Tag Archives: honey

Blue Mountains before bushfires, and the simplest granola cookies

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(Recipe for granola cookies at the end of this post)

Blue Mountains, part of our Great Dividing Range and the stuff of pioneering Australian stories. It’s particularly famous for the Three Sisters – a rock formation that attracts all kinds of tourists to the town of Katoomba. Since it is a 1-2 hour drive or a train ride out of Sydney, it has long been a place for Sydneysiders to spend a weekend, a few days or even weeks, unwinding, remembering a slower pace of life.

It is also one of the places that are in danger from bushfires every year, during the annual October to March ‘bushfire season’.

This year, the bushfires have started early around Sydney and in the Blue Mountains. Thursday afternoon saw Sydney’s famous blue sky turn an ominous orange-yellow from the smoke – even this morning, our cityscape looked unnaturally sepia, as though we woke up in the world of Instagram. A colleague who has a house in the lower Blue Mountains is at home soaking their house with water, and having the rural fire service doing back burning just outside of their backyard. Gulp. Anyone who has driven around rural Australia has probably seen the hectares of black tree stumps, running over hills and down into valleys to the edges of rivers, and also hectares of living trees with trunks and branches blackened by fire.

But after each fire, the bush regenerates – and some plants have evolved to do so. The black stumps grow green shoots, seeds sprout; flowers tempt insects and animals back. Our plants may not have the softest petals, or the most ornamental leaves, but you’ve got to give them kudos for being tough enough to survive our sunburnt country, with droughts and flooding rains – and fires.

The photos in this post are from the Blue Mountains, taken just before bushfire season. The area isn’t yet affected by bushfires, and I hope it will be unscathed this year.

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We spent the first weekend of this month in Blackheath, a town nestled into the quieter back half of the Blue Mountains. It was a long, three-day weekend, and we spent most of it walking around tracks in the surrounding bushland, catching up around bottles of red wine, and eating good food.

The bush around Blackheath wowed me, again. This is such a quintessential “Australian” landscape with bleached colours and too-harsh sun. 

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Once our eyes adjusted to the brightness around us, I found layers of textures, patterns and contours all around us. Walking on ridges, we saw trees silhouetted against the empty space and bright, blue sky. The cicadas were out in full force. On the way back, we saw so many cicada shells – almost looking like jewelled brooches – clinging to a bushfire-blacked tree.

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Fig-honey-caramel

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Sometimes, we need very few words to explain. This may be one of those times.

Fig. Honey. Caramel.

I made the fig-raspberry tartlets again, with a few tweaks and in longform. While the tart was baking, I had fig and cardamon poaching liquid sitting in the pan, and a jar of blackbutt honey on the bench. The two came together, simmered, boiled, turned a deeper golden caramel, and fig-honey-caramel was born.

It was the essence of figs and honey. Drizzle the caramel on the sesame-almond tart pastry, drip it onto the tart filling. Watch the caramel form a Jackson Pollock-esque pattern on bits of pastry, before running into sticky, semi translucent pools on nestling fig.

Place the tart under the grill for a minute or so, until the caramel bubbles up. Drop a few sprigs of rosemary on top, so its woody savoury smell mingles with the honey overnight.

My slight obsession with figs continues.

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Ceci n’est pas une madeleine, here’s honey beer bread instead

In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines,
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.
They left the house at half past nine … the smallest one was Madeline.

Tuesday 16 April was our next assignment for the Tuesdays with Dorie group. In place of a real entry, here is a post-processing enhanced and slightly tongue-in-cheek image of madeleines baked in non-madeleine pans.

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Work got in the way of a more thoughtful post about how to make this classic French cake-cookie. A quick search on the internet, however, revealed a range of fail-proof recipes and one contentious debate – whether baking powder should ‘even be in the same room with madeleines’ (Lebovitz, 2007).

I went with the recipe in the book Baking with Julia, which was a genoise batter without baking powder and enriched with egg yolks. It made a light, but slightly drier cookie-cake, with the requisite crispy, lightly golden edges. They tasted a little richer than cupcakes, and the addition of lemon zest made them bright, cheerful little things.

They almost walked in two straight lines. And the smallest one was almost called Madeline.

The recipe from Baking with Julia can be found at the blog Counter Dog. To see what other TWD bakers have done, please visit Tuesdays with Dorie.

In lieu of proper madeleines, here’s a buttery honey beer bread instead. Although Madeline and her friends are more likely to have eaten baguettes in their old Paris house covered with vines, I like to think this bread is hearty and homely enough to have occasionally graced their table too.

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Honey, lavender, rosemary: surprise cookies

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I like to improvise in savoury cooking. A common dinner menu in our house is “[insert ingredient] surprise”. But in baking, I am a stickler for rules and always stay faithful to the recipes’ main ingredients and dry/wet ratio.

Until Friday night.

I started to make cookies for friends who were visiting on the weekend, only to realise we had run out of eggs.

On the spur of the moment, I improvised wildly. Into the mixing bowl went honey, polenta and quinoa flour, as well as plain flour and butter. Crushed lavender flowers were folded into half of the cookie dough (this post on Food and Forage Hebrides recently reminded me that I have wanted to bake with lavender for a while). Finely chopped rosemary leaves went into the other half.

Voila “honey surprise” cookies – or, the shortbread cookie re-imagined.

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The lush buttery butter now forms the backdrop to a more complex set of flavours. Quinoa and polenta added a full bodied whole grain taste. Honey left its lingering sweetness in the back of the mouth. For the lavender cookies, the flower buds also gave a clean, herbal-floral scent and taste. Each bite was like a spring morning on a country homestead.

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