Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday morning tea - chocolate cake

There can never be too much chocolate cake in the world. It suits all occasions, whether dusted with icing sugar for a sweet snack, dressed up with chocolate icing for morning tea or served with a dollop of thick cream for dinner party guests. It can be flavoured with cocoa or melted chocolate, adorned with nuts or raisins, sexed up with liqueur or espresso, served with a basic butter icing or dripping in the thickest ganache. It's no wonder I have hundreds of chocolate cake recipes in my files and plan on making them all at least once in my quest for the perfect chocolate cake.

I'm not sure if there is such a thing as the perfect chocolate cake or one that is perfect for each occasion. The rich, dense, flourless chocolate cake you serve as a dinner party dessert is not necessarily what you want to eat with your morning coffee. (But a slice for breakfast is an entirely different matter...)

This milk chocolate cake by Jill Dupleix comes pretty close to being perfect. As long as you can resist the temptation of letting chocolate sit in your pantry, you will have all the ingredients on hand and can whip it up in no time. This version uses milk chocolate but I've successfully made it with dark chocolate and it is just as moreish.


170g good-quality milk chocolate (such as Lindt)
150g butter
4 eggs, beaten
150g sugar
150g plain flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees. Butter and line a 25cm square cake tin with non-stick baking paper. Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl sitting over a saucepan of simmering water. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until they are pale, thick and creamy. Add the sifted flour and baking powder and stir well. Lightly mix in the chocolate mixture. Spoon into the cake tin and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool and turn out. Dust with icing sugar or bitter cocoa powder before serving.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tribute to a neighbour

An old Greek lady lived in the house behind ours. We would often see her outside, hanging out her washing, or calling "Goldie" after her small dog running around the backyard. Although she didn't speak much English, she would always hobble over to say hello if she saw us. Her reasonably large backyard (by inner-suburban standards) was planted with fruit trees, tomatoes and plenty of vegetables. Often we would come home from work to find that she'd thrown a small gift over the back fence: a big bunch of leafy silverbeet, a handful of spring onions, some juicy little tomatoes or a few lemons.

I haven't seen the old woman for months or heard little Goldie barking. Yesterday, when I was hanging out washing, I noticed a young man cleaning up the backyard. He came up and introduced himself and told me that both his grandparents had recently gone into a nursing home. His grandmother died last week and his grandfather died 12 hours later.

I didn't know my neighbour's name but I miss seeing her and Goldie outside and having our brief chats. When I received my first gift of silverbeet from her, I didn't know what to do with it, so went scurrying for the ever-trusty Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander. The silverbeet went into this frittata and this simple lunch dish is a tribute to my neighbour.


400g silverbeet
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
6 eggs, lightly beaten

Separate silverbeet leaves from stems. Trim stems and cut into pieces 1cm square. Wash leaves, then roll up and slice. Saute stems in a film of oil over a moderate heat in a 22-24cm heavy-based frying pan for five minutes. Add leaves and cover pan until leaves wilt down, then saute for four minutes. Tip contents of pan into a colander resting over a bowl and drain well. Wipe out pan with kitchen paper.

Stir pepper, cheese and drained stems and leaves into eggs. Add another good film of oil to the pan and place over a high heat. Wait a few minutes to heat and then tip in the egg mixture. The edges should frill and puff up at once. Lower the heat to medium and cook until the top is just moist. Run a spatula around the sides and under the frittata as it cooks to ensure that it's not sticking. Slide the pan under a pre-heated grill for a minute until the top is set, then loosen with a spatula and invert onto a warmed plate. Scatter with fresh herbs, cut into thick wedges and serve with a tomato salad.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday morning tea - lemon slice

Everyone needs a good slice in their baking repertoire. More glamorous than a biscuit, and a smaller nibble than a wedge of cake, a piece of slice is a sweet treat at any time of the day. It's particularly welcome as an accompaniment to a morning coffee or cup of tea.

Those of us who were lucky enough to have grandmothers who baked will have many memories of their special slice and have hopefully tucked away a handwritten copy of the family recipe in a safe place. (At the risk of sounding morbid, I've recently had several friends bemoan the fact that favourite family recipes died with their grandmother, so please write down those treasured recipes before it's too late!)

Slices always seem slightly old-fashioned to me but perhaps that's because so many food memories from my childhood involve slices. Afternoon tea at my great-aunt's house always involved a slice and a sponge cake. Plates of hedgehog, jelly slice, chocolate rough slice, lemon slice and cheesecake slice graced many a supper at school and sporting functions. And we all had to successfully make a slice in order to pass our baking badge at Brownies.

At my workplace, we have morning tea every Friday. Because there are many accomplished cooks in our team, we once held a Morning Tea Bake-Off. My friend Trudi baked her grandmother's lemon slice. Although it didn't win, the sweet tang of the slice leaves you wanting more. As well as being easy to make, I love the way this recipe is written. So many of my family recipes involve the same "bit of this, bit of that" measurements and lack of specific instructions, yet somehow it all comes together in the end.


1 packet Arnott's milk coffee or yoyo biscuits
1 packets saos
250g dried apricots chopped
1 tin condensed milk
250g butter
1 cup coconut

Crush biscuits. Melt butter and condensed milk. Combine all dry ingredients, then add melted butter & condensed milk and stir thoroughly. Press into a Swiss roll tin (30 x 25cm). Place in the fridge to set while you make the icing.

For the icing, there's no exact measurements - just combine icing sugar, butter, a dash of boiling water (be careful not to use too much - just add slowly), juice of 1/2 lemon and vanilla essence. I think I basically used 500g icing sugar - maybe two tablespoons or so of melted butter and probably juice of two lemons - just to make it extra lemony!

Once iced, cut into slices, then freeze.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happy birthday to Sacher torte

One of the world's most famous cakes, the Sacher torte, has just celebrated its 175th birthday. (If you think that an inanimate object can't celebrate a birthday, let me tell you that there was a party for the cake on 12 April at Hotel Sacher in Vienna, and that it included a serenade by an opera star!)

Sacher torte is two layers of a dry, dense chocolate cake, sandwiched together with apricot jam and enrobed in dark chocolate. It was invented by Franz Sacher in 1832 and the trademark registered by the Hotel Sacher, which keeps the original recipe locked in its safe.

I first encountered Sacher torte when I was 15 and my family travelled around Europe and the UK for three months. While in Vienna, Dad refused to pay the outrageous tourist prices at the Hotel Sacher, so we missed our opportunity to taste the cake at its place of origin. But a week or two later, my sister celebrated her 12th birthday in Lucerne, Switzerland. We ate dinner at a restaurant with a beautifully decorated and frescoed front and the birthday cake was a Sacher torte, bought from a bakery earlier in the day, and brought out by the restaurant staff decorated with sparklers. I remember it as deliciously rich cake, with small slices being enough to satisfy.

Dad was right about the tourist prices at Hotel Sacher. About 15 years later, when my sister and I were visiting Vienna again, we paid 12 euros for a slice of Sacher torte and two hot chocolates. We enjoyed it but I'm not sure any chocolate cake is worth the equivalent price of a Cheap Eats meal in Melbourne!

Although the original recipe is a closely guarded secret, plenty of chefs have produced their own versions, and it is an easy cake to make at home. I use Jill Dupleix's version. It makes for an indulgent afternoon tea or a glamourous dinner party dessert.


150g plain flour
50g bitter cocoa powder
6 eggs (60g each)
180g sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g apricot jam
100g good-quality chocolate
100g butter, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Butter a 23cm diameter springform cake tin.

Sift the flour and cocoa into a bowl and set aside.

Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks and sugar until so thick and creamy that it forms ribbons when you lift the beaters. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Beat the egg whites in a separate, clean, dry bowl until stiff and peaky. Gently fold a little of the egg white into the egg yolk mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites.

Gently fold the sifted flour and cocoa into the mixture, adding two tablespoons at a time. Transfer the quite thick mixture into the cake tin and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and cool completely.

To assemble, cut the cake into two equal rounds. Place the base on a wire rack over a baking tray. (If the top has risen considerably, cut off the domed part to level the top). Warm the apricot jam in a small saucepan and spread a thin layer on top of the bottom half and its sides. Replace the top half and spread the top and sides with jam (you might not use it all).

Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until glossy and smooth, then set aside for a couple of minutes. Pour the icing over the top of the cake and sides, smoothing sides with a hot palette knife if necessary.

Allow to cool, then set hard in the fridge for an hour or two before serving.

Sacher torte is traditionally accompanied by whipped cream.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday morning tea - chocolate beetroot cake

Among my thousands of recipes, I must have at least one hundred recipes for chocolate cake. Although they are probably all variations on a theme (after all, most of the cakes consist of varying quantities of flour, milk, butter, eggs and cocoa or chocolate), I persist in collecting them and aim to try them all at least once (yes, I do realise this will probably be a life-time commitment!)

Recently, Cindy from Where's the Beef tagged me to participate in a vegetable meme. In it, I was asked if there was a vegetable that I hated as a child but loved as I got older. My response was beetroot and in my answer I mentioned that I had once made a chocolate beetroot cake. Cindy was keen for the recipe, so I share it with you today for Friday morning tea. The recipe came from Jill Dupleix, who seems to love chocolate cakes as much as I do. The cooked cake is a slightly weird burgundy colour but the cake has a lovely moist texture.


50g bitter cocoa
180g plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
250g caster sugar
300g cooked fresh beetroot
3 eggs
200ml corn oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Butter and flour an 18cm round or square cake tin.

Sift the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Mix in the caster sugar and set aside.

Puree the beetroot in a food processor. Add the eggs, one at a time, then add the corn oil and vanilla extract and beat until smooth.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour the beetroot mixture into the well. Lightly mix, using a rubber spatula, and pour into the prepared tin. Bake for about 40 minutes (or until a skewer inserted into centre of cake comes out clean). The cake won't rise a great deal and the top may crack a bit but it won't affect the flavour. Allow to cool a little before removing from the tin, then leave to cool completely on a wire rack. To serve, dust with icing sugar or cocoa.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Happy Easter

Easter and Christmas are great times for baking. The house fills up with visitors and there's always plenty of takers for the mountains of food prepared, especially if the kitchen is filled with enticing aromas while it cooks. There are so many traditions associated with Easter and many of those traditions are demonstrated by the food that we make to share.

The Sydney Morning Herald this week published an article about the multicultural food traditions surrounding Easter. It featured Lebanese ma'amoul and mashabk, Slovakian bohanek and roast duck, Cypriot flaounes and tahinopitas, Filipino meringue cakes and crispy pork, Portuguese breads and 'nests', Russian kulich and pashka, and Italian colomba and gelato. Alas, there were no recipes and all the shops where you could buy these delicacies were in Sydney (it will be fun to try and track down Melbourne equivalents). So if anyone has any recipes, I would love to receive them, as it would be great to try some of these recipes next year.

As everyone is frantically busy in the lead-up to Easter (the queue at the Haigh's store in Block Place at lunchtime today was absolutely ridiculous!), here is a recipe for a batch of simple, gently spiced biscuits that you can whip up to enjoy over the weekend. It's a Jill Dupleix recipe that I found several years ago but only bothered to make this year. I don't know why I waited so long. I made a batch to share with my family at the weekend but Adam has already polished off the whole lot! Although the recipe calls for one teaspoon of mixed spice, I misread this and used one tablespoon. I have to say we enjoyed the end result, so I'll continue to use one tablespoon but feel free to follow the recipe if you're not a fan of mixed spice.

Happy Easter to all!


100g butter
80g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
150g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon mixed spice
100g currants
1 extra tablespoon caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and creamy and beat in the egg yolk. Sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice. Add the flour mix to the butter mix, mixing well with a knife. Mix in the currants, squishing the dough together and kneading briefly until smooth (allow the warmth of your hands to soften it). Roll out finely on a lightly floured bench (best done under a sheet of clingfilm or non-stick baking paper). Cut into 6cm or 8cm rounds with a plain or fluted biscuit cutter. Place on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and sprinkle with the extra caster sugar. Bake for 12-15 minutes until just cooked, but not browned. Carefully transfer to a wire rack. The biscuits will be a little soft but will become crisp as they cool.