Cinnamon Pancakes

pancakes

For me, making pancakes is an act with a history that is still being written. For years it has been the traditional breakfast of Mother’s and Father’s Day, and this year was no exception. But in more recent times, pancakes are a Sunday morning ritual whenever Steve and I are together. Usually he whisks the mixture and I cook them while sipping hot coffee, still in my pyjamas. And since breakfast is usually treated as a rushed (or forgotten) affair, it is wonderful to occasionally sit down and eat with the people I love.

I can’t even count how many pancake recipes I’ve tried over the years, but the one I have kept going back to since the first time I made it is Donna Hay’s recipe from Modern Classics 2. I’ve tweaked it in many ways: adding lemon zest or coconut or vanilla, serving it with strawberries or bananas, or ice cream and maple syrup. But one of my favourite combinations so far was the one I made this morning for Father’s Day breakfast – cinnamon pancakes with pears.

The recipe couldn’t be easier, which I think is especially important in the morning before you’re fully caffeinated. The pancakes are beautifully fluffy, the perfect breakfast in my book. This is also my entry for Hay Hay It’s Donna Day this month, lovingly looked after by Bron Marshall, and hosted by the lovely Suzana of Home Gourmets. I can’t wait to see the round up!

Cinnamon Pancakes
Recipe adapted from Modern Classics 2 by Donna Hay
Makes 10

• 2 cups plain flour
• 3 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ cup caster sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¾ cup buttermilk
• 1 1/3 cups milk
• Butter, for cooking

1. Sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar together in a medium size bowl.
2. In another smaller bowl, whisk together the egg with the buttermilk, milk and vanilla extract, then whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients until smooth.
3. Melt a small amount of butter in a small frypan over medium-low heat. Add about ½ – ¾ cup of the pancake mixture. When small bubbles begin to form over the pancake, carefully flip it over and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
4. Repeat with the rest of the pancake mixture. Serve with maple syrup and pears if desired.

Annual Tradition

sticky date pudding

I know, I know. I got swoony over sticky date pudding last year, but its one of my very favourite winter desserts and I couldn’t let the chance to try another recipe pass me by. I’ve been thinking about it since the weather turned chilly. Perhaps I’ll make it an annual tradition here on Spicy Ice Cream – saving the world one pudding at a time! This version is spiked with chocolate and coffee, and it’s delicious served warm with butterscotch sauce and slightly melted vanilla ice cream.

I started this recipe after dinner with the best of intentions. The instructions looked simple enough, what could go wrong? Well, it was slightly disastrous at first! I almost thought about not posting it at all but I managed to salvage it and I’m happy to say it was worth the mess and the extra washing up. The recipe given below is my amended version. When I put the dates and hot water in the food processor, I ended up with a puddle on the benchtop and dribbling down the cupboards onto the floor. I would suggest soaking the dates first to make them easier to puree, and then using an electric mixer to make the cake.

Also, I was the extremely proud recipient of the Brilliante Weblog award from Vanilla Sugar. Thank you so much Dawn! I think I’m supposed to tell six facts about myself, so here we go…

• I love to read. I have always been a bookworm, since I was little. I read on the train and I can’t sleep if I don’t read at least a few pages before I go to bed. For the last few years I’ve been trying to read 50 books a year. So far I’m up to 24 for 2008.
• I have a strange irrational phobia of slugs and snails. They really scare me, and I don’t know why! It’s not like they can outrun me. It’s just another reason I don’t like rainy weather.
• For years we used to have chickens as pets. They did cute crazy things that made us laugh, and I’ve never seen egg yolks as yellow as those from our own chooks. Unfortunately they met a sad demise when our neighbours bought a dog. It got through a loose paling in the fence one day and… well it wasn’t pretty.
• I hardly ever turn my mobile phone off silent, so I miss phone calls all the time, much to my friends’ annoyance.
• I’ve never had a dog, but one day I’d really like a black Labrador puppy. His name will be Cornelius, C for short.
• If I wasn’t doing graphic design, I have no idea what I would do with my life. I thought about journalism and architecture but neither of them felt right. I don’t think I’d cut it as a chef and I think an office job would drive me mad so I guess it’s lucky I’m good at what I do!

And I will pass this award onto
LemonPi – Y is a fellow Sydney girl whose blog makes me both giggle and dribble, sometimes simultaneously!
Munchable Munchies – my cousin Jessica has recently started her very own blog. I like to think it was my influence at work! She wants to be a chef, and has some gorgeous photos of pavlovas. I have a zillion eggwhites in my freezer so this seems like the perfect use for them soon!
ButterSugarFlour – Linda lives in Melbourne and seems to almost read my mind sometimes. Her blog is gorgeous and her photos are stunning.
No Special Effects – Dr Mark amazes me constantly with his brilliant photographs and honest, humorous writing. The man also cooks, draws, plays the piano, is there anything he can’t do?

Chocolate Sticky Date Cakes
Adapted from Women’s Weekly Chocolate
Makes 4-6

• 1 ¾ cups dried pitted dates
• 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
• 1 cup boiling water
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 60g butter, chopped
• ¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup self-raising flour
• 100g dark chocolate, melted

Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce
• ½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 2/3 cup cream
• 50g butter
• 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted

1. Combine the dates and espresso powder in a small bowl, and pour over the boiling water. Stand for 20 minutes. Place in the bowl of a food processor with the baking soda and pulse until smooth.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Grease and line with baking paper a 6-hole texas muffin pan, or four ramekins.
3. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating in between each addition. Add half the flour and mix on low speed.
4. Add the date puree, mixing until combined, and then add the remaining dry ingredients. Fold in the melted chocolate.
5. Divide mixture among cases and bake for 15-30 minutes (depending on size) or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Stand cakes for 2 minutes and then turn onto wire rack to cool slightly. Remove paper.
6. To make the chocolate butterscotch sauce, stir ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat, without boiling until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, and then remove from the heat.
7. Serve warm cakes drizzled with sauce and whipped cream or ice cream.

Comfort Food

osso bucco

While our winter days have been quite beautiful during the last few weeks, the nights have been downright chilly! The weather forecast for the week ahead promises us nothing warmer than 2°C at night, so please excuse me while I fetch my slippers and preheat the oven. I’ll happily take refuge in the kitchen. This kind of weather makes me crave warm filling stews, homemade apple pies and cup after cup of hot tea.

Comfort food is a lovely concept, like an edible security blanket. It’s the kind of food that wraps you up, warming your body and soul. While everyone’s idea of comfort food differs, most of us have a dish or two that tickles the senses to bring back memories and make us feel happy and safe. I didn’t grow up eating Osso Bucco, in fact this is the very first time I’ve prepared it. But the feeling I got from eating it was the very same as I get from my other childhood favourites like Nanna’s pork and spinach pie or Dad’s spaghetti bolognaise. It was intensely satisfying on many levels.

In Italian, Osso Bucco translates to bone with a hole, referring to the bone marrow in the slices of veal shin. From what I read, I don’t think this version is entirely traditional, but it is definitely delicious! Braising the meat with wine, stock and tomatoes for two hours ensures tenderness – it falls right off the bone. It can also be served with a saffron spiked Risotto alla Milanese, which I would love to try next time I make it. As with most stews, the flavour improves with time, so try and save some leftovers for lunch the next day. It can also be frozen as Donna Hay suggests, and added to tomato soup or as a pie filling.

Osso Bucco
Recipe adapted from Donna Hay Magazine (Issue 40)
Serves 6

• ¼ cup olive oil
• 2 brown onions, sliced thickly
• 4 cloves garlic (or 3 large)
• 6 x 200g osso bucco (veal shin)
• ¾ cup dry red wine
• 1 cup beef stock
• 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
• 1 cup water
• 4 bay leaves
• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
• Sea salt and black pepper
• 1 x 400g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large metal baking dish over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Remove from the pan.
2. Add the remaining oil and increase the heat. Cook veal for 3-4 minutes each side until well browned. Watch out because it may stick.
3. Add the onion and garlic back to the pan and gradually add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan. Cook 1-2 minutes or until reduced by half.
4. Add stock, tomatoes, water, bay leaves, rosemary, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 1 ½ hours.
5. Carefully remove from the oven, add the beans and stir. Place back in the oven for 15-30 minutes, or until veal is tender. Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta or risotto if desired.

Silky Rich

panna cotta

I’m not even going to apologise this time, since thankfully you all seemed to understand and support my infatuation with pears when I rhapsodized about them earlier. I really did mean what I said about pear recipes following me around! I couldn’t decide whether to sigh with gleeful contentment or with exasperation when I flicked through my copy of Donna Hay’s winter issue and saw the lovely section all about pears. I’m just surprised that it has been so long since I cooked a curvaceous pear into anything – I must have been distracted by leggy rhubarb; another of my many culinary crushes.

Among the multitudes of pear recipes I have accumulated, this one in particular caught my eye because I love coffee. In fact, I’m addicted to coffee, no question about it. About two years ago, a friend dared me to go a week without caffeine. I thought it would be easy, but by the end of day three I broke down in tearful defeat. Now I also drink a lot of tea during the day, but without my morning coffee, lets just say I might not have many friends left! Though this dessert might be a powerful secret weapon to lure them back.

I love the strong sweet espresso syrup and the silky rich (and jiggly!) cream, and was surprised as to how nicely they worked with the pear. Though next time I would remove the peel. It was pleasantly sophisticated, definitely a grown up dessert. Because my mum doesn’t like coffee, I doubled the panna cotta recipe and made two without the pears and syrup. It’s a really nice base, and so easy to prepare in advance. I can imagine pairing other fruit with it or perhaps a simple strawberry, raspberry or even chocolate sauce drizzled over the top.

Pear and Espresso Panna Cotta
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
Makes 2

• 1/3 cup espresso coffee
• 1/3 cup caster sugar
• 1 small pear, cut into 2 x 2cm slices, peel and seeds removed
• 2 tablespoons milk
• 2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
• 1 cup pouring cream
• 1 cup milk, extra
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place the coffee and caster sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the pear slices and cook for 10-15 minutes or until tender and the syrup has thickened slightly
2. Place the pears on the base of 2 x 1 ¼ cup lightly greased ramekins. Pour the syrup evenly over them and allow to cool.
3. Place the gelatine and milk in a small bowl. Stir to combine and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes until the gelatine has dissolved.
4. Place the cream, extra milk, brown sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add the gelatine and whisk to combine. Set aside to cool.
5. Pour the cream mixture over the pears and syrup. Refrigerate for 4-6 hours over overnight. Invert into shallow bowls to serve.

Honey and Almond Granola

granola

You know that grand plan I had, the one where I was going to eat breakfast every day? Well it worked for a while, but I soon sunk back into my old ways. I was bored with the breakfast options on offer at home, yet had no time to make something more interesting on a normal morning, between important wardrobe decisions and catching the early train – the only one on which I manage to get a seat! When granola recipes popped up on several blogs that I love, I thought that this could be a great option for me. It could be made in advance and filled with lots of good stuff, unlike mass-manufactured cereals with lists of ingredients you can’t pronounce. It could also be adapted to include the things I like.

But it took me a while to actually get around to making it. It seems like quite a turning point, the day you decide to make your own cereal, like stepping over to the other side, and I just wasn’t ready yet! Even yesterday, when I did make granola for the first time, I was slightly hesitant. Quietly prepared to be converted and knowing that what I was doing – measuring oats and chopping almonds – could be something I do every weekend from now on. And I think I was right, judging by how excited I was about breakfast today. Simply adorned with some chopped strawberries, this granola is wonderful.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and easily it came together, and the amazing smell that wafted through the house as it baked had everyone asking what I was cooking. I adapted the recipe slightly from Molly’s, adding sultanas instead of the chocolate, using macadamia oil, and adding a little vanilla. I am already looking forward to further tinkering with the recipe. Next time I might add some cinnamon, some sunflower seeds, and some dried cherries. And I’m definitely making a double batch!

Oh, and here’s a question for those in and around Melbourne. I’m going to be visiting for eight days in early October. Last time I was there it rained every day and we didn’t get to explore very much, unfortunately. From an insider’s perspective, what should we make sure to see and do? Which markets are the best? And more importantly, where should we eat? I have a special interest in patisseries, chocolate and coffee!

granola

Honey and Almond Granola
Adapted from Orangette

• 3 cups rolled oats
• ½ cup shredded coconut
• ½ cup natural almonds, finely chopped
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• Pinch salt
• 6 tablespoons honey
• 2 tablespoons macadamia oil (or vegetable oil)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ½ cup sultanas or other dried fruit, chopped if necessary

1. Preheat oven to 150ºC (300ºF) Combine rolled oats, coconut, almonds, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
2. In a small saucepan, warm the honey, oil and vanilla, whisking occasionally until combined. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir well.
3. Spread the mixture evenly over a rimmed baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden, stirring at the halfway point to ensure granola cooks evenly. When it’s ready, remove from the oven and stir well. Cool completely.
4. Transfer to a large bowl, jar or zip-lock bag and stir in sultanas or other chopped dried fruit. Store in an air-tight container and serve with milk or yoghurt.

One Whole Year: Butternut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

butternut-cupcakes-with-cream-cheese-icing

I honestly don’t know where the time goes, it’s already mid-July and the year is absolutely flying past. I can’t believe it was one whole year ago that I sat down to write the very first post here on Spicy Icecream. Inspired by blogs like La Tartine Gourmande and Delicious Days, I decided to start my own little blog to share my cooking adventures and keep track of all the different recipes I tried. I would often snap a photo of my dinner before I started eating, so writing about it naturally seemed like the next step. And so, with nary an introduction, I launched into an essay about meat pies.

My first year of food blogging has been quite a journey, but I have enjoyed it immensely. I’ve learned so many new skills, tried cooking with new ingredients, and overcome food dislikes that I’d harboured for years, though there are a few I’m still working on. And, as expected, my collection of kitchen gadgetry and cookbooks has expanded significantly, though my waistline hasn’t, luckily! So many memorable moments in the last year have revolved around food, whether I cooked it myself or I shared it with someone else. It’s a huge part of my life, and I want to keep it that way.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that cooking is not just about eating for survival, it’s also about sharing, and I think that is one of the things I like the most. I love to sit down with my family to a meal I’ve prepared, I love to plan menus, and I love to surprise my friends with cookies or cupcakes I’ve baked. In the next year I want to have more dinner parties, try new things – cuisines, dishes, techniques, ingredients – to expand on my knowledge, skill and experience in the kitchen, and to make the time occasionally to cook purely for pleasure.

A quick word about the cupcakes… I love pumpkin. I just don’t understand how people can dislike it – yes, I’m looking at you Steve! I loved the idea of using pumpkin in a cake and I have wanted to make these since I saw Fanny’s post about them, and the episode of Jamie At Home about squash, within days of each other late last year. They are so easy to put together in a food processor! I used my favourite cream cheese icing with them and they were very nice. They sort of reminded me of a carrot cake, though I think in a blind taste off, my delicious carrot cake recipe would win.

Butternut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted from Jamie At Home by Jamie Oliver
Makes 18

• 400g butternut pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
• 350g brown sugar
• 4 eggs
• Pinch salt
• 300g plain flour
• 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
• Handful of walnuts
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 175mL extra virgin olive oil
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Icing
• 250g cream cheese, softened
• 1 cup icing sugar
• ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped (or 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line a muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Whiz the pumpkin in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the sugar and eggs. Add a pinch of salt, the flour, baking powder, walnuts, cinnamon, olive oil and vanilla extract. Whiz together until well beaten. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
3. Fill the paper cases three quarters full with the cake mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool on a wire rack.
4. To make the cream cheese icing, combine ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Smooth onto the cooled cakes.

Past Tense

chicken and leek pie

I love a good pie, with good being the key word. I like almost any kind of sweet pie, I like beef pies and pork pies, but try as I might, I never really liked chicken pies – even those I made myself. Call me picky but I always felt that something wasn’t quite right, that there was something lacking, and I was always disappointed. But as you might be able to tell from the use of past tense, things have changed.

When I was in Perth, I decided to try something a little different in my chicken pies and was very impressed with the results. I couldn’t wait to make it again for my family when I got home. The secret? Leek.

I’ve used leek in risottos and soups before, but never in a pie. I love its delicate oniony sweetness that teams perfectly with the creamy chicken filling. I chose potato, carrot and celery because that is what we had on hand at the time, but I think it would be nice with peas or mushrooms included as well.

The filling is quick and easy to make so it’s good for a weeknight meal, and is especially satisfying on a cool winter evening. This is the perfect way to use up leftover cooked chicken and the vegetables that have been kicking around in the fridge for a while. I would imagine that the cooked filling could also be frozen, so it’s ready for pie assembly whenever you are.

Chicken and Leek Pies
Serves 4

• 50g butter
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 leek, chopped
• ½ onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
• Salt & Pepper
• ½ cup white wine
• 1 carrot, chopped
• 1 stalk celery, chopped (optional)
• 1 potato, chopped into small cubes and cooked until tender
• 1 large chicken breast, cooked and shredded
• 400mL cream
• Puff pastry, store bought, thawed
• 1 egg, whisked

1. Preheat oven to 200°C (390°F)
2. Melt butter and oil in a frying pan. Add leek, onion and garlic, and stir until softened. Add parsley, and season with salt and pepper.
3. On high heat, add wine. Then add carrot, celery (if using), potato and chicken and cream. Simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
4. Cut pastry rounds to fit individual pie dishes. Spoon filling evenly into each. Cut rounds for the lids and press down to seal. Cut a small slit into the top of each pie, and brush with beaten egg.
5. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until pies are golden. Serve with mashed potato or salad.

Aroma Festival

coffee!

If it were ever doubted, it was proven today – Sydney is obsessed with coffee. In the city, there is a café (or a Starbucks) on practically every corner, so it’s no wonder that I navigate my way around based on where the coffee is.

The Aroma Festival is an annual event held in Sydney’s historic Rocks district. It has expanded in the last few years to include tea, spices and chocolate as well as coffee. What a turnout there was today! The weather was fantastic, much better than for last year’s festival when it rained… And really, what better to do on a beautiful Sunday in winter than sample coffee and tea from dozens of roasters and suppliers, as well as chocolates, cupcakes, cookies and fudge from many more.

cupcakes!

After a cup of coffee and a wander around, we found ourselves looking for something sweet. Sydney has well and truly embraced the cupcake trend, with numerous cupcake bakeries popping up over the last few years. However, most of the cupcakes I’ve tried have been kind of disappointing. No matter how cute, they are either dry on the inside or the icing is far too sweet for my liking, and I’m left with the feeling that I could have made it better myself.

Online Cupcakes had a gorgeous display, and we sampled a chocolate flavoured and an espresso flavoured cupcake. For the first time I was surprised at the quality of the product! The cake was tasty with a nice crumb, and even though the icing could have had a more of a coffee kick, it was still delicious.

cups

As far as the coffee goes, we only tried two different ones because of the crowds and my need to actually get some sleep tonight. I wanted most of all to try Toby’s Estate, but every time we walked past, the long line seemed to be getting longer! It just gives me an excuse to visit their café and ‘tea emporium’ in Chippendale – which is something I should have done long ago anyway!

I really enjoyed the Aroma Festival today, and look forward to another caffeine hit next year. The atmosphere was fun, the crowd was as diverse as they come, and you just can’t beat a good cup of coffee for only $1 on a winter’s day.

aroma festival

Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate and Caramel Frosting

cake

Some foods should come with a warning label. Not like “may contain traces of nuts” on a packet of peanuts, but useful, helpful advice like “may cause addiction” or “may induce a diabetic coma”. Making some recipes is almost like an extreme sport – a feat of skill, precision and often insanity, but for this cake, the extreme part comes with the eating.

I’ve been in Perth for the last twelve days or so – a fun trip even though I got sick for about half of it. There was however, finally, a trip to Choux Café, a gorgeous little patisserie that I’ve wanted to visit for months now. We had macarons, opera cake and an amazing caramel religieuse. We cooked at home a lot, mostly because I didn’t feel up to going out, but that was okay because I managed to perfect my chicken pie recipe, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you soon.

On my final night in Perth, we invited Steve’s ‘parental shaped people’ over for dinner, and as luck would have it, it was Bob’s birthday the next day. I decided there needed to be cake, and not just any cake, to go with the roast chicken and hasselback potatoes, made with rosemary picked fresh from the garden. Dinner was great, even if I did slice two fingers with a new, and therefore sharp (!) knife while chopping carrots. But the winner of the evening was definitely the cake.

chocolate

The sinfully rich chocolate cake is paired with a caramel and milk chocolate frosting that reminded me a little of Cadbury Caramello, which is definitely a good thing, in case you were wondering. The frosting had two and a half blocks of milk chocolate, plus some dark chocolate thrown in there for good measure. But to be fair, the frosting came from a cake recipe meant to have three layers and mine only had two, so there was a lot leftover. I’d also never made caramel before but it worked out wonderfully. Every girl needs a good classic chocolate cake in her repertoire and I really liked this one (in tiny slices). It was moist and very rich on the inside. I think it would be nicely adaptable to other kinds of frosting you might decide to try.

The cake got rave reviews, especially from Bob who took most of it home with him. I’d be surprised if it lasted a day. As for a warning label, I think this cake should have “do not eat alone” – food tastes better with the people you like anyway.

frosting

Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate and Caramel Frosting
Adapted from Epicurious
Serves 8-10

Note: You may want to halve the frosting recipe if you don’t want leftovers.

Cake
• 2 cups plain flour
• 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
• 220g butter, softened
• 1 cup brown sugar, packed
• ¾ cup sugar
• 4 large eggs, room temperature
• 50g dark chocolate, melted and cooled
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 ½ cups buttermilk

Frosting
• 650g milk chocolate, finely chopped
• 85g dark chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• ½ cup water
• 2 ¼ cups whipping cream

1. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Line two 22cm round cake pans with baking paper.
2. To make cake, sift flour, cocoa and baking soda into a small bowl. Cream butter, brown and white sugar together with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add chocolate and vanilla and beat until just combined.
3. On low speed, add flour and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture until just combined. Divide evenly between prepared cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean.
4. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack. Peel off baking paper and allow to cool completely.
5. To make frosting, combine milk and dark chocolate in a large bowl. Stir sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Boil without stirring until syrup is dark amber in colour, about 10 minutes. On low heat, carefully and slowly add the cream – the mixture will bubble up. Stir until any solids dissolve and the mixture is smooth.
6. Pour the caramel over the chocolate, stand for 1 minute then whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Chill for 2 hours until completely cooled, and then let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
7. Using an electric mixer, beat frosting until the colour resembles milk chocolate and the frosting is spreadable. Be careful not to overbeat.
8. Place one cake layer on serving platter, flat side up. Spread frosting evenly over the top. Top with the second layer, flat side up, and spread frosting over top and sides of the cake.

Expert Borrowers

baked macaroni

As much as I like to share brand new, shiny, exciting things here in my little corner of the web, I think its time today to share a family recipe that is quite special to me. It occurred to me that I haven’t done this much at all, save for my Dad’s BBQ potatoes. To be honest, I kind of forget sometimes. They seem so ‘every day’ that I wonder if they are even worthy of a post of their own. But after making one of our favourites last night for dinner, I just couldn’t help but photograph the leftovers.

It’s our take on a traditional Maltese dish Imqarrun fil- Forn or Baked Macaroni, similar to the Italian Timpano, because the Maltese were expert ‘borrowers’ of language and cuisine. Saveur magazine even printed a variation of it, with a flaky pastry lid. My family has been making it seemingly forever; I remember a story that my Grandpa told me from when he was a little boy. Instead of cooking it in their own kitchens they would take it to the local bakery, and for a small fee they could cook it in the wood-fired ovens. The article mentions it as a tradition of ‘communal baking’ going back centuries and I think it sounds just wonderful. Imagine chatting with your friends while someone else cooks your dinner! One unfortunate night while carrying the cooked dish home, my Grandpa’s brother dropped it all over the pavement!

This hearty, filling meal is so simple to put together; just cooked macaroni or rigatoni mixed with bolognaise sauce, a few eggs, some Parmesan, and, if you like, some fresh herbs, salt and pepper. It’s not the quickest weeknight dinner, granted, but it’s one of the easiest I can think of. We usually make a huge stockpot full of bolognaise sauce and freeze it in portions, which makes the assembly of this dish even easier. I haven’t given a recipe for the sauce here, so use your favourite! This is not like your typical baked pasta in that the eggs bind the mixture together to set while baking, rather than remain saucy on the inside. And those crunchy burnt bits on top? My favourite thing about it!

baked macaroni

It works equally well as an entrée or a main meal with a leafy salad and balsamic vinaigrette, and leftovers are good at room temperature for lunch or even a picnic the next day. You can also freeze it in its unbaked state. But please heed my advice about the non-stick baking paper, it makes life (and washing up) so much easier.

Baked Macaroni
Serves 8

• 2 x 500g packets macaroni or rigatoni
• 4 ½ cups pre-prepared bolognaise sauce (use your favourite home-made recipe)
• 5 – 6 large eggs
• ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
• 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
• Salt and Pepper

1. Grease and line large baking dish with non-stick baking paper. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F)
2. Cook macaroni in a large pot of salted boiling water until just before al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Stir in bolognaise sauce, eggs, Parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper and mix with a large spoon until pasta is fully coated.
3. Transfer to the baking dish, pressing mixture into all the corners. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, turning the dish around at about the 40-minute mark. Don’t worry, those crunchy burnt top bits are good! However you can cover it with foil to prevent the top from over-browning.
4. Have a wire cooling rack ready, and remove the pan from the oven. Place the cooling rack upside down on top of the macaroni and invert, being careful because it’s hot. Remove the pan and the baking paper. Place the macaroni back in the oven upside down for 15 – 20 minutes longer to crisp up the bottom.
5. To serve, cut into square pieces with a serrated knife. Serve with a green leafy salad.