of each bean type and the helpful staff are more than happy to talk you through the beans on offer, carefully listening to your coffee preference and the type of machine or coffee gadget you have at home so that they can tailor the type and ground of bean accordingly. There's also loads of coffee gadgets, such as knock bins and tampers, on display, as well as shelves full of chocolates. This is a great place to be tempted out of your caffeine comfort zone.

Hausfrau, Ballarat St, Yarraville
This an airy, welcoming little bakery-cafe that is also relatively pram-friendly. It fills like a European bakery, with the staff decked out in cute little headscarves and deliciously sinful cakes, such as Esterhazy torte or Swiss chocolate cake, filling up the glass display cases. and A long bench, lined with colourful cushions, runs alongside the plate-glass windows that look out on Ballarat St. There's over-sized cooking implements, such as a whisk, hanging from one wall, while two lovely old enamel jugs full of water are set out on a wooden tray so you can help yourself. There is a stack of cooking and design magazines available for you to peruse while you eat lunch or drink coffee. The glass counter holds a mix of sweet and savoury items, with large cakes and tortes also available to take away. On the day I visit, the items on offer include salmon and cabbage coulibiac, sun-dried tomato tarts, quiches, meringue roulade, berry muffins, sacher torte, lemon slice and custard tarts. Jock's Ice-Cream is now also available.

Andrew's Choice, Anderson St, Yarraville
I've read lots of recommendations about Andrew's Choice, a traditional old-fashioned butcher in Yarraville, so I finally made the visit. What a treasure trove! This is more than just a butchery. Of course there are all types of meat available, including the famous cheese kranskys, thick steaks, juicy roastsand plump sausages, but the shelves of the shop are lined with all sorts of foodie treasures, such as Maldon sea salt, jars of duck fat, Phillippa's bread and biscuits, spices, mustards, vinegars and oils. I could have spent hours and hundreds of dollars there, but I contented myself with buying four fat cheese kranskys, which more than lived up to their reputation. They were juicy and full of flavour and I will be back for more soon.

Queen Victoria Market
How could I not mention my favourite food place in Melbourne? It has been too long since I last visited and I just wanted to buy everything I laid my eyes on. It was good to buy my old favourites: spinach and pine-nut dip, a block of creamy Warrnambool butter, marinara mix, fillets of fresh fish, some sausages and rissoles for a family BBQ, and loads of fresh fruit and vegetables at fabulous prices. Apart from convenience, I don't know why anyone would bother buying fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. The quality and range of produce available at the Vic Market is amazing. I love being able to chat to the stallholders and to ask their advice and opinion on what's best that week or how to cook something unusual. We are so very fortunate in Melbourne to have this market in our city and long may it thrive.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Orange cake

I recently wrote about the treasure of lemons and their versatility. Give me a bag of lemons and dozens of recipes flow through my mind. Give me a bag of oranges and my repertoire is more limited. I don't know why this is. I'm a big fan of oranges but I've just never cooked much with them.

Although my orange recipes are limited, the few I do have are pretty special. I have a recipe for "The Amazing Orange Cake", a recipe by Margie Agostini of Caffe Agostini in Sydney that she gave to my all-time favourite cook Jill Dupleix to generously share with her readers. It more than lives up to its name - it's the most rich, moist, buttery cake I've ever eaten and seconds is not enough. I think this is the best cake I've ever eaten (and that's a big call from someone whose first preference is for chocolate or lemon cake). But there's a certain freshness and lightness to an orange cake that is different from the tang of a lemon cake or the dense sweetness of a chocolate cake.

The Amazing Orange Cake is an "occasion cake", one to make to impress guests. It's also huge, using half a kilogram each of flour, butter and sugar, and takes more than an hour to bake. So for times when I feel like an easy cake, I make my mum's simple orange cake. She made this cake all the time when we were kids and I can see why. It's a simple cake, using the bare minimum of ingredients that are always in the pantry. It takes a few minutes to mix up and just half an hour in the oven.

Having recently received a bag or enormous juicy oranges as a gift, I quickly whipped this up and it was gone within the day, which is always a good recommendation!

SIMPLE ORANGE CAKE

125g butter
180g sugar
250g self-raising flour
2 eggs
juice and rind of 1 orange with enough milk to make 1/2 cup liquid

Cream butter and sugar, add well-beaten eggs, then add flour and lastly liquid of juice and milk and finely grated rind. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) in an orange-cake tin (I used a loaf tin) for 35-40 minutes.

For icing, melt 1-2 teaspoons of butter, then sift in 2/3 cup of icing sugar and mix with orange juice (and some fine zest if you like) to make a soft icing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday morning tea - crunchy amber cake

I recently wrote about the treasured recipes in my grandmother's cookbook and mentioned in passing that a 'crunchy amber cake' won the 1965 Butter/White Wings bake-off. I then received an email from Sally, who had eaten Crunchy Amber Cake many years ago and was keen for the recipe so she could make it again.

I must admit that when I initially looked at the recipe, I was dismissive of it. But, in the interests of research, I thought I should try the recipe before I posted it for Sally, so at least I would have an idea of what the cake was like.

Well, I'm glad I tried it! My initial scepticism was misplaced. Although there are several steps involved in making this cake, it's surprisingly easy to make and looks quite impressive. A butter sponge is sandwiched together with a caramel custard and topped with a meringue topping that is browned in the oven. The finished product looks quite impressive (sadly I don't have a photo to show, as the hungry hordes descended on the cake the moment it came out of the oven and demolished it before I could get the camera) and would make a nice dessert cake. It's quite sweet, so small slices suffice. However, because of the meringue topping, it's best eaten on the day it's made.

CRUNCHY AMBER CAKE
As supplied by Mrs B. D. Calvert of Tasmania - the winner of the Butter/White Wings 1965 bake-off competition.

Cake mixture
125g butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 whole egg, plus one egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup milk

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat lightly. Fold in flour alternately with milk, mix well. Divide mixture into two 7-inch layer tins [note - I used one 8-inch round cake tin and just sliced the cake in half]. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) for 20 minutes [if you bake in one tin, the cake will take 30-40 minutes to cook]. Remove from tins and cool.

Filling
90g butter
4 level tablespoons brown sugar
2 level tablespoons cornflour
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat. Add cornflour and salt and stir until smooth. Return to heat and cook gently, stirring all the time. Beat together the egg yolk, milk and vanilla. Add slowly to mixture and stir well. Bring to the boil and cook for two minutes. Cool. (The mixture should thicken as it cools, so you may need to put it in the fridge to thicken it up. You want it to be spreadable but not runny).

Topping
2 egg whites
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon coconut
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon slivered almonds

Beat egg whites stiffly; add sugar slowly. Beat until smooth. Combine coconut, sugar, cinnamon and almonds in a separate bowl. Spread the filling between the cakes. Spread the egg-white mixture over cakes, then sprinkle the sugar and spice mix over this. Heat the oven to 200 degrees and turn off. Place the completed cake in the oven for five minutes to set the topping.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Steamed ginger pudding

After realising how close spring is, I had a sudden craving to make the most of winter food before the last thing I feel like is a plate of stew or a bowl of thick soup. I wanted a steamed pudding, smothered in thick, hot custard, and the obvious choice was my great-aunt's recipe for steamed ginger pudding. Although steamed puddings take an hour or two to cook, they are a cinch to whip up and, provided you don't let the water boil dry, can pretty much be left to themselves to cook once you've put them in the saucepan to steam.

Steamed puddings were always served for dessert at winter lunches at my great-aunt's house. My dad is extremely partial to plum pudding, so that was the usual fare, but she would occasionally serve up this steamed ginger pudding. It's a lovely soft pudding with a gentle gingery spice that just begs for seconds and this is one of my all-time favourite desserts. It must be served with thick custard - it's a match made in heaven. Cream and ice-cream are nice accompaniments but the sweetness of the custard marries beautifully with the gingery tang of the pudding.

Steamed ginger pudding

250g plain flour
125g butter
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons treacle
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons bicarb soda
1/2 cup milk

Cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the warmed treacle. Dissolve the soda in the milk and stir in. Sift the flour and ginger and mix in. Put into a greased pudding tin and steam for two hours.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hay Hay, It's Donna Day #14 - gnocchi


Donna Hay has been a cooking inspiration to me for many years, since I first started reading her in marie claire magazine. I bought all her cookbooks, collected her recipes in The Age's Epicure section and the Sunday Herald Sun magazine, and eagerly awaited the first copy of her magazine when it was launched in January 2002. So quickly did I subscribe to her magazine that I received an Alessi cheese grater for being one of the first 100 people to subscribe. Since then I've never missed an issue and I love Donna's simple, stylish approach to cooking.

So when I discovered the Hay Hay, It's Donna Day blog event, I knew I would have to take part. It's taken me a while to organise myself but here, finally, is my first entry. Thanks to Lynn at Cafe Lynnlu for hosting this event, and to Barbara at winosandfoodies for creating the event.

Lynn was the winner of HHDD#13 and her challenge for this event was gnocchi. Her rules were that it should be homemade; could be a main, salad, side or dessert; and the recipe could use any ingredient, such as cheese, potato or any other vegetable or fruit.

I love gnocchi but it's a dish I tend to eat out rather than at home. The few times I've bought supermarket gnocchi, I've been disappointed - it's been rubbery or chewy or tasteless. I've long planned to try my hand at my own gnocchi, so this event was a great way to turn the plan into reality. I found this recipe for green olive gnocchi in my bulging recipe files. I don't know where I got it from (probably a chef's recipe published in Epicure) but I've had it marked 'to try' for ages.

I don't own a potato ricer or food mill, which the recipe says is the best way to spread the potato evenly over the flour, so I mashed the potatoes and spread them over as evenly as I could with a spoon. It seemed to work OK, as the gnocchi cooked into plump, silky little pillows that soaked up the creamy, olive sauce.

The recipe might look long but it's quite easy. In fact, I found making gnocchi to be an easy and fun process. It just took quite a bit of time but the end result is well worth it. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more gnocchi recipes in the future and look forward to getting inspiration from the other entries in HHDD#14.

GREEN OLIVE GNOCCHI WITH GREEN OLIVE SAUCE

Sauce
1 large onion, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
175ml reduced chicken stock
100ml cream
100g green olives
2 tablespoons parsley

Gnocchi
unsalted butter
200g unbleached plain flour
100g green olives
500g waxy potatoes
sea salt and black pepper

To make the sauce, finely chop the onion and garlic and sweat in the olive oil till softened. Add the cream and the stock and cook gently until reduced to your preferred thickness. Set aside. Slice the flesh away from each olive in four pieces; discard the stones. Set aside.

To make the gnocchi, preheat the oven to 100 degrees and butter a serving dish. Spread flour into a rectangle on bench. Slice the flesh away from each olive in four pieces; discard the stones. (Note: I sliced the olive pieces in half, as they seemed too big for the gnocchi). Peel the potatoes and steam until cooked through. While still hot, pass through a potato ricer or food mill so that the potato falls evenly over the flour. (Note: I mashed the potatoes and spread in a layer over the flour with a spoon). Sprinkle sea salt and the sliced olives over the potato.

Melt 50g butter and drizzle evenly over the potato. Work flour into potato little by little, using a pastry scraper, until you have a firm dough. Knead dough gently for five minutes. Divide into quarters and roll each piece to make a long, thin sausage, about 1cm in diameter. Cut each sausage into 2.5cm lengths.

Put the serving dish in the oven to warm through. Gently warm the sauce and add the olives. Bring water to boil in a large saucepan and add salt. Slip in the gnocchi and cook for one minute after they've risen to the surface. Skim out, put into the warm serving dish and season. Stir the parsley into the sauce, toss with the gnocchi, grind over pepper and serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An apple a day...


Melbourne has given us some chilly mornings this week, just to remind us that it's still winter. Despite the single-digit early morning temperatures, the days are getting longer and all the fashion stores are unveiling their spring/summer ranges. It's a reminder that warmer weather is almost here and my cooking focus will soon shift from hearty stews and comforting puddings to lighter meals.

I'm looking forward to the warmer days but I feel like I haven't made as many winter dishes as I'd planned. The next few weeks will no doubt see a flurry of baking to fulfil my cravings before the temperature rises.

Good old apple pie with sweet pastry and a dollop of thick cream is always a favourite. For a faster and different version, I decided to try a recipe for bourdelot, or Normandy apple pies, by Jill Dupleix. According to Jill, these apples pies are rarely seen outside of the Normandy region in France. A cored whole apple is stuffed with jam, wrapped in a blanket of puff pastry and baked, with the apple steaming to tenderness in the same time that the pastry cooks to a golden crisp. It is a simple but delicious dessert. Next time I might sprinkle in some sultanas or chopped nuts for extra interest.

NORMANDY APPLE PIES

500g puff pastry (or use sheets of ready-rolled puff pastry)
1 apple for each person
lemon juice
good jam or marmalade
butter
egg glaze (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk)
caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees. Peel and core the apples and sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Roll out the pastry and cut into 15x15cm squares (or cut a sheet of ready-rolled pastry into half).

Place an apple in the centre of each pastry square. Stuff the cavity with jam and put a dob of butter on the top. Dip your finger into water and run along the edges of the pastry. Bring the four corners up to the top and pinch the edges firmly. Cut off any protruding corners and pinch the seams together to follow the shape of the apple.

Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes. Brush the apples with egg glaze (or just with milk, if you don't want to mix up an egg glaze), sprinkle with caster sugar and bake for 30 minutes (or until golden).

Crack open the pastry and top with thick cream, creme fraiche or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Browniebabe of the month



Foodbloggers are a generous and inspiring bunch. There's always plenty of new recipes featured on blogs to try and people are quick and generous with their tips and advice on how to fix recipes that didn't work, how to source hard-to-find ingredients and how to use up excess ingredients.

Another fun aspect is the number of baking events people host. There's both regular and one-off events for people to contribute to. I always intend to enter these events but somehow the time gets away and I miss the closing date.

This time I'm more organised and am entering the Browniebabe of the Month event, hosted by Once Upon A Tart. What could be more inspiring than a collection of brownie recipes, hopefully crammed full of chocolate and nuts?

My mother-in-law was recently experimenting in the kitchen and came up with these nut brownies. She gave us a plate to take home and we almost said no, foolishly thinking we should be cutting down on sweet food. Luckily she pressed us, so we took home the plate and tried them the next day. We were hooked and scoffed the whole lot. These brownies are wickedly rich and densely chocolatey, with a thick chocolate icing, and a nice crunch of nuts throughout. They're also great heated and served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. Make these brownies when you're in a decadent mood.

NUT BROWNIES

200g (7 oz) dark chocolate, chopped
175g (6 oz) unsalted butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs
230g (i cup) soft brown sugar
1/3 cup plain flour
1/2 cup slivered almonds
100g extra dark chocolate, chopped
Icing
200g dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup icing sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease a 20cm square tin and line with baking paper (overlap the sides). Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk the eggs and sugar for five minutes, until pale and thick. Fold in cooled chocolate and butter, then the sifted flour and cocoa. Fold in the nuts and extra chocolate. Pour into the tin and smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until firm. Cool.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and then cool slightly. Add the sour cream and sifted icing sugar. Mix well. Spread over the brownie, smooth the top and sprinkle over some slivered almonds. Leave to set, then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Sweet bites

About five years ago, a group of friends and I hired a houseboat and went sailing along the Murray River near Echuca-Moama on the Victorian-NSW border. It was a hot March weekend and we cruised up and down the river, stopping the boat for swims or to have lunch or dinner in a picturesque spot. Among the group were several excellent cooks and several hungry, appreciative men, so we were all happy.

We took boxes of champagne and beer and several esky-loads of food, far more than we needed and could possibly have eaten during the weekend. We'd serve up massive antipasto platters of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichokes, dips, brie, camembert, blue cheese and crackers each evening and eat them while we watched big flocks of cockatoos screeching their way across the sky splashed with a deep pink sunset. We'd pull the boat into some shade at lunchtime and, after a swim to cool off, we'd cook up a BBQ of thick steaks and fat hamburgers.

In between the meals, there were plenty of snacks to keep us going. Every time I plan a trip somewhere, a food magazine or newspaper fortuitously publishes an article with the perfect recipes that I need to bake before I go. This time, Gourmet Traveller published a special on biscuits a few weeks before the holiday, so I made up big batches of spicy gingerbread biscuits with honey icing and hazelnut and vanilla creams. Not only were the biscuits delicious, they were also extremely easy to make. Both recipes quickly entered my repertoire.

HAZELNUT AND VANILLA CREAMS
75g hazelnuts
125g butter, chopped
150g soft brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
300g self-raising flour, sifted
Vanilla cream filling
130g soft butter, chopped
240g icing sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Put the hazelnuts on a tray, roast for 5-10 minutes, then tip into a tea-towel and rub off the skins. Cool and coarsely chop.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the egg and beat till well combined. Stir in sifted flour and nutmeg and the chopped hazelnuts and mix until well combined. Refrigerate the mixture for 10 minutes.

Roll heaped teaspoons of the mix into balls and place 5cm apart on baking paper-lined trays. Using the back of a fork, press the balls down to form round biscuits. Refrigerate for 10 minutes, then bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Cool biscuits on tray.

For filling, using an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add icing sugar and vanilla extract and beat until smooth and creamy. Sandwich biscuits together with vanilla cream (you may find you have some icing left over). Biscuits will keep for one week in an airtight container.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Luscious lemons

Lemons are one of my favourite fruits. Although we have our own lemon tree growing in the backyard, I love receiving bags of juicy, golden lemons from friends and family. There's always so many different uses for them, both sweet and savoury, as the feature ingredient or as a flavour enhancer. I lean towards the sweet side of things when using lemons. In winter, lemon delicious is one of my favourite desserts, with a creamy, custardy lemon sauce hiding beneath a golden sponge topping. I have several delicious lemon cake recipes to choose from, including a lemon and yoghurt version and a magnificently huge, dense lemon sour cream cake. And nothing beats a slice of lemon tart with double cream on the side.

Having received a generous bag of lemons recently, these are some of the lemon dishes we've been feasting on. Of course, lemons are great to have on hand so that the zest or juice can be added to seafood or chicken dishes. When we're getting near the end of the bag, I like to make up lemon curd to use in cakes or tarts, and a hot lemon drink is a great pick-me-up when I feel a cold coming on.

I've been making the following lemon cake for at least 15 years. It's a Beverley Sutherland Smith recipe from an afternoon tea cake feature in Epicure in The Age, probably in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and it quickly became a family favourite. It's a wonderful soft, buttery cake with the sweetness offset by the tart lemon flavour. A sticky sugary syrup on top means there's no need for icing. This is a great morning or afternoon tea cake.

LEMON CAKE

125g butter
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup milk

Topping
grated rind 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup caster sugar

Butter the base and sides of a 20cm round cake tin. Line the base with non-stick baking paper and butter this also. Preheat the oven to 180-190 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the lemon rind and juice and mix well.

Sift the flour and baking powder over the top and add, alternately, with milk. Spoon into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 170 degrees and cook for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

To make the topping, mix all the ingredients in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar has softened. Spoon over the top of the cake while still warm.

The recipe says to let the cake cool completely before cutting but I find I can't resist slicing off a piece of warm cake - there's nothing better than a slice of warm cake fresh from the oven!

Friday, July 13, 2007

'Tis the season for hot chocolate

It's cold, wet and wintry here in Melbourne - perfect weather for curling up on the couch with a good book and a mug of steaming hot chocolate. I recently visited Fraus, a fabulously good cafe in North Melbourne that serves thick European hot chocolates. I hadn't visited for a while and was thrilled to discover that you can now buy take-away sachets so you can savour their hot chocolates at home. While I am a caffeine addict, there's always room for a good hot chocolate. I've compiled a list of my favourite hot chocolates from around the world and would love to hear any nominations you have for places I should try (especially from fellow Melburnians, as I'm sure there's plenty of places close by that I don't know about.)

BEST HOT CHOCOLATES IN THE WORLD

Fraus, Melbourne, Australia
A slice of Europe here in the grungy end of Victoria St, North Melbourne. After a morning shopping for fruit, vegetables and delicatessen delicacies at the Victoria Market, stop in here for an indulgent cup of hot chocolate made with the finest cocoa powder imported from Europe. The menu lists many varieties, including hazelnut, vanilla, caramel, nougat and tiramisu, but the classic hot chocolate, with a creamy, rich, milk chocolate taste, is the hands-down winner. It tastes so thick you feel you could eat it with a spoon. Heaven on its own or enjoy one after a croissant or savoury crepe.

Brunetti's, Melbourne, Australia
This Melbourne institution is rarely empty and is best savoured on a weekday when there's a better chance of scoring a seat. The long glass counters are filling up with the day's multitude of sweet treats. When ordering hot chocolate, make sure you specify the Italian hot chocolate or you will be served with (an admittedly still good) milky hot chocolate. The Italian hot chocolate, served with or without cream, arrives in a latte glass and looks unappealingly watery. But one sip and you are transported to heaven: a thick, rich, not too sweet hot chocolate. How can something that looks so thin be so deliciously thick in your mouth? Best enjoyed with a fresh escargot.

Europjska Cafe, Krakow, Poland
The cool, dark interior of this cafe, with deep maroon walls, comfortable chairs and little round tables, is the perfect image of a genteel 19th-century Eastern European cafe. Sitting in the window, we can look out at the bustle of Krakow's Old Town Square while the waiter arrives with a silver tray bearing little white jugs of molten chocolate, which we pour into white china cups. It's like drinking a chocolate fondue and is perfect accompanied by slices of Sacher torte and black forest cake.

Cafe du Commerce, Nancy, France
You'll pay extra for the privilege of sitting outside at a little round marble-topped table on one edge of Place Stanislas, a beautiful square in the middle of Nancy. But it's worth it, sipping on a smooth and rich hot chocolate while the hot summer sun blazes off the gilded gates that make up one corner of the square. The classical buildings that line the square are adorned with glittering gilded balconies, and the fountains in the centre are also gilded. With views like this, there's no need to order anything to accompany your hot chocolate - but perhaps seconds might be in order.

Wedel's Cafe, Warsaw, Poland
Inside the famous Wedel chocolate shop, with its glass counters filled with exquisite chocolates and topped with glass jars full of foil-wrapped chocolates, is the Wedel cafe. Choose either the green or pink room, both decorated with striped chairs, checkered napkins and tablecloths in varying shades of green or pink, and be prepared to blow your chocolate limits sky-high. The deliciously rich chocolate is served in white bone cups and is perfect on its own or with a chocolate pancake, studded with orange and pineapple chunks and drizzled in thick chocolate sauce.

Cafe de la Paix, La Rochelle, France
The seaside port of La Rochelle is lined with cafes and restaurants offering fine seafood and three-course menus for tourists. But go for a stroll in the little streets away from the port and you'll come across this turn-of-the-19th century cafe, decorated with lots of gild, ornate mirrors, engraved lights and little round wooden tables with comfortable sofa seats. Thick, rich hot chocolate drips into stylish white cups. A perfect accompaniment to a pain au chocolat for breakfast.

St Martin, Ile de Re, France
Hire a bike from La Rochelle and you'll work up a healthy appetite on your cycle across to the island of Ile de Re. After hauling your way up the Pont Ile de Re, a graceful bridge spanning the Atlantic Ocean, the 12km cycle to the island's capital, St Martin, takes you along the sea, past villages filled with little white-washed cottages and then inland through patches of pine trees and bracken. Hurtle down tiny cobbled streets to St Martin's sheltered port and harbour and take an outdoor seat at one of the cafes, where a thick, molten hot chocolate is exactly what you need to refuel you for the return ride.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Old-fashioned cakes stand test of time

I am the temporary custodian of my grandmother's cookbook. It's been passed around my mother and aunts and has now come to me. It's a tatty old A5 book, its brown leather cover held together with a strip of floral contact paper. Page after page is filled with my grandmother's copperplate writing, interspersed with recipes clipped from old newspapers and magazines. There's a leaflet from the White Wings National Bake-off competition. First prize for 1965 is "crunchy amber cake" (butter cakes sandwiched together with a custard filling and iced with a spiced meringue topping browned in the oven), while the "seafood banquet pie" took the honours in 1963.

Grandma's cookbook is filled with recipes for puddings, cakes, biscuits and slices. There's a short "savouries" chapter, mostly for casseroles. Surprised by the amount of sweet recipes, as I tend to think of dessert as being a luxury in the thrify past, I asked mum why there were so many. She explained that savoury cooking was quite plain, often meat and three vegetables, so there wasn't much need for recipes, as most housewives had a repertoire they'd acquired growing up. There was more scope with sweet food, hence the number of recipes.

Robert Drewe wrote in The Age on 23 December 2006 about finding his nan's cookbook, which contained recipes for 54 puddings, 41 cakes and 35 types of biscuits. "It's contents highlight the single biggest change in Australian eating habits since [nan's] cooking heyday: the sad passing of puddings and cakes," he wrote. "Apparently her family ate these delicacies all the time. If so, mystery of the ages, family albums show that they were all thin."

I haven't counted the number of puddings or cakes, but Grandma's book is full of delightfully old-fashioned recipes: flummery, strawberry float, junket ice-cream, blancmange, treacle cakes, sago treat, refrigerator biscuits, marshamllow cake or slice, and cream puffs (at least three recipes, one marked "unsatisfactory - too thin a mixture").

There's the evocatively named ruby cakes, topsy cake, dark cake, johnnie cakes, rock cakes, golden wattlecake, "slice using cake crumbs", Rickety Anns (sultana biscuits), Commando Tarts (butter biscuits topped with jam and meringue), Coconut Belles, Luncheon Cake, Fiesta Cookies, Chinese Chew, Fairy Biscuits and "Economy Biscuits by the Lady Mayoress of Melbourne".

I chose to make the intriguing "Bible Cake", mostly because of the novel way that the recipe is written. For those who haven't got Bibles at hand, luckily the recipe provides a "translation" (I've also converted from imperial to metric). It makes a large cake, a cross between a very light fruit cake and a pound cake. It's extremely moreish and is a great match with a cup of tea.

RECIPE FOR BIBLE CAKE

Take (1) 250g of Judges 5:25; (2) 250g of Jeremiah 6:20; (3) 1 tablespoon of 1 Samuel 14:25; (4) 3 of Jeremiah 17:11; (5) 250g of 1 Samuel 30:12; (6) 250g of Nahum 3:12 (chopped); (7) 60g of Numbers 17:8 (blanched and chopped); (8) 500g of 1 Kings 4:22; (9) season to taste with 2 Chronicles 9:9; (10) a pinch of Leviticus 2:13; (11) 1 teaspoon of Amos 4:5*; (12) 3 tablespoons of Judges 4:19 - the last clause.
* 'Leaven' is equivalent to baking powder

Mixing instructions: Beat 1, 2 and 3 to a cream, add 4 one at a time, still beating. Then add 5, 6 and 7 and beat again. Next add 8, 9, 10 and 11 (having previously mixed them), and last of all add 12. Bake in a rather slow oven (170 degrees) for not less than an hour and a half.

Translation:
(1) butter
(2) sugar
(3) honey
(4) eggs
(5) raisins
(6) figs
(7) almonds
(8) flour
(9) spice
(10) salt
(11) baking powder
(12) milk