Gubana: Italian Easter bread for an Australian road trip

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We are on a road trip!

Tonight, we are in the inland town of Gundagai. First stop in what is shaping up to be a trip through historic inland towns and villages.

I haven’t driven our car for weeks, and for at least a couple of months before that, since I prefer to walk or take public transport to get around our patch of inner Sydney. It took a while to get used to the manual gears, the road, other cars, but then I settled back into familiarity with our good little car, and we were away, to quieter and greener places.

When I was not driving, I nibbled on a slice of gubana.

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Gubana. A special Easter cake/bread I stumbled across almost by accident. I made the recipe, and found the flavours intriguing, lingering, in a way that says old fashioned good things. Bread-like, not quite as rich as brioche or challah, crammed full of walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, chocolate, hazelnuts, and more. The bread is almost like panettone, and filling is so flavoursome, with a lingering sweetness that comes from dried fruit rather than sugar.

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An imagined pie, lost splendours and a Sicilian timballo (macaroni pie)

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Update: recipe added!!

Recently, work has been intense, crazy-good-intense, plus I have been cooking for friends: lingering, laughing, food-laden, wine-tinted dinners where people meet old friends and make new ones. All of which means I’m catching up on the blogosphere this weekend.

The good thing about cooking for a bunch of friendly guinea pigs friends is that I can foist “out there” dishes on them. And unlike a family Christmas lunch, I run less risk of offending the mother-in-law-of-cousin-in-law.

Dishes like a macaroni pie from the novel The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

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Like the Triumph of Gluttony, the idea of the pie has haunted my imagination since I read the book years ago:

“When three lackeys in green, gold and powder entered, each holding a great silver dish containing a towering macaroni pie, only four of the twenty at table avoided showing pleased surprise.

Good manners apart, though, the aspect of those monumental dishes of macaroni was worthy of the quivers of admiration they evoked. The burnished gold of the crusts, the fragrance of the sugar and cinnamon they exuded, were but preludes to the delights released from the interior when the knife broke the crust; first came a spice-laden haze, then chicken livers, hard boiled eggs, sliced ham, chicken and truffles in masses of piping hot, glistening macaroni to which the meat juice gave an exquisite hue of suede.”

Yes, another dish from a book, another Sicilian recipe. Must be something in the water there.

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A Sicilian cocktail party, a lost recipe, the triumph of gluttony

gluttony-01 This week, Liz and I are gatecrashing a Sicilian cocktail party! What is a Sicilian party without drinks and food? Liz brings Clam Casino (below left) and a gorgeous coloured negroni (below right); I went for sweets from Sicilian convents with the Triumph of Gluttony. liz-clams-casinoliz-negroni

To read about our partying hijinks and get the clam and cocktail recipes, please head over to Liz’s blog (where you will also find the Dr Who cocktail (squee), bread on a stick, N2O gas-leavened cakes, and more fun than you can poke a pogo stick at).

{Interlude … }

{ I’ll be here sipping a negroni when you come back }

gluttony-06gluttony-07gluttony-08 A triumphal idea As for the Triumph of Gluttony, this is not so much a recipe as a tumble of ideas, an attempt to turn words on a page into something real, sans star trek replicator. The moment I read about the Triumph of Gluttony in Mary Simeti Taylor’s book, Sicilian Food, a love affair was born. It was an unrequited love affair, because Ms Simeti Taylor said each convent had its secret recipes that were, or are likely to become, forgotten with the last generation of nuns. So, I did what any mildly obsessive home cook would do, and made my own. For anyone who’s had the real Triumph of Gluttony from Palermo convents, this ain’t it. But if you didn’t make it before the convent stopped selling them to the public, this is for you.

PS, it’s also for everyone at Angie’s Fiesta Friday bash, you should also visit my co-gatecrasher Liz’s blog for the full story!!

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O Cheese – whipped ricotta on a whimsical afternoon

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O cheeses that dance in the moonlight, cheeses
that mingle with sausages, cheeses of Stonehenge.
O cheeses that are shy, that linger in the doorway,
eyes looking down, cheeses spectacular as fireworks.

Sometimes you just want some cheese. Something soft, creamy, light-hearted. Nothing too heavy or stinky. Some days call for ricotta cheese.

On one of these days, I made goat ricotta cheese – strictly speaking goat curds: goat milk, lemon juice, cooked over the stovetop until curds separate from whey. As this might have been done for centuries and centuries by farmers and shepherds.

Then, I made whipped ricotta / curd. A cup of ricotta / curd, a good dollop of cream cheese, a drop of milk, a good beating with a wooden spoon (you can also do this in the stand mixer), and we had this.

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A bowl of this stuff went with crusty bread. Another dollop was used to stuff some dates. I barely needed dinner!

Whipped ricotta recipes abound on the interwebs. Some mix the ricotta with milk, others with cream cheese (as I did), some add sugar for a sweet topping, others add sea salt or salty feta cheese. As for serving and eating, many recipes suggest pairing it with crepes and pikelets, others also suggest serving with meatballs (!), or using it to make icing for cupcakes (maybe whipped ricotta icing for sunny-lemony ricotta cookies?)

O cheeses of gravity, cheeses of wistfulness, cheeses
that weep continually because they know they will die.
O cheeses of victory, cheeses wise in defeat, cheeses
fat as a cushion, lolling in bed until noon.

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Fiesta, Siesta, sprinkles, cake truffles!

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Sprinkles! Coconut! Chocolate! Ricotta! Accidental good stuff! Did I mention sprinkles?

It’s cake truffle time in Casa Gander when I make too many of these Turkish coffee brownie layer cakes:

Or these coconut-mango bundt-lettes from last Fiesta:

Or gluten-free chocolate layer cakes (one from the archives!):

Or other good things that haven’t made it onto the blog, like the most sensual banana cake. (I’m calling it cake, because something with so much butter, cream and sour cream really couldn’t hide under the misnomer ‘bread’.)

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Rash promises and kitchen derring-do: turkish coffee brownie layer cake

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This is a cake of two tales. And the tale of two cakes.

Story the first.

Once upon a Saturday night, there was a Pimms cocktail-addled promise to make a layered birthday cake. Which I promptly forgot about until Sunday evening (the birthday was on Monday).

It was the prettiest Pimms cocktail I had ever seen, with three different types of citrus, strawberries, mint, a dash of this and a splash of that. An English-summer-meets-tropical sunset mash of colours and flavours.

But if I have to bake a cake every time I have that cocktail, I may just switch to a martini.

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Story the second.

Once upon a Sunday evening. With a sense of wild, reckless adventure, and no little trepidation, I poured cake batter into teacups and put it into the oven.

Wild recklessness, because I picked up the teacups from an op shop, with no knowledge of whether they were oven safe. Trepidation, because We could have had a Turkish coffee brownie flavoured explosion in the oven.

(But, looking on the bright side of life, a Turkish coffee brownie flavoured explosion might have led to a new oven. One with an accurate temperature gauge, a working oven light, and a steam function for baking bread.)

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Cakes I & II

We didn’t get a new oven.

Instead, we got brownie cakes. I inverted the teacup cakes so they became domed-shaped single-serve mini layer cakes. With just enough space for one candle on top.

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Ode to le weekend: coconut mango bundt-lettes

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Week-end. Sleepy eyed morning, sun-bathed cafe.

Being a dilettante, flaneur, lady of leisure.

A wake-up-in-the-morning-and-jump-in-the-car day trip to Mittagong and Bowral. Where we ooh over antiques (a Indo-Persian chain mail helmet? Yes please), eat an intriguing tart (shiraz-poached pears and proschiutto, suspended in a barely-set, brie-enriched custard), and have a cheerful coffee:

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(The coffee was in the Bradman Museum, aka Cricket International Hall of Fame. Yes, Mr Gander is a cricket fan. Yes, we bought a souvenir cricket ball. Yes, I still want that Indo-Persian chain mail helmet.)

A tropical thunderstorm on the drive back! While we wound our way down to that pretty little dam on the Nepean River, across a bridge that fits one car at a time, and up the other side.

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That evening, making a promise to bake a layer birthday cake, while maybe mildly under the influence of the prettiest Pimms cocktail I’ve ever seen. Spending Sunday making and eating a coconut-mango cake (recipe below), before remembering the Pimms-enriched promise about a birthday cake. Dang.

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