Pear, Hazelnut and Rosewater Cake

Pear and hazelnut cakeI love that I don’t have a microwave. When I did own one I barely used it. The occasional reheating and warming milk, that was it. I certainly never used it to cook food in. It just didn’t feel right.  So when I moved into a tiny one bedroom flat with the tiny one person kitchen I decided I didn’t want to take up valuable space with a piece of gadgetry I hardly ever used. I also wanted to keep thing simple and more natural. I don’t have a toaster either, purely to save space. I have to say this has resulted in many a burnt toast as I forget about it under the grill while I’m distracted by something, usually someone’s blog.

People have also looked at me quizzically when I say I really don’t want a thermomix. Don’t get me wrong they certainly have their place, that’s just not in my kitchen. I like that it takes me time to make ice cream, a risotto that needs constant tending, and I like a dough that requires time kneading. I don’t want any machine that takes that pleasure away from me.

In saying all that there are times when you have to be inventive, like softening butter…butter

Still, I wouldn’t change a thing and as Autumn brings cooler evenings I will be welcoming it with my central heater, the kitchen oven.Pear and hazelnut cake

Pear, Hazelnut and Rosewater Cake

100g hazelnuts

100g plain flour

2 tspn baking powder

200g softened unsalted butter

100g caster sugar

100g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

1 tspn vanilla extract

2 not quite ripe pears

Rosewater syrup

2 tbspn caster sugar

4 tblspn water

1 tspn rose water

1 tspn cinnamon

1 tspn dried rose petals

Line a 24cm spring form baking tin. Warm oven to 150°C. Place the hazelnuts in a baking tray and roast for about 15 minutes or until you see the skins cracking. Remove and tip onto a tea towel. Increase oven temperature to 180°C. Gather up the tea towel edges and rub the hazelnuts together so the skins will fall off. Don’t be too fussy about this, some skin left on is fine. Pop them into a food processor and when cooled down a bit whiz them to a fine ground.

Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl and add ground hazelnuts. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating each in well before adding the next. Add vanilla extract with the last egg.  Add flour/hazelnut mix and gently fold through well. Tip into the baking tin and spread out to cover the bottom.

Peel and quarter the pears, slice out the core and then slice the quarter into 3-4 more slices. Lay over the cake in a circle, over lapping is fine.

Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes. Leave in the tin to cool. To make the syrup, mix the caster sugar and water in a very small saucepan over medium heat, until sugar is dissolved. Then add the rosewater and remove from the heat. Pierce the cake with a skewer to make alot of holes over the cake. Spoon over about 3/4 of the syrup. Sprinkle with cinnamon and dried rose petals.

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Dan Lepard’s Sticky Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake and some little grubs

Sticky lemon cakes never go out of fashion. Cupcakes and macarons will come and go but a good old lemon cake will always be there. Well that’s just my opinion of course. The fact that Dan Lepard included not just one, in his new book, “Short and Sweet”, may go in my favour.

I love being close to my family again after being away for so many years. So when my sister needs a babysitter I’m the first to put my hand up. I’m also the first to look for opportunities to cook for them. Anyway I wanted an excuse to try some recipes from Dan’s new book.

I don’t know if Dan realises but he has a bit of a cult following. His regular Guardian column is one I often read and one of the few I actually make the recipes from. The last one being tamarind spice biscuits. A slightly unconventional biscuit flavour that turned out to be absolutely moreish and one I filed in favourites book, to make again.

These days I make use of the Sydney sun and I put my butter in the sun to melt. While I was waiting for this to happen I got the other ingredients ready. I don’t normally have oatmeal in the cupboard but I always have rolled oats. So I whizzed them up in the food processor and set them aside in a bowl. The butter had melted and I added the oil, sugar and lemon zest. The lemons are organic, from my parents garden. I steal them all the time. One had a slight bruise but I just zested around it (it was a massive lemon and I hate to waste it). I sat it next to the oats and continued on. Just as I was about to throw in the oats I noticed some little yellow grubs, actually quite alot of them. I thought it was strange as I had gone through the oats after whizzing them in the food processor to remove any husks. I couldn’t see anymore in the rolled oats bag either but I promptly threw them out. THEN as I picked up the bruised lemon I saw one coming out! Quick as a flash they had moved home from the lemon to the oats. I guess storing them in a bowl on the shelf above the boiler was a happy environment for them. Eeek hey.

If you would like the recipe, buy Dan’s fabulous book, you won’t be disappointed! The original recipe is also available here

Orange Chiffon Cake and the Monday Morning Cooking Club

I have accumulated quite alot of cookbooks. Propably no more than any other person out there with a slight obsession in cooking, baking and collecting vintage cookbooks. My mother reluctantly buys them for me when asked what I want for my birthday (she thinks I have too many) and Christmas is easy, I always ask for a subscription to Gourmet Traveller. I could have a worse obsession! or a more expensive one! oh yeah I do, vintage jewellery.

Monday Morning Cooking Club is a collection of tried and well tested recipes from a group of ladies who, yes, meet on monday mornings to cook and chat. In fact they met on Monday mornings for three years! They wanted to gather recipes that told a story. They realised the Jewish community have a strong association with food and the stories surrounding them. They began emailing everyone they knew asking for recommendations for the best home cook they knew. Eventually they had acummulated a list and they wrote to each one asking for their most cherished recipes.

The testing began and eventually the list of recipes began to develop.

Each recipe in the book is preluded by a story from the person who revealed their recipe. To know that your making a recipe that a family has enjoyed for generations is somewhat comforting. It also means it has been tested, alot.

I have made a few things from it and there are still alot more on my waiting list. The custard chiffon cake was the first. It was my first time I made a chiffon cake too. I couldn’t have wished for it to turn out better! I took it to work and the complements were endless, along with requests for the recipe.

The second recipe I tried was the apple and cinnamon pie. I made it for dessert after a family Sunday roast. A simple ‘cake’ that still turned out fabulous even though I thought I had stuffed it up by coring the apples and cutting them with a mandolin so the cake batter kind of fell through the apples. An obvious mistake, after the fact, but the ‘cake’ turned out so well it pleased my 97 year old grandfather and more importantly my father who is a big apple pie fan.

I’ve also tested out the the Israeli couscous soup, which is nothing mindblowing but a good store cupboard standby dinner. I liked the novelty and texture of the tiny round balls of ‘couscous’.

I was in the baking mood and wanted something impressive to take to work so I made a chiffon cake again, this time the orange version. It turned out just as well, even though I thought I had over beat the egg whites. It may sound like I’m a hopeless baker but truth be known I’m just very hard on myself and perfection is hard to master in my eyes. Once again it turned our beautifully and my workmates were overcome with amazement at the height and fluffy texture of my cake. I just smiled and blushed but inside I was just a bit coy ,as I knew how easy it really was.

There are some good savoury recipes in this book but for me the real interest is in the baking. There are some great recipes in here for things I’ve never tried to make before such as mamoul, hamantashen, palacsinta, beigli, and an amazing looking zserbo slice. These are probably some of the real heros’ of the book for me. My comfort is I know I they have been tested, time and time again, before going into the book. So I have that reassuring feeling that they should turn out. So here it is…

Orange Chiffon Cake                                              Serves 12

8 eggs, separated

345g (1 ½ cups) caster sugar

185ml (¾ cup) vegetable oil (I used extra light olive oil)

185ml (¾ cup) fresh orange juice (about 3-4 oranges)

finely grated zest of ½ a lemon

225g (1½ cups) self-raising flour, sifted

Method:

Preheat oven to 180°C. You will need an angel cake (chiffon) cake tin. Do not grease it.

Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Slowly add 115g (½ cup) caster sugar and continue whisking until egg whites are stiff but not dry. In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Add the oil and keep beating until well combined.

Add the orange juice (which I strained with a sieve to get out any fleshy bits) and lemon zest. Add the flour carefully, then beat to make sure the flour is well combined. Gently fold the egg whites into the flour mixture with a metal spoon, until just mixed through. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

After removing the cake from the oven, immediately invert it to cool by balancing the middle funnel over a bottle neck. The cake will be dangling upside down. Leave it there until it is completely cool to stop it from collapsing. When cool remove from the bottle and run a knife around the outside of the cake and the funnel. Lift the base out of the tin, then use the knife to ease the cake off the base.

If you have any crumbly bits or you just like the look, you can sieve a fine layer of icing sugar over the top.

Lamington Fingers……Happy Australia Day!

You may roll your eyes that I have chosen to make lamingtons for Australia Day but I’m feeling quite nostalgic this year.
Lamingtons actually originate from Queensland. The place that has reawakened the Australian in me. When most of the state was beset by a raging flood over Christmas it was clear that Australians are strong. It was a flood with such a magnitude like we have never seen here before, as it continued through Queensland into New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The sheer numbers of people who came to the aide of complete strangers to clean up, provide shelter and food, in the aftermath was very moving. Tens of thousands of Australian helping fellow Australians in dire need. Now that makes you feel proud.

Their name comes from Lord Lamington who was the Governor of Queensland in the late 1890s. The creation of these tasty little cakes came from his cook who came up with them by some accident in the kitchen one day.

I have vague memories of helping make lamingtons as a young girl, for a fundraising event. It was messy, or maybe it was just that I was young and tended to make a mess when left with chocolate and coconut.
Since then I have never attempted to make them. I have visions of that day, fingers caked in chocolate and coconut, looking like little lamingtons themselves.

Now I’m a grown up I should be much tidier, shouldn’t I?

I turned to Bills Granger, the Australian man of neat and tidiness (even though he says he is a messy cook, I don’t believe it). I know Bill tries to simplify recipes, so I adapted his lamington recipe from Every Day to use for mine.

Lamington Fingers

Sponge Cake:

6 eggs

150g caster sugar

200g self-raising flour

30g unsalted butter, melted

3 tablespoons hot water

Chocolate Icing:

500g icing sugar

200g dark chocolate, broken up

15g unsalted butter

250mls milk

400g desiccated coconut

Method:

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 18x 28 baking tin.

For the cake, beat the eggs for 5 mins with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until sugar looks dissolved. Stop the electric beaters. Sift in the flour and fold into mix. Then add butter and hot water and fold into mix. Pour into baking tin and bake for 30 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For the chocolate sauce, place the sugar, chocolate, butter and milk into a heat proof dish over a saucepan of just simmering water. Stir the mixture until it is all combined. Keep in mind that you need to dip the sponge into this mix it needs to thin enough to coat easily but thick enough to cling to the sponge. You only need a thin layer of the chocolate mix over the sponge. So if the mix is too thick keep it over the heat and add more milk. Too thin and add more icing sugar.

The sponge didn’t rise as much as I wanted (maybe my tin was too big) so I cut the sponge into 20 fingers instead of the traditional squares. Dip the sponge into the chocolate mixture to coat, it helps to use 2 forks to roll the sponge. Hold the sponge up with the forks to let the excess coating drip off and roll in coconut. Carefully place on a wire rack for the chocolate mix to set.

And yes it is still a messy job but so so very worth it.

Banana and Sour Cream Cake

I’m staying with my little sister for a while and I have noticed that they always seems to have bananas that are calling out the be made into a cake. All my trusty cookbooks are still on a cargo ship on it’s way from the UK so I raided my sisters collection for a good recipe.

Donna Hay has really become huge since I left Australia nearly 10 years ago and to be honest I’m taking my time to warm to her recipes. The photography in her books has improved 10 fold and I will definitely be taking notes. As you can see from my pic, I’m in need of some help.

This is a simple moist banana cake recipe that Donna suggests you serve with caramel sauce, which would be lovely as a lunch time dessert but I decided to make lemon icing with chopped walnuts.

Banana Cake:

125g butter, softened

1 cup caster sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

2 cups plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup sour cream

1 cup roughly mashed banana

Method:

Preheat oven to 180°C . Place butter, caster sugar and brown sugar in a bowl and beat until light and creamy with electric beaters. Gradually add the eggs, one at a time and beat well. Sift in flour and baking powder over mixture. Add cinnamon, sour cream and banana, stir to combine. Spoon mixture into a greased 26cm fluted ring tin. Bake for 40 minutes or until cooked (mine took 30 mins, depending on your oven). Cool on a wire rack and ice with lemon icing mix and top with chopped walnuts.

Simple lemon icing:

1 1/2 cup icing sugar

1 teaspoon butter

1 teaspoon hot water

Juice of half a lemon

Sift icing sugar into a medium bowl, add butter and hot water and mix well. Add lemon juice and extra icing sugar if the mix is too thin and will not cover the cake well.