Utterly Gorgeous

vanilla ice cream

At the moment, I’m working on a really interesting and fun project at college. It is still in progress, and I’ve been filling a sketchbook with ideas and thumbnails for a website about vanilla. One of the things I love most about my course is the ability to explore issues that we’re passionate about and food is a definitely recurring theme throughout my portfolio. The first step of any design project is research, and for weeks I immersed myself in anything I could find related to vanilla, from encyclopedias to cookbooks, and I even purchased some Madagascan vanilla beans to sample for myself. I think I’m addicted now, I can never go back!

Vanilla is a part of the orchid family, the largest family of flowering plants in the world. Many species of orchid are epiphytes, which means they grow on other plants, using their stronger structure for support. Epiphytes are common in tropical rainforests, to which vanilla is native. In fact the plant only thrives in tropical regions close to the equator that receive adequate rainfall such as Mexico, Tahiti and Madagascar, which are now the three largest vanilla producing countries in the world.

It is the most labour intensive of all food crops, as the flowers have to be pollinated by hand. The harvested beans undergo an extensive curing and drying process that can last up to nine months, and have to be rolled away each evening to prevent theft and possible rotting due to condensation in the cooler air. Combined with factors such as the regions’ susceptibility to typhoons and the western world’s commercial reliance on pure vanilla, fluctuations in price are very common.

Today, over 95% of ‘vanilla’ products contain a synthetic flavouring derived from lignin, a by-product of paper manufacturing. Some artificial vanilla essences contain Tonka beans. They have a similar fragrance to vanilla, however are a source of the chemical Coumarin, which can be toxic and is actually banned in the United States.

In the next few weeks I hope to put my vanilla beans to good use and share some recipes, as well as more of my research and designs as the project progresses. Yesterday I made ice cream for the first time. I don’t have an ice cream maker so I used the freeze-and-mix method, which still produced incredibly smooth and utterly gorgeous ice cream. Ironically, now that summer is officially over, the weather feels more summer-like than ever. Perfect ice cream eating weather, I’d say.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
From Modern Classics 2 by Donna Hay
Makes about 1 litre

• 1 cup milk
• 2 cups single cream
• 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
• 6 egg yolks
• 2/3 cup caster sugar

1. Place the milk, cream and vanilla (including the bean) in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the mixture is hot but not boiling. Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for 15 minutes
2. Place the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until thick and pale.
3. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk mixture, and slowly pour over the egg yolk mixture. Whisk well to combine.
4. Return the mixture to the pan and stir over low heat until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Set aside to cool. A good way to do this is to fill your sink with a little cold water and a few ice cubes and place the saucepan in there.
6. Either place the custard in an ice-cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions OR place the mixture in a metal bowl or cake tin. Cover and freeze for 1 hour. Beat with an electric hand mixer and return to the freezer. Repeat three times at hourly intervals until the ice cream is thick and smooth.

Delicate Art


Recently, I’ve realised that life is like a big balancing act; between where you are and where you want to be, between what you have to do and what you want to do, between what you need and what you want etc. It’s often challenging to find this balance with conflicting factors at work. It’s quite unfortunate that life doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but then I don’t think it’s supposed to be easy. You’ve got to take the highs with the lows roller-coaster style, and that leads us right back to the beginning – the delicate art of balance.

And of course we all know the importance of balance for our bodies, it’s something I’ve been trying to work on this year. I have a terrible immune system – I get practically every bug that goes around – and I’ve been trying to strengthen it before winter comes around, by eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables that contain Vitamin C and Carotenoids (but I don’t think carrot cake counts!) Whole grains and nuts contain Vitamin E, so I’ve been making sure to eat my cereal! Foods rich in Omega-3 fats are also very good for your immune system, as is the Zinc found in meat, soy and dairy products. My mum is also interested in how different foods can help the body, so I’ve learned a lot recently about how important it is to eat a variety of good foods with different properties.


I didn’t mean for it to be such a serious post about coleslaw, but this is a prime example of the importance of balance! Too much or little of one ingredient can throw the whole salad off. It took me two attempts to get it right but I’ve found the balance I like. Of course it may be different for you, so I encourage you to try it, and taste as you go along. My favourite part was the sweetness that the apples gave, though you could also use pears or a combination. Roughly chopped walnuts or pecans could also be added to give your coleslaw a nice crunch.

After making this at home, I will never again buy the sloppy, floppy coleslaw they sell at the supermarket. Next time I’ll try making the mayonnaise from scratch, and perhaps adding different kinds of cabbage for colour. I served this with some incredible Maple-Marinated Chicken Pieces, which I will share with you hopefully in the near future.

Adapted from Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver
Serves 6 as a side dish

• ¼ cabbage, finely sliced
• 2 carrots, peeled and grated
• ¾ – 1 small red onion, finely chopped
• 2 small pink lady apples, cored, cut into thin matchsticks
• 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• ½ cup mayonnaise (good quality store-bought or home made)
• Salt and pepper

1. Combine the chopped vegetables, apples and parsley in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
2. Add the lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and stir.
3. Serve as a side with the dish of your choice.

Carrot Cake

carrot cake

This wondrous cake had quite innocuous beginnings. I found the recipe in a free magazine from Woolworths supermarket called Fresh. The magazine’s design is quite nice, it has some nice simple dinner ideas in each issue, and it has inspired a couple of new flavour combinations for me. It’s something that I pick up if I see it, but I haven’t really cooked a lot from it. I can’t help but think though, that it would be sort of fun to work on a small food-based magazine like this every month!

It was right around my dad’s birthday last year, and he asked me to make a carrot cake. This was the first recipe I found so I decided to run with it, even though on closer inspection I realised that the instruction to actually add the specified grated carrot to the carrot cake mixture was thoughtlessly omitted! I was certainly not expecting magic, but this little beauty took us all by surprise, and dad exclaimed that this is the best cake he’s ever had – quite the compliment! It was wonderfully moist with subtle but intriguing spices. It was also the first time I’d ever tried cream cheese icing which is now one of my absolute favourites.

In the months since then, I’ve made this cake a few times, steadily making improvements with each attempt. This time I was inspired by an abundance of carrots in the fridge, but really, who needs an excuse!

I think I’ve really nailed it this time, and now I’m glad I didn’t rush to share the recipe with you all last September when I made it for Fathers’ Day. I reduced the 1 cup of oil to ¾ cup then added an extra carrot and a teaspoon of vanilla. I also like to double the quantity of cream cheese icing and turn it into a layer cake. It would also be nice with some finely chopped walnuts or cashews, either in the cake or sprinkled with some cinnamon between the layers.

Carrot Cake
Adapted from Fresh Magazine, June 2007
Serves 8-10

• 3 medium sized carrots, peeled and grated
• ¾ cup olive oil
• 1 cup caster sugar
• 3 eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 ½ cups self-raising flour
• ½ teaspoon bicarbonate soda
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon ground cloves

Cream Cheese Icing

Note: It’s a good idea to double this mixture if making a layer cake. You’ll have a little leftover, which is nice on toast!

• 250g cream cheese
• 1 cup icing sugar
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line a 20cm round springform baking tin with baking paper.
2. Beat oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla together in an electric mixer until pale and creamy. Sift flour, bicarb soda and spices over the mixture and mix slowly to combine.
3. Fold in grated carrot with a wooden spoon or spatula
4. Spoon into prepared tin. Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Stand for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely before icing.
5. To make cream cheese icing, combine ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth.
6. Using a serrated knife, cut the cake in half horizontally. Spread icing in the middle, over the top and sides of the cake. I also sprinkled a little bit of ground cinnamon between the layers of cake.

Something Special

lemon tart

My dad tells a funny story from when I was young. I was sitting in my high chair while they were eating fish and chips for dinner, I stretched out my arm and grabbed a wedge of lemon from the table and proceeded to put it in my mouth, as two-year-olds are wont to do. Imagine my surprise! I screwed up my face and put the lemon down. A few minutes later I decided to give it a second chance, I’m forgiving like that. Another bite, another sour shock, another funny face pulled, but oh no, I hadn’t learnt my lesson quite yet. Can you believe I tried it a third time? It must run in the family, I have an Uncle who will eat a lemon skin and all!

Nowadays I am a real lemon tart girl, second to only one other lovely lady (and she knows who she is!) What does this mean for all the other desserts on the menu? If there’s a lemon meringue pie or a lemon tart, anything chocolate is left for dead, I know what I want without a second thought. I’ve had some good lemon tarts and some bad lemon tarts, but this one? Oh, this one is something special indeed.

Dorie Greenspan calls it The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart, and Fanny too had praised the lemon cream recipe by Pierre Hermé. I think the name is completely justified, it was definitely the best lemon tarts I’ve ever eaten. This was also a chance to try a new method of making sweet tart dough (pâte sablée) and it was fantastic. Dorie’s method of freezing the dough means that you do not have to use baking weights. It is a fairly time consuming recipe, but the end result is absolutely worth the effort. Or if you want to do the preparation in advance, the lemon cream and the unbaked tart crust can be frozen for up to 2 months

On a slightly unrelated note, until recently we had a ‘lemonade’ tree in our backyard. I never knew much about it, except that the fruit it produced was much sweeter than normal lemons. It turns out that it is a hybrid between lemon and Meyer lemon trees. The fruit was round and bright, and I used to eat them like oranges. Unfortunately I never got to cook with them! This saddens me, because they would have been absolutely wonderful in tarts, cakes and cookies. Has anyone else heard of them, or better yet, tried them?

Lemon Tart
Recipe from Baking: From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Serves 8-10

Note: For this recipe you will need a candy thermometer and a blender or food processor.

For the crust
• 1 ½ cups plain flour
• ½ cup icing sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 125g unsalted butter, very cold, cut into pieces
• 1 egg yolk, lightly whisked

For the lemon cream
• 1 cup sugar
• Grated zest of 3 lemons
• 4 eggs
• ¾ cup lemon juice
• 300g unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

1. To make the crust, put the flour, icing sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is coarse. Add the egg yolk a little at a time, pulsing after each addition and then processing in 10-second pulses once the whole egg has been added until the dough forms clumps.
2. Turn the dough onto a flat work surface and lightly knead the dough until all dry ingredients are just incorporated.
3. Butter a 22cm (9 inch) fluted removable-bottom tart pan. Press the dough into the pan evenly. Freeze for about an hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminium foil and fit it tightly against the crust. Bake for 25 minutes.
5. Carefully remove the foil, and press the dough down gently if it has puffed using the back of a spoon. Return it to the oven for another 8 minutes, or until it is beautifully golden brown.
6. Before you start the lemon cream, have a candy thermometer, a strainer and a blender at hand. Simmer a little water in a saucepan.
7. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a large heatproof bowl. Off the heat, rub the mixture together with your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs and then the lemon juice.
8. Set the bowl over the pan of water and whisk continuously until it reaches 80°C (180°F). As it gets close to temperature it will start to thicken. This can take up to 10 minutes, so be patient!
9. Remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the blender. Discard any solids. Let the cream stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes, or until it cools to 60°C (140°F)
10. Turn the blender on high, and add the butter a few pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides to incorporate the butter. Keep the machine on for 3-5 minutes once the butter is in to ensure a perfect lemon cream
11. Pour into an air-tight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (it will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days). When you are ready to assemble the tart, whisk the cream and spoon it into the tart shell.

So Patient

lamb burger

I’ve been patient, so patient. You see, it was right at the tail end of last year’s fig season that I discovered I liked them. I had an amazing caramel fig gelato that made me completely forget why I avoided them for so long in the first place. Waiting for fruit to grow has got to be even more boring than watching paint dry! And then to rub salt in the wounds, there were events like Sugar High Friday that occurred when there were no figs in sight for months around here! (though I must say, all of those submissions looked amazing, and I was particularly upset that I wasn’t able to participate)

I’ve spoken a little about my Nanna before, but I didn’t mention her garden. My grandparents originally came from Malta, which is a tiny island in the Mediterranean, just south of Sicily. When they migrated to Australian in the 1970s with their six children, they brought with them their knowledge and love of Mediterranean food.

My grandfather planted fruit trees in his garden – oranges, blood oranges, lemons, pomegranates, bananas, prickly pears and figs. He planted parsley and mint, and all manner of lovely flowers. I think he even grew tomatoes and grapes at one point! I have fond memories of climbing ladders to pick oranges and lemons to make fresh juice for lunchtime. He has now passed on, but his garden is still flourishing, and my nanna often has more fruit than she knows what to do with! When she offered me some figs, I greedily accepted.

I ate many of them raw, sometimes with ice cream and honey. I looked at many recipes and saw that figs were often paired with walnuts, which inspired these lamb burgers. I was so impressed with how these turned out, the flavours played nicely against each other. I especially liked the slight crunch that the walnuts gave. My dad and sister who aren’t too keen on figs loved them, but I thought they were even better a day later after a sleep in the fridge, which makes me imagine that they’d be good ‘make in advance’ picnic food. The good thing about these burgers is that they can be served with green beans and creamy garlic mashed potato for dinner, or on Turkish bread with salad for lunch. I would have loved to add slices of fig to my burger but I’d eaten them all by then!

Lamb Burgers with Walnuts and Figs
Makes about 10-12 patties

• 600g lamb mince
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
• 4-5 figs, stalks removed, finely diced
• ¼ cup walnuts, finely chopped
• Sea salt and cracked black pepper
• 3 eggs
• Olive oil

1. Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a large bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon (or your hands, if you’re keen) until well combined. The mixture should hold together pretty well and not be sloppy.
2. Shape mixture into patties, approximately 10cm in diameter and quite thin because they shrink while cooking
3. Heat olive oil in a frying pan. Cook 2-3 patties at a time until well browned and cooked through. Allow to drain on paper towels. Serve as desired.

Cooking Outside

BBQ potatoes

Sometimes I wonder if there is anything my dad Alan can’t do. He can fix cars and computers, he can do woodwork and metalwork, he knows just about everything there is to know about nuts and bolts, he has a keen eye for antique furniture, he’s currently doing just about all the work on our new house extension – from planning to plumbing. Oh, and did I mention that he can also cook? He’s even owned a restaurant!

I’ve learnt a lot from my dad. I remember afternoons spent in the garage while he worked on one project or other. I’d keep busy by hammering nails into a piece of wood and then prying them out. Dad has been there to rescue several dinners I have cooked that didn’t quite turn out as planned. He’s taught me the value of preparation and time management when cooking.

One memory that sticks in my mind now is cooking a barbeque with him last year. Each equipped with a pair of tongs and a beer, we chatted while we cooked, and he taught me how to cook a good steak. I love the good old Australian tradition of barbequing. It is perfect for summer because cooking outside keeps the heat out of the house. With the last days of summer stretched out before us, I thought I would share my dad’s way of making amazing barbequed potatoes. He’s been preparing them this way since before I can remember, though I’m sure they would also be nice in thick slices instead of quartered wedges.

What follows is not a recipe as much as a procedure with suggestions. These are the ingredients we use, but I have never measured quantities, it’s all to taste. I would recommend allowing one and a half large potatoes for each person, roughly 6 pieces. The microwave step is important to pre-cook the potatoes before browning them up on the barbeque, but don’t overcook them because they’ll fall apart during cooking. Any leftovers are also great cold.

Dad’s BBQ Potatoes
Serves 4

• 6 large potatoes, skin on and washed, cut into quarters.
• Salt and pepper
• Cinnamon, Paprika or Cumin
• Fresh chives or parsley, chopped
• Olive oil

1. Place potatoes in a freezer bag or covered container. Microwave on high for about 6-8 minutes, until just tender.
2. Put potatoes into a large bowl with salt, pepper, cinnamon, fresh herbs and olive oil. Swish the bowl around so potatoes are evenly coated.
3. Heat the barbeque plate. When hot, add a little olive oil and spread to evenly coat the plate. Add the potatoes. Cook, turning over occasionally. Remember that barbeques have hotspots, so you might find they cook quicker in certain areas.
4. When they are well browned, move them over to the slatted grill part of the barbeque to finish them off. You can put them in a low oven to keep warm while you cook the rest of your barbeque.

Other Directions

spaghetti with pork meatballs

I have a small confession to make. I am virtually incapable of following a recipe. Whether I make small changes or big changes, what I produce is never quite what the author intended, for better or for worse (oh I’ve learned my lesson quite a few times). I’m not quite sure why this is, I don’t mean to do it and I’m not what you’d call rebellious by nature. Perhaps the years of graphic design training have taught me to look outside the box, to try and make things different and interesting, and to try to inject my personality and style into everything I do.

Yes, that sounds good, lets stick with that.

When I saw the recipe for pappardelle with a ragu of tiny meatballs in Jamie Oliver’s book Cook With Jamie I was enthralled. I kept the cookbook by my side for days, randomly flicking open to page 92 to admire the photograph yet again. But inevitably, my mind started ticking and I considered other directions in which to take this seemingly wondrous recipe. In the end, my interpretation was hardly recognizable as the original, no offence to Jamie. But he seems like a cool guy, so I doubt he’d mind.

I used pork mince rather than beef for the meatballs. I was a little unsure of how this would work out in the end but I was more than happy with the result. They would also do well on their own with a dipping sauce at a cocktail party. The tomato sauce was rich and garlicky with a hint of red wine, just the way I like it. I only wish I had found some nice basil, because that would have been perfect. My poor little plant died after I ripped all the leaves off for pesto a few months ago!

Unfortunately, Jamie’s photo was much better than mine. It was kind of awkward to be taking photos of my dinner when we had guests. But don’t let that put you off, because everyone agreed that it was delicious.

Spaghetti and Pork Meatballs
Inspired by Jamie Oliver
Serves 6

Meatballs (Makes about 75)
• 750g pork mince
• 2 eggs
• 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
• 2 – 3 teaspoons Parmesan cheese, finely grated
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• Salt and pepper

• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
• 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
• 3 x 400g cans diced tomatoes
• ½ cup red wine
• 3 tablespoons tomato paste
• 50g butter
• Chilli powder, to taste
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• Parmesan cheese, to serve

1. Combine the meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon, or your hands until thoroughly combined. Form meatballs using a teaspoon or small ice cream scoop. Try to keep them uniform in size and shape.
2. Deep fry or shallow fry in batches of 15 – 20 until golden brown and slightly crispy. Drain on paper towels. Set aside. The meatballs can be made a day in advance and stored in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before adding them to the sauce.
3. To make the sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan or large frying pan. Add the garlic and sauté. Turn the heat right down, and add the parsley, tomatoes, red wine, tomato paste and butter. Stir slowly to combine ingredients. Add chilli, salt and pepper to taste.
4. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add meatballs. Continue to simmer for a further 30 – 40 minutes.
5. Serve over spaghetti or other long pasta, with Parmesan cheese and crusty bread.

Coconut Bread

coconut bread

It’s been over a week now, and I’ve managed to eat breakfast every day. I’ve even enjoyed it! Whether it’s a bowl of cereal with yoghurt (I have a strange aversion to milk on cereal, is that weird?), my favourite crusty Italian bread toasted, or even just a delicious juicy peach from the fruit bowl, its nice to establish a routine in the morning, and breakfast is a good one for all the right reasons.

The weather has been pretty dismal, last week especially. It hardly feels like February at all. When it’s pouring rain outside, there’s nothing I like better than baking. I made this coconut bread one evening when the oven was still warm from dinner. It comes together quickly with minimal washing up (no need to bring out the mixer), and cooks in about an hour while you watch TV. It was perfect, because the next morning was drizzly and dark and I stayed in bed quite a lot longer than I should have.

Which brings me to my point – sometimes, breakfast needs to be portable. Whether eaten on the run or saved until you have a second to sit down, this coconut bread will be the highlight of your morning. I’m inclined to take Bill Granger’s advice and “keep slices in the freezer for workdays when you’d rather be in the Caribbean.”

I made this coconut bread once before, but thought a few minor modifications could make it better. This time I used shredded coconut, with a little less cinnamon. I swapped ½ cup of plain flour for wholemeal, but feel free to use the whole 2 ½ cups of plain flour if you’d like. The addition of coconut essence was also used to enhance the flavour. Next time I might use coconut milk in place of milk. A mashed ripe banana, some lime zest, chopped dried cherries or grated chocolate would also go very nicely in there, and I’m looking forward to trying other variations on this great breakfast recipe soon.

Coconut Bread
Adapted from Sydney Food by Bill Granger
Makes 8-10 thick slices

• 2 eggs
• 300mL milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon coconut essence
• 2 cups plain flour
• ½ cup plain wholemeal flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 cup caster sugar
• 2/3 cup shredded coconut
• 75g unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (375°F) and line a 21x10cm loaf pan with baking paper.
2. Lightly whisk eggs, milk, vanilla extract and coconut essence together in a small bowl.
3. Sift flours, baking powder and cinnamon into a bowl. Add sugar and coconut and stir to combine
4. Make a well in the center and gradually stir in the egg mixture until just combined. Add melted butter and stir until the mixture is just smooth, being careful not to overmix.
5. Pour into prepared load pan and bake for 1 hour, or until bread is cooked when tested with a skewer
6. Leave in the pan to cool for 5 minutes, and remove to cool further on a wire rack. Serve in thick slices, lightly toasted

Chocolate Whisky Cake

chocolate whisky cake

Since I started this blog last July I have been looking more keenly at cookbooks. No big surprise there I suppose, but these days I’m not just looking for mouth-watering recipes and photographs, I’m interested in the stories behind them. I’ve learned from others and experienced firsthand how food can invigorate all of your senses, bring people together and stir long-forgotten memories. Some of the most thoughtful things people have ever done for me have included food, and I’m always first to put my hand up to make birthday cakes for friends or family. It makes me kind of happy that food in all its forms plays such a big part in my life these days.

Given the choice between two recipes for the same thing, one with a memorable bittersweet story, and one with only a pretty picture, which would you choose? Give me the story every time. This cake you’re thinking about making has touched, and even changed someone’s life. This someone is Dorie Greenspan, and it’s the cake that got her fired. “Creative Insubordination” was the reason her employer gave for her dismissal, when she switched Armagnac-infused prunes for the much-loved whisky-soaked raisins in this restaurant’s famous chocolate cake.

The thought of a chocolate whisky cake has intrigued me since I saw it in an issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine. It seemed like fate that I found Dorie’s book Baking: From My Home To Yours only a few days before my Nanna’s birthday, when I was looking for an intensely chocolatey cake spiked with whisky – the plump juicy raisins were a heavenly bonus. Let me tell you – and I don’t say this lightly – this is my new favourite cake without a doubt, and it garnered similar reviews from all of the samplers. In some cases, two slices were needed for confirmation. After all, it’s a big thing to commit to a favourite, especially where cake is concerned.

Chocolate Whisky Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours
Serves 8-10

• ¼ cup raisins or sultanas
• ¼ cup whisky, I used Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch
• 2/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
• ¼ cup plain flour
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 200g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
• 125g unsalted butter, chopped
• 3 large eggs, separated
• 2/3 cup sugar

Chocolate Glaze
• 85g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
• 3 tablespoons icing sugar
• 75g unsalted butter, slightly softened

1. The night before you intend to start this cake, place the raisins and whisky in a jar. Seal and shake a few times. Leave to soak for at least 3 hours, or up to 1 day. I left mine for about 15 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and line a 20cm round cake pan with non-stick baking paper.
3. Whisk together the walnuts, flour and salt in a small bowl
4. Combine the chocolate and butter with 3 tablespoons of water in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate and butter are melted.
5. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale, then stir in the chocolate mixture, the walnut mixture and the raisins plus any liquid left in the jar.
6. With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until firm and glossy. Gently fold into the chocolate mixture using a large metal spoon.
7. Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan, bake for about 30 minutes. When it’s ready, a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out streaky – not wet but not dry.
8. Transfer cake to a rack and let it cool for about 10 minutes, before removing from the pan and letting cool completely.
9. To make the glaze, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat, then add the icing sugar, and the butter, a bit at a time, stirring until you have a smooth glaze. Now you can either pour the glaze over the cake straight away for a smooth finish and refrigerate for 20 minutes, or allow the glaze cool to room temperature for a more spreadable, swirl-able frosting.
10. This cake tastes fantastic at room temperature, but is also good straight from the fridge. It can be served with whipped cream or ice cream.


home made crumpets

A typical morning for me involves sleepwalking to the kitchen to make coffee, agonizing over what to wear and then having to practically run to the train station. I don’t have much of an appetite in the morning, so often I’ll leave without eating breakfast. I know what they say about breakfast, and I always feel somewhat guilty when I run out for coffee and a muffin on my morning break. With college about to resume for my third and final year of Graphic Design, I thought I’d try and implement some better habits. For the month of February, I’m going to eat breakfast every single day.

I think its safe to say that Bill Granger is the King of breakfast in Sydney – the man built his empire on scrambled eggs! His three restaurants are world-famous, beloved by locals and tourists alike. I haven’t eaten there yet, but the next time I stay overnight in the city, bills will be my first stop for breakfast. His first cookbook Sydney Food tries to capture Sydney’s eclectic attitude to food, and has a great list of produce suppliers. It also has a great chapter all about breakfast.

After the adventures we had this morning in the kitchen, I’m not sure why I was drawn to the crumpets featured in the book. Maybe it was Bill’s claim that home made crumpets had to be tried at least once to compare to their store-bought counterparts, but hours later I’m not so sure. I don’t mind putting in a lot of time and effort for worthy results, but this morning I was disappointed.

I think their success has a lot to do with cooking technique – very, very slowly. In my impatience (and hunger) I was flipping them over too early. My sister Beth was more patient, giving them time to bubble up and dome gorgeously, but when they were flipped over, they too went flat. It was a learning experience for us both, and if we were to ever try this again, we’ve got some tricks up our sleeve.

The winner of the morning however was the maple and walnut butter that I made to serve them with. It had a nutty sweetness that worked well with the crumpets, but would possibly be even better on waffles or pancakes. Of course additions such as chopped dark chocolate, or other kinds of chopped nuts would be wonderful too.

Adapted from Sydney Food by Bill Granger
Makes about 14

• 1 ½ cups milk, slightly warmed
• 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
• 7g sachet dried yeast
• 1 ½ cups plain flour
• pinch of salt
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
• 200 mL water
• Butter, for greasing pan and metal rings

Maple Walnut Butter
• 50g butter, softened
• 2 tablespoons maple syrup
• 1 – 2 tablespoons walnuts, very finely chopped

1. In a bowl, combine the warm milk, sugar and yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes, until the milk starts to bubble, indicating that the yeast is active
2. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the milk to the flour and beat with electric beaters until completely smooth. Start on the lowest speed because the mixture is likely to splatter.
3. Cover with plastic wrap and stand in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until doubled in volume and full of air bubbles.
4. Mix the bicarbonate of soda with 200mL water, and use electric beaters to combine with the batter.
5. Heat a flat-bottomed non-stick frypan over low heat. Use your finger to grease the inside of a metal ring with butter. Melt a little butter in the bottom of the pan.
6. Spoon mixture into the metal ring, leaving 3-5mm gap from the top. Cook until large bubbles form and burst all over and a skin has formed around the top. It should start to shrink away from the metal ring.
7. Remove the metal ring carefully. Keep a bowl of cold water handy to rinse the hot metal rings.
8. Don’t be in a rush to flip it over, the bottom should be well browned and crispy, and the top should have no liquidy batter remaining.
9. Flip carefully and cook until brown. Serve immediately with maple walnut butter, because they deflate quickly.
10. To make the maple walnut butter, combine butter and maple syrup in a bowl. Use electric beaters to mix until smooth and creamy, then fold in chopped walnuts.