Tag Archives: cocoa

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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Panforte, with skill, daring and panache

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More than most other cakes I’ve made, panforte called for skill, daring and panache, and a readiness for adventure.

Panforte, or strong bread, floods our shops at Christmas next to panettone and whisky fruit cake, then disappears for the rest of the year. I like to hoard panforte for a couple of months after Christmas, nibbling on thin slices with an afternoon coffee. Dark, rich with nuts and fruits, mysterious with peppery spices, it also tells me whether it’s time for a visit to the dentist.

I first saw a recipe for panforte a year ago. It stuck in the back of my mind. It nagged me every month or so. When I looked for a recipe to use up the nuts and dried fruits in our kitchen pantry, before a five week holiday, the recipe raised its head and said ‘aha!’

It wasn’t quite that simple.

In the two weeks before our holiday, work reached fever pitch. It felt as though I was working into the night, and woke up the next morning simply to start again. We had more takeaways than home-cooked meals, Mr Gander found a new favourite Turkish pide vendor. The recipe sat in the neglected kitchen and looked at me with sad puppy eyes. Then, miraculously, work had a lull, I was home early, there was nothing to do except cook a proper meal and bake. And bake I did.

Oh boy.

We had blueberry & lemon mini-bundt cakes, a savoury goat cheese & pistachio loaf, a mysterious concoction that is best described as white choc macadamia blondies topped with coconut-walnut macaroons (turned out surprisingly well, considering there was no recipe and I simply added butter and sugar until there was no butter or sugar left). I also made panforte.

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We invited people around and ate everything except the panforte. It was sliced, dusted with icing sugar, inexpertly wrapped, and we were away to Europe.

Upon our return, I unwrapped one package to find a dark, dark cake that…looked and tasted more or less like panforte!!

There is the sticky, mellow undertone of honey, a pick-me-up from spices and black pepper, and the age-old play between Christmas-y nuts and candied and dried fruits. It was dark, tending to black, contrasting with snow-white icing sugar. It was less tooth-breaking than commercial panforte, and less evenly mixed, but was still best enjoyed in thin slices, with a strong black coffee or whisky. I have just made my first panforte.

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Not your average box mix brownies

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Lately, it feels like life is spinning, rushing past, so, so quickly, and I barely have time to say “woa!”.

Times like this, I like to bake and cook, take time out, slow down, and feel (slightly more) grounded. Baking and cooking helps me to remember that I don’t have to do everything at work before we head off on holiday. Other people will step in and help out, because they are good colleagues, smart people and good friends, and we’ve always helped each other out.

But, when baking starts at 9 or 10pm at night, I’ve been at a loss about what to bake. Nothing that takes too long (baking past midnight is fun but slightly surreal), or requires the Bosch kitchen mixer (our neighbours will start to give me odd looks). And I don’t want to beat eggwhite by hand and develop hausfrau muscles in my right arm only (that would be funny, but surreal and possibly impractical clothes-wise).

Last night, I found the answer. Box mix brownies – with home made box mix.

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I was thinking about house warming presents for some friends we’ve known forever. They have never wanted very much, and have always been happy with what they have. Instead of giving them the usual wine glasses or home furnishings, we wanted to give them something that won’t end up cluttering their modestly minimalist life.

And last night, it came back to me: box mix brownies. I give them the mix of dry ingredients and add-ins, and all they need to do is add butter and eggs. Home made brownies within 30-40 minutes, including baking time.

I used an Alice Medrich cocoa brownies recipe to make up a box mix. I first saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, where Deb explained how she was converted to the idea of a good cocoa brownie, where cocoa is intentionally used in preference to blocks of dark, shiny chocolate. I was intrigued, and this idea lingered in the back of my mind like one of those cat pictures that never quite stop doing the rounds of office emails.

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