Tag Archives: raisins

An adventurous Easter: sourdough hot cross buns

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On this road trip, we’ve noticed the different types of place names that you can find in Australia. Words from England, Scotland, other places in Europe, and from the Aboriginal languages.

We have our share of Inverary, Baden Powell, New England, Kingston, even Neuhaus. Words from the old world. Then, we have words from our first people, strange and beautiful sounds. Araluen, Adaminaby, Cootamundra, Tumbarumba, Wagga Wagga, Wee Waa, Jindabyne, Gundagai.

A trip into regional Australia becomes a jumble of these names and sounds. A pair of city slickers finding new sights and sounds, new air to breathe.

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We have seen a lake and a river (any large body of water inland of our dry continent is a mesmerising sight); so many cows and sheep, and glimpses of the Snowy Mountains. We have also seen old train stations with cast iron lace, rusty sheds, ruined timber bridges. And that’s only the first few days.

I knew we would be on the road, so I made hot cross buns early this year, and using sourdough starter called Patrick, no less! I’ve nurtured wee Patrick since Christmas, but have only started baking with him.

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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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A tale about kale: kale salad with raisins, walnuts and pecorino

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Here I am, on a Monday night, trying to think of a witty, captivating way to introduce a kale salad. I could wax lyrical about its impressive pedigree: from Barbuto in NY via Deb Perelman’s kitchen to yours truly. I could go all food anthropology on you and talk about the similar ingredients found in pasta or even bread from that island off Italy (disclaimer: only in the world according to Google).

Or, I can just sit back and tell you about this salad – the flavours, textures, ideas.

Because, this way, I won’t have to talk about how this is yet another kale salad. I can just say – this salad doesn’t make me feel like I’m eating grass. Grass is virtuous to be sure, and good for moo-cows, but I prefer my grass a little more mediated by cows, say in the form of pecorino cheese.

Then, I can tell you the salad is savoury, sweet, tart. These bold flavours complement (but not mellow) kales earthiness – think Ottolenghi’s way with radicchio in Plenty. The textures vary between lemon-softened kale, plumped raisins, crunchy walnuts and crumbly-creamy pecorino.

I’ve served variations of the salad at two elaborate dinners, a Moroccan/Sicilian epic, and our similarly epic Christmas lunch. Both times, it was hoovered up, with people asking about it as they peered into the salad bowl for more.

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A beachside Christmas, a recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins

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Christmas lunch has come and gone. Once again, I didn’t take photos during lunch, as I didn’t want to interrupt the festivities. This morning, I sat in a garden looking out over the ocean, in a white tee and white sun hat, writing down notes from the meal: what worked, what can be better next time.

I was peaceful, lulled into daydreams, detached from the comings and goings in the house, yet more aware, alert to the sounds and sights of nature around me. The sun was shining; turning the ocean shades of royal blue, deep sea blue, turquoise. The sun made dappled patterns through a tree. It was warm on my back, yet a sea breeze brushed across my notepad. The waves continually crashed on the rocks, again, and again. White clouds formed fantastical patterns on the edge of an equally blue unending sky.

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Inside the house, guests talked about local traditions over tea and slices of Sri Lankan Christmas cake. Every year, the local fire brigade dresses up as Santa and his helpers, drives a fire truck to every local house and popular beaches, and gives out lollies to children (and the young at heart). It is one of my favourite part of Christmas on the South Coast – anyone can go to a shopping centre and have their photo taken with Santa, but how many have caught a bag of lollies from Santa standing on top of a big red fire truck?  

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I digress.

Here is our Christmas lunch menu, which featured flavours from Sicily and Morocco rather than Ye Olde England. The recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins follows – halfway between a pickle and a chutney, a nod to tradition in an unorthodox Christmas meal. Recipes for a few other dishes will be posted over the next month or so.

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Beetroot and carrot and a feast of colours

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The past two weeks have been mildly crazy. We went to the theatre, had lunches and dinners with friends, I dutifully attended ‘networking’ events (where older men in black suits huddle with other black suits…), got excited about Good Food Month in October, and felt a general festive restlessness as Sydney finally burst into spring madness.

In the midst of this, I got my cooking assignment for the Bitten Word Cover to Cover Challenge 2013. In this challenge, we are each assigned one recipe from the September issue of Bon Appétit magazine, so that as a group, we will have made all 47 recipes in the magazine.

I sign up for these things to widen my cooking & baking horizons. Cover to Cover was no exception. The recipe was one of the simplest I have attempted, and not the type of recipe I blog about. Yet, once I started, the minimalist recipe made me really pay attention to the colours, textures and flavours of the ingredients. Making a simple recipe became a feast for the senses.

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The recipe is carrot and beet slaw with pistachios and raisins. In the original recipe, carrots and beetroot are julienned, mixed in garlic-flavoured lemon juice, golden raisins, chilli, parsley, mint, and toasted pistachios.

Bon Appétit ‘s photo was a riot of colours. Red and golden beetroot, orange-red carrots, matchsticks of summer tumbling over one another to create a festive whole. It was a beautiful chaos; a styled, self consciously casual, beautiful chaos. Continue reading

Hot cross buns, or, how not to make rock cakes

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(with apologies for the photos taken on a phone)

I remember the first time I saw home made hot cross buns. A colleague in Canberra had worked as a chef in a former life, and to mark our first Easter in the nation’s capital, he brought enough hot cross buns for everyone in our graduate year.

It seemed a miraculous thing to me, the ability to pull real hot cross buns out of a home oven. I also remember the buns were moist, darkly spiced, laden with plump raisins. But more than anything I remember his assurance “they are easy to make.”

A few years later, I have learned to make things with yeast – croissants, pizza, ciabatta – and this year, I was determined to tackle hot cross buns. After all, Alan said they were easy.

My first attempt was a dismal failure. The recipe called for far too much flour compared to the amount of milk, egg and butter. The dough had the texture of scones (or American biscuit) dough. Even after adding extra milk, what came out of the oven was more like rock cakes than English buns. (this really tested my faith in Australian Gourmet Traveller)

For the second attempt, I turned to my bread bible, the River Cottage Bread Handbook.

And, almost miraculously, the buns came together just like that. And the whole Gander household (including Mr Gander’s mum and grandmother – more brownie points for me) had toasted home made hot cross buns for Easter Friday.

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