Make cake, not war

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Happy 2017 everyone!  I think we can all agree that the year we have just ushered out was rather bruising, whether you’re talking politically, artistically, or for many of us, personally.  So, what we really need to ring in the New Year is not cucumber sticks, lycra, mineral water or resolutions. No, what is called for is a big, comforting, chocolatey cake.  Or at least that is how I felt today in amongst reading, watching Netflix and snoozing on the sofa with our cats.

I’m not going to pretend I was feeling sparky enough to whip up my own recipe.  And why would I need to, when I’m lucky enough to have my very own copy of Alice Arndell‘s Alice in Bakingland?  This recipe, sweetly titled ‘Nanny’s chocolate cake’ is a winner, delivering a pleasingly chocolatey cake every time.  Because I really felt the need to up the nourishment factor on this one, I slathered jam and cream on cut halves before sandwiching the cake back together and topping it with a generous serving of chocolate icing.

Take care everyone and I’m hoping this cake sets the tone for a much sweeter, kinder year.

Nanny’s chocolate cake by Alice Arndell

Ingredients:

  • 170g butter
  • 1/4 cup golden syrup
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2/3 cups cocoa
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp intant coffee granules
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 & 1/2 cups milk

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees celsius.  Grease and line a 23cm cake tin.

Place the butter and golden syrup in a microwave-proof bowl and heat on high until the butter is melted – this is 1 minute 10 seconds in my microwave.  Stir to combine and set aside.

Place all other ingredients in a large bowl and beat for 5 minutes.  The original recipe calls for a stand mixer, which I don’t have, so I find a handheld electric beater works well.  You may need to beat for a little longer if you do this by hand.

Pour in the butter and syrup and mix through.

This mixture is runny so don’t worry!  Pour it into the prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean with a few crumbs.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

 

 

Edmond’s Cookbook Apple Sauce

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Pork and porridge.  It’s not too often you get these two together, but they are both delicious with a little applesauce, no?

Admittedly, my first thought on arriving at Apple Sauce in the Edmonds Cookbook (apart from no, not more apples) was ho-hum.  Apple sauce eh?  What can you do with that? It looks a bit like snot, therefore not particularly photogenic.  There’s not a lot of excitement in making it either.

 

This was all a little unfair and some internet browsing has piqued my interest.  Preparing apple-based sauces goes back to medieval Europe and many cuisines have their own version.  Check out this recipe for Norwegian apple sauce with rye cinnamon crumbs and yoghurt.  Oh my, wouldn’t that be a lovely sight to greet you for breakfast!  Or, this recipe for Danish applesauce (‘æblegrød’) with cream!

So you can imagine I embarked on my Applesauce with a little more excitement after this.  It’s very easy  and a very good way to use up any apples that are past their best and loitering in the fruit bowl.  I’ve been enjoying it with my morning oats, greek yoghurt and a little dusting of cinnamon, which is a very nice way to start the day indeed.

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Ingredients:

  • 3-4 apples, peeled and cored
  • 1 T water
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 cloves or some lemon juice
  • Sugar

Put all ingredients in a pan and simmer over a low heat, until the apples are ‘pulped.’   I have not come across this expression before, so I took it to mean ‘mushy’!

At this point, Edmonds instructs beating it with a fork until smooth.  Being a softer City-girl, I used a stick blender rather than a fork and elbow grease, which gave a nice smooth finish.

This keeps well in the fridge for several days, covered with a little cling film.

 

 

Russian fudge

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If you fancy a sugar hangover, look no further.  This fudge is mouth-suckingly sweet and all the better for it.  A firm Kiwi favourite, it is dense and rich, comprised largely of sugar, sweetened condensed milk and golden syrup.

I can’t get to the bottom of its name.  In my travels through the internet, I was delighted to find Nigella acknowledges we call Russian Fudge in our little country, although she calls her version Vanilla Fudge.

This lovely Polish-authored food blog includes a recipe for Polish krówki, which translates as ‘little cows’ (how I love that!).  Krówki is a sweet fudge very similar to our Russian fudge, and apparently Russia have a version too.  New Zealand has a strong Polish connection, most famously through our post-World War II Polish refugee children.  Could this explain it?

I won’t keep you all waiting while I trawl through the history of New Zealand confectionary in hope of an answer.  Here is my preferred recipe for Russian fudge.  The best tip I can give you is beat the fudge for as long as it takes in the final stage – it really is important for making it set.

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 Tbspns golden syrup
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 tspn vanilla essence

Method:

Place everything except for the vanilla essence into a pot and bring to the boil, stirring constantly.  Once it is boiling, keep stirring and let it boil for about 20 minutes, until a blob of fudge dropped in cold water can be formed into a squishy little ball.

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Take off the heat, add the vanilla essence, and beat the fudge until it starts to thicken (I’m always into doing things by hand but I can really recommend an electric beater for this bit if you have one!)

Spread into a baking tin and leave to set for at least two hours.

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Cinnamon & pear muffins

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I’m finding myself with a lot of tinned goods recently, not unlike many people in our little shaky isles in the wake of our 7.8 earthquake.  It pays to be prepared.

I’ve heard the comment more than once that tinned pears are the least exciting of the tinned fruits….pale, bland, only good when topped with ice cream.  I had a hunch that this was wrong, but how to prove it?  By coupling tinned pears with brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, that’s how.

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I’ve taken my inspiration for the muffin base from Donna Hay’s basic muffin batter.  Which is delicious if you’re on the hunt for a reliable basic muffin, by the way.  I will of course buy a replacement tin of pears for our emergency food stash, but this idea for pear-topped muffins could not wait any longer.  Sunday night requires a sweet little pick-me-up, amiright?

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For these you will need (makes 12):

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence

For the topping:

  • 1 tin of pear quarters, drained and cut into thin slices
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 knob of butter, melted

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

Place the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, mix the egg, milk, oil and vanilla essence.  Add this to the dry ingredients and mix only until just combined.

Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin tray cups.  Arrange the sliced pears on the top of the batter.

Combine the topping ingredients and distribute over the top of the pears.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

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Homemade Hundreds and Thousands biscuits

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Toddlers and sugar, a match made in heaven?  Probably not for their parents, but when it’s your niece’s third birthday party and you said you’d make biscuits, it’s hardly time to skimp on the sugar.

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I was inspired to make these little numbers by one of New Zealand’s favourite cookie treats…the Hundreds and Thousands biscuit.  The name is pretty self-evident, although perhaps not if you hail from elsewhere in the world outside of New Zealand.  ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ is our antipodean name for the rainbow sprinkles on top of these cookies, but other terms include nonpareils and jimmies.

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I can’t find must history about this biscuit itself, but there are a few stories behind the origins of Hundreds and Thousands.  Some claim they were invented in a New York candy factory in the 1930s, whilst others say that they come from Parisian bakers.

Whatever the origin, it can’t be denied that a liberal sprinkling of on a pink-iced vanilla cookie is an appropriate party treat.  I used Donna Hay’s vanilla snaps recipe for the base and the rest was pretty simple.

Vanilla biscuits:

  • 250g butter
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 & 1/4 cups plain flour, sifted

Icing:

  • 1/3 cup softened butter
  • 1 & 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • Pink food colouring
  • Strawberry essence
  • Hundreds and Thousands / Sprinkles / Jimmies or whatever you call them!

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.  And the vanilla extract and egg yolk and beat again.

Finally add the flour and beat until a dough forms.  Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

 

Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.  Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface until 3mm thick.

Cut rounds or shapes from the dough and place on baking-paper lined trays.  Bake until just golden – this took ten minutes in my oven.

Cool on racks.  Make the icing by adding the icing sugar to the butter, a drop of colouring and strawberry essence and beating well, using a little hot water to soften as needed.   When cold, ice with pink icing and sprinkle liberally with hundreds and thousands.

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Kisir, via Bromley

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Catching up is an excellent excuse for eating.

I’ve been away having numerous catch-ups and visiting some favourite old haunts. London is a favourite old haunt and feels a little like a second home, in no small part because of the many fabulous people living there who I am lucky enough to call my friends.

Some of my happiest London memories involve long afternoons with our friends Patricia and Omer, eating delicious home-cooked Mediterranean food and perfecting cidra-pouring as afternoon slipped into evening.  So of course I jumped at the chance for a catch-up over a home-cooked meal at theirs.

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Patricia, Omer and their gorgeous children live in Bromley, South London.  I have a special little spot in my heart for this part of London as my grandparents lived there with my Mum when she was small. There is a treasured 1950’s clock from Locksbottom which still hangs on their wall, albeit in their rest home unit.  So you will understand I couldn’t resist taking this photo of a Locksbottom bus as we walked back to Bromley station.

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This post is inspired by the delicious couscous salad Patricia and Omer served with lamb and slices of avocado.  I’ve based it on a Turkish kisir but I can’t promise it’s as good as Omer’s.  It’s a pretty good lunch though, and a recommend serving it with sliced avocado.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cooked couscous
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T red pepper paste
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 telegraph cucumber, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed then sliced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 chopped parsley
  • 3-4 sprigs of mint, chopped
  • 3 spring onions, sliced
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1 t chilli flakes
  • Fresh avocado slices to serve (if desired)

Place your couscous in a large salad bowl.  Pour over the olive oil and mix thoroughly; some kisir recipes even recommend mixing with your hands. Next, add the red pepper paste, again mixing in very thoroughly.

I made my own paste by whizzing up a jar of roasted peppers.  For the more dedicated, there are some amazing-sounding recipes for making red pepper paste, or biber salçası, from scratch.  I loved reading this one with its beautiful, mouth-watering photography.

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The vegetables, lemon juice, herbs and seasonings go in last.  Keep mixing until everything is evenly spread and combined.  I recommend popping this in the fridge for an hour or two before serving to let the flavours mingle.
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I was greatly assisted in making my own kisir by this and this recipe.

Edmond’s apple steamed pudding

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Steamed pudding is like a sweet, jammy hug in a bowl.  I love it.  It’s a special favourite in our little country.  I was recently introduced to a New Zealand specialty steamed pudding which is the queen of both steamed puddings and now of my heart…burnt sugar steamed pudding.  Oh wow.  Like hot, soft caramel made into a cake and served with lashings of runny cream.  My mouth waters at the mere memory.

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So, it’s not a surprise that steamed pudding features in that bastion of all that is cooking and kiwi, the Edmonds cook book.  This particular version is jazzed up with a little apple, and all the better for it, as the tart apple partners nicely with the sweet apricot jam and the fluffy sponge.

To make this you will need:

  • 50g butter
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T apricot jam
  • 1 C plain flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 2 T stewed apple

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and beat well.  Stir in the jam.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the butter mixture and fold in.

Dissolve the baking soda in the milk and add to the mixture, along with the apple.

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Grease a 2-cup pudding basin.  Spoon in the sponge mixture and cover the bowl with some greased baking paper.  Secure with string.

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Steam the pudding for half an hour, or until it is springy to the touch.  This took about 45 minutes for pudding.

Serve with cream and a cup of tea!