Tag Archives: cake

The alphabet post: Apples, Batlow, Cake

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We are almost at the end of our road trip, and have eaten our way around a few villages and towns.

Sure, there are more Aussie meat pies and pub steaks than you can poke a kangaroo paw at; and at least one dinner in an RSL (soldiers and veterans) club Chinese restaurant, which served local favourites like honey chicken and sweet and sour pork… But, we also had freshly caught trout from the pristine Snowy Mountains lakes, home made jams and tea cosies (ok, tea cosies aren’t food, but they might just deserve a post to themselves), local beer, wine and schnapps, just baked bread and pastries, good coffee in surprisingly hipster cafes, and new season apples from Batlow, one of Australia’s apple producing regions at the foot of the Snowy.

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If food was the icing on the cake for the trip, then the rural environment revealed itself to be a multi layered and endlessly fascinating cake.

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One day we were climbing the granite peaks of Mount Kosciuszko, snuggled up in gloves and beanies; another day we were bare feet on the beach, having driven through a patch of rainforest, across rich dairy farms, on a dirt road (in our small city car! and we made it!!) and to the ocean. We looked at a wooden cabin tucked away on oh-so-picturesque acres and wondered if it could become our holiday retreat (maybe, if we had a sea plane that can land on the nearby lake, or became a lady & gent of leisure).

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For days, I had that broad, slow-spoken rural Aussie accent in my ears. Farmer types that greeted each other with “G’day”, “yeah mate”, occasionally “strewth“, and generally as few words as possible. In the evenings, even in the smallest communities we visited, guys greeted other guys – and the publicans – in the local pub over a social beer or two.

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New season apples began appearing in the shops before Easter, and I made this apple cake. While apple season lasts, I’ll probably make this a few more times.

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The recipe is Marie-Hélène’s apple cake, from Dorie Greenspan and adapted by David Lebovitz. Many bloggers have written about this recipe, including the French Fridays with Dorie crew and Fiesta Friday party-goer Patty (though the experience was more, um, exciting for her). This really is a perfect example of pared back elegance.

The cake has more apples than cake batter, it really is all about the apples. The batter is simple, though heady with vanilla and calvados (apple brandy). The whole thing bakes into one moist, wonderful, fragrant whole. It tastes clean, homely, sweet but not too sweet. The combination of apples, vanilla, calvados tempts you back for just one more slice – time and again – until somehow there is no apple cake left.

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This time, I dared to temper with perfection and added a hazelnut/cream topping, which added an extra bit of crunch to the cake. Think of a streusel topping, but with less than a quarter the amount of streusel.

And, to make easy sharing, I baked these in mini cake pans and mini pie dishes. The pie-cakes stayed at home as dessert. The mini cakes went to work to be shared with friends.

I’ve found this is a great way to show off those heirloom apple varieties, as the minimal, simple batter sits back and helps the apples’ flavours to shine, rather than distracting you from the apples.

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Tonight, because it’s Anzac day, I’ll be serving some of our apple bounty baked, with an Anzac biscuits (cookies in American English 🙂 ) crumble topping. This is one of my go-to Anzac biscuits recipes, and the Sydney Living Museum blog recently featured a post about this Aussie and New Zealand food icon. Tonight’s crumble will be improvised with beach house pantry staples, probably with a handful of macadamia nuts and spoonfuls of local honey. I might even get some of the Fiesta Friday crowd to play two-up – but only if it’s legal to play on Anzac day in your state!!

Before my excitement bubbles over, I’ll leave you with the apple cake recipe.

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French apple cake
(based on recipe from Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table)

Ingredients

Cake
3/4 cup or 110g flour (I’ve also used 70g plain flour + 50g finely chopped almonds instead)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (a mix of varieties)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) sugar (I used mostly castor / granulated sugar plus a bit of brown sugar)
3 tablespoons calvados/apple brandy, substitute good brandy or dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or more if you don’t have calvados)
8 tablespoons (115g) butter, salted or unsalted, melted and cooled to room temperature

Topping, I made this bit up
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped hazelnuts
1 tablespoon castor sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven.

2. Heavily butter a 20-23cm springform pan and place it on a baking tray. (Or, 5-6 mini-things, like pie dishes / cake pans)

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, ground almond, baking powder, and salt.

4. Peel and core the apples, then dice into small-med bits. (If using mini-whatever, slice them smaller and thinner, as they will spend less time in the oven)

5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until foamy-ish, then rum/brandy and vanilla. Whisk in half of the flour mixture, then stir in half of the butter, do the same with remaining flour /butter.

6. Fold in the apple until they’re well-coated with the batter and scrape them into the cake pan.

7. Bake for 40 minutes for full sized cake (about 20-25 min for mini-versions), mix topping ingredients together and randomly dollop over cake(s). Return to oven for another 10-20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean-ish. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, loosen from the pan and remove.

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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From ganache to molten chocolate cakelets

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“I wonder what would happen if…”. This is a question I often ask when I think about food. This afternoon, this question took David Lebovitz’s salted butter chocolate sauce into the oven and returned with a plateful of oozy, molten lava-like cakelets, or fondants.

Ever since I made David Lebovitz’s salted butter chocolate sauce for the Tuesdays with Dorie profiteroles (and added star anise), I’ve been thinking about that sauce. It was rich, had tiny flecks of saltiness and savoury-aromatic five spice, flirting with dark chocolate and butter. We don’t eat much ice cream around the house, so I found myself digging into that sauce with a spoon. Straight from the fridge, it was a smooth ganache that melts on the tongue to leave me wanting more.

But, one can only eat chocolate ganache for a snack so many times before, well, it starts to seem excessive. So I began to think about other ways to have my star-anise salted-butter chocolate sauce and eat it too.

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Then, an idea popped into my head, niggling, like a chocolate ganache ear worm – “what if I turned the chocolate sauce into a chocolate fondant or lava cake?”

The ear worm stayed with me during the week and prompted me to look into recipes for chocolate fondant, lava cake, molten chocolate cake. Finally, I went back to FX Cuisine (one of the first food blogs I became obsessed with, before I knew blogging was an online publishing genre), and saw an elaborate recipe for chocolate raspberry moelleux, from Pierre Hermé, no less. It requires the baker to add pieces of frozen raspberry ganache and dollops of the best raspberry jam into the cake batter, so that the finished cake will reveal a centre of warm, sweet-tart, liquid raspberry. And the ear worm became a full fledged idea.

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Musings on autumn and persimmon bread

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Autumn is such a Tween.

We have vacillated between nippy mornings and warm days (apparently, we were in the middle of an autumnal heat wave in Sydney, but you wouldn’t know it at 6am); grey skies and yellow-gold sunsets. The weather, like a girl-child hesitating between two stages of life, can’t make up its mind to put away summer’s strapless dresses and bring out winter’s tea cosies and mittens.

The only certainty is the shorter days that herald every winter. More and more often, I’m leaving work in the dark, and waking up to a dimmer sky.

Poets of every age have written about autumn. Its tempestuous weather, ravishing colours, just-ripened fruits and harvests of grains. The words autumn and fall evoke images of bucolic plenty, but also ideas about the fleeting passage of time. No wonder autumn is such a fickle character.

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It wasn’t until this morning that I had time to sit down, reflect, and notice, I mean really notice, the colours of the season. At the end of a crazy-hectic week, sitting down at the dining table with a large weekend-sized mug of tea was … a moment of quiet gladness.

I had made a persimmon bread-cake during the week. Persimmon seems the right kind of fruit to have in the house while we are surrounded by such gorgeously red leaves falling from neighbouring trees. I love how the fruit becomes soft, squishy, a bag of orange-red goo that you can spoon and slurp. With porridge, yoghurt, or by itself by the spoonful, so I lose none of its unique, slightly buttery yet crisp flavour. Perhaps it’s because persimmons were one of the hallmark fruits of autumn and winter in my part of China, their bright orange-red a reminder of festivities past and to come. Tied with string, they looked like little lanterns.

Edible lanterns!

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From German chocolate cake to truffle

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A couple of weeks ago, I made a gf Germany chocolate layer cake for a good friend.

I had a few bits of the cake left over, including bits trimmed off to make the layer cake prettier. I don’t know enough about baking and desserts to invent a Christina Tosi-like Germany chocolate birthday crumbs (German chocolate cake birthday crumbs. Now there’s an idea. It might be good in a chocolate-chip-german-chocolate-cake-crumbs cookie…) But I did come across a recipe for truffles made of chocolate cake and other things that make your dentist happy and are possibly not good for you.

Problem solved.

If having too much chocolate cake can ever be a problem.

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The chocolate cake was crumbled up into a large mixing bowl, mixed with extra butter, cocoa powder, chocolate ganache, and the coconut-custard mix that was used for the layer cake filling. The mixture was thick, dark, dark brown, buttery-cocoa-y smelling. This mixture is rolled into balls, which are covered in a thick, dark chocolate ganache and topped with multi-coloured silvery cachous and dried rose petals.

Not every truffle was a perfect round or perfectly decorated, but together, they made a pretty plate and exuded the most enticing chocolate-y smell.

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Layered birthday cake (gf)

David Lebovitz.

A name that acts like a comfort blanket in the kitchen. When I use one of David’s recipes, I relax and let my hands get into the rhythm of measuring, sifting, creaming, folding. Because I know it’s going to work, so well, and so easily.

Don’t get me wrong. I love reading and discovering new food blogs. I would be that much more productive and better informed about non-food news* if WordPress, Blogger and Google didn’t point me to all those food blogs and websites.

* Though I had to smile at twitter messages this week asking “Who was Margaret Thatcher?”. Or, maybe I’m just showing my age, and the company I keep?

But. When I am baking for a friend and it’s her birthday, and it’s a gluten free cake (and I have no idea about the chemistry behind gf baking), and I’m taking this cake into work, and there is no time to make a second cake when the first one goes wrong, the recipe just. has. to. work.

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That’s when I saw a recipe for a layered German chocolate cake on Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, which was adapted from David Lebovitz. Shauna Ahern + David Lebovitz = phew.

This is not the first time I’ve baked a gluten free cake, though my last proper gf cake was at Christmas, where the batter was more or less something to hold the brandy-drunken fruit together. This time, the cake will stand or fall by the taste and texture of the chocolate cake batter. What’s more, we all have our own idea of the perfect chocolate cake, our palates are honed since childhood to pick up the nuances of a chocolate cake that differ from our ideal.

So, attempting a gf chocolate cake? That was scary. But I muttered David and Shauna’s names like a mantra and boldly went where no saucy gander has gone before.

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Autumn, bringing plum blueberry yeast cake

How does autumn tangle
everything so elegantly, as when crimson
replaces the decorous sheen of green?
Such willful ambiguity. I walk steadily.
The soft retreat of chlorophyll asks useless
questions.

Christine Klocek-Lim, Strange Violet Behind Trees (2009)

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I read my obligatory share of poetry at university, but always preferred the hard-edged cutting edge gritty hyper-realism of modernist and post-modernist fiction (who says the academia is impervious to passing whims and fashions?). Christina Rossetti’s nightmarish Goblin Market was fascinating, but generally poems were … elusive, at once capable of too little and too much meaning. Slippery words with many ideas.

Now, I seem to have less time for uninterrupted leisurely reading, I read on the plane, the bus, while waiting for the plane or bus. Unexpectedly, I stumble across a poem like Strange Violets, whimsical, quiet, just a teeny bit dreamy. Like autumn should be.

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For a while, we’ve seen signs of autumn making its way into our city. Even in the heart of the city, I’ve seen small changes in the trees in Hyde Park, the flowering plants in the neighbourhood, and have felt the sneaky previews of a cool breeze. There has been an influx of new season fruits in our markets and shops. I first woke up to fresh fig season (at the time of the episode of dried figs coming out of our ears). And walked into the grocers to crates of plums, grapes, and the last of the summer nectarines and peaches. The stone fruit tempt us with the delicate furs on their skin, honey sweet smell, and promises of lush juices that run down our chins. Then there’s fresh green olives, new apples, dragon fruit, and (for a very little while longer) such a range of berries that I want to feast on berries and nothing but.

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