Category Archives: Cakes and Biscuits

An Anzac food parcel of love

Can food speak as words of love from a mother? I certainly tried to make this happen.

PoppyAnzac Day always has special meaning to our family as we have had so many members serving here and overseas. I try not to let it pass without thinking of what it means to Australians and today as I was listening to a speaker talking about letters sent home by Australian soldiers in previous wars I started to think about the words and messages my son and I used in our emails during his two stints overseas and of how I tried to communicate my love to him.

IMG_4482_0605
I remember sitting at an early morning Anzac Day service in Los Angeles, feet in thin soled shoes getting wet from the heavy dew on the grass, pulling a pashmina tight around my shoulders as a shield against the thick early morning fog that hid the gravestones surrounding us. Even the podium a few metres in front of us had swirls of grey mist clinging to its supports. I was still, tense, with hands in my lap, staring at the speaker without listening to his words, absorbed in my effort not to think of what my son might be doing on the other side of the world in Iraq. I looked with unfocussed eyes, beyond the speaker into the grey distance where urban shapes were emerging from shadows. Gradually one shape impinged on my consciousness and it was like being hit in the chest with a fist. A Bunya Pine, that tall untidy tree planted near Australian homesteads to act as a landmark to travellers and those who were lost and now would find their way home. I sat, tears sliding quietly down my cheeks, images of my son flooding my mind, reassuring myself he would be fine. ‘He is trained for this,’ was only temporary reassurance from my husband.

‘Hope the sandpit is treating you kindly. Take care, duck and weave when you have to. Love ya.’ xx Mum

As a mother there really isn’t much you can do when your adult child is serving overseas, other than write or send the odd parcel from home. And if I was lucky I occasionally had a few snatched moments on the phone and then I would pass the information on to our huge extended family voracious for news about G. These conversations were always hit and miss, because you could never return his phone call as his numbers didn’t exist.

 ‘Hi all, I just spoke with G, he’s good, his normal self, no news really. Work is keeping him busy enough but other than that he was more interested in finding out what is going on at home than talking about his side of things…’ Susie

 So write I did, frequently, about nothing in particular, just the news of what our lives were like, about my work, people we were dining with, meals and recipes I cooked, activities with friends and family and places I visited. I tried to make them the most interesting and funny letters I had written. Every time I whinged about no contact, I would think about my Italian Grandmother writing from Proserpine to the family in Piedmont and that it might take 12 weeks from sending to receiving a letter. Italy was so far from Australia that after leaving at 21 years of age, she never saw her parents again. The only time I felt that living in Los Angeles and London was a long way from anywhere was when G told me of his postings.

‘Dear G, I woke up last night and decided that I needed to see you and K for a night before you go away to the other sandpit!!!  … Therefore I think we will come home from London for about five days….’ Love ya, xx Mum

His two sisters felt his absence as keenly as I did and wrote as often. We kept each other in the loop which later expanded to include his fiancé. Food of course was an easy topic of conversation.

‘Mumsie, Just for future reference, you might already know (I didn’t), he says bring on nice cereals and antipasto-type goodies, …, and he has a small bar fridge so he can store jars of olives etc, just don’t send cheeses or anything similarly perishable.  No other tips for care parcels, just make it edible.  Typical, he’s not happy with boring digestives cookies, nah, he wants the fancy deli goods!!’ xx G

 However, just because he wasn’t at home, didn’t mean that I wouldn’t occasionally ask him to provide brotherly guidance to a turbulent sister who had issues at work or disappointments in love.

‘Mumsie, Yeah yeah, I spoke to S the other night, usual brotherly thing, all sorted, I should probably give J a call and see how her job is going. I might do that tomorrow.  I actually got a couple of little love packages from L and S the other day.  These were absolutely great as food was starting to run low out here.  It’s not that we ever run out it’s just that you get a very limited choice, not too bad but weird flavours, ie; Ham and onion sandwiches…’  xxG

I was curious about the people he worked with (on both sides), and would raise cultural issues that I had run across when living in the United States, such as the advertisements on television shows and in the Gourmet magazines that I read but got very little information other than…

‘The Americans do take a little getting used to, we’ve got a team working with us and there definitely is a bit of a culture clash, not too bad but it’s the little things.  The radio plays ads supporting abstinence and lot’s of happy clappy god fearing stuff.  Very bizarre.’ xx G

Desperate for any news at all, I would discuss politics at home and abroad but G was always the mastermind of reticence and self-censorship with a little cynicism creeping in…

‘Yeah life over here for the ordinary person might be better if we left, and I think there will always be conflict where respect is gained through firepower.  Only now are we learning, yet again, that modern western democratic ideals cannot be overlayed onto all countries.’

And so I would go into great detail about my life of museums, art galleries, coffee with girlfriends and teaching at a Muslim girls’ school, keeping fit by swimming none of which I am sure he was particularly interested in but perhaps he was, as he did once say he had saved all our correspondence,  and he would send me details of his day ….

‘Mumsie, Well I’ve finally got here and am starting to settle in.  It’s one hell of a barren place, I don’t think the surface of the moon could look any worse than this, it’s dusty, rocky, mountainous, sandy, windy, and actually quite cold.  … There’s supposed to be a ‘coffee shop’ of some description run by the Dutch and a local store run by some international company as well as a weekly local market which everything going to plan I’ll get down there soon enough and check it out.’

We knew he didn’t want or need clothing or books but food was frequently a subject discussed in our emails as he is a terrific cook. So my sister, my daughters and I all sent food parcel after food parcel, including Anzac biscuits and the heaviest fruit-filled cakes I could carry.

‘Dear G, Here is my latest offering. If you don’t need it, use it as currency for something you do. The lady at the post office in LA couldn’t believe how heavy the fruit cake was, but her eyes widened and she smiled in delight, when she made me unwrap its many layers of brown paper and alfoil and smelt its aroma…’

‘Mumsie, One good thing though…  the food here is phenomenal, it is without a doubt the best food I have ever eaten during 11 years in the Army.  We get T-Bone steak, Eye Fillet steak, curries, fresh Naan, fresh fruit salad, good cereal etc.  That being said I’ll never turn down any home cooked goodies (or spicy stuff…).

Cooking the biscuits and cakes let me pour all my love into that food to nurture him and keep him safe. I felt I was contributing. Although after receiving that email, I did wonder if our gifts were redundant…

‘Dear G, Glad to hear the playpit is feeding you well. It sounds as if there is an opportunity for a good barista – what are your entrepreneurial skills like?  Perhaps we could dip in chocolate and send you the cockroaches that are said to be hatching in plague numbers in Queensland due to the unseasonal heat. Unseasonal, in November, unlikely.

Today, full of memories of other cakes, after the Anzac service I came home and cooked a fruit cake as a  message of love to my children. I found a recipe from my Grandmother, born in 1902, who lost a brother in France in World War 1.  Flexible as always, I fiddled with the recipe a little because fruit cakes are like that, using whatever was in my cupboard and fridge. Into a large packet of mixed fruit, I added raisins, chopped apricots, a few figs and some dates. I didn’t have sufficient hazelnuts so I made up the mixture with walnuts and almonds as well. I had plum jam so used that instead of apricot jam.

I poured my love into this cake as if it was my children, I chopped the nuts and crushed their obstacles, added spicy ginger to give warm love to their life and sweetness with home-made plum jam. And as I incorporated the flour with Granny’s old spoon, and gently blended the fruit, I was whisked back to the many times they sat around my bench, licking the bowls, stirring the alcohol into the fruit and always helping to make and eat the fruit cakes for past Christmases, christenings and birthdays.  As this cake rose it reminded me how integral baking and cooking is to binding our family together.

 

web-fruitcakeGranny Young’s fruitcake

Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Butter and dust with flour a 25 cm (10 in) round cake tin.

250g butter

1 cup brown sugar

375g dried fruit

½ cup dried figs, chopped

1½ cups prunes, chopped

1½ cups hazelnuts, skinned and chopped

3 eggs

1¼ cups self-raising flour

1 tablespoon cocoa

1¼ cups plain flour

1½ teaspoons mixed spice

3 tablespoon apricot jam

1 tablespoon instant coffee mixed with 2 tablespoons water

web-cake-ingredients1In a mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then mix in the eggs one by one. Sieve together the flours and cocoa and mixed spice. Mix together the fruit and nuts. Add the coffee to the jam, mix together and add to the fruit. Add the flours and fruit in alternate batches to the mixture. If it feels a little dry, just add a small amount of milk to moisten the mixture.

Cook for about 1¼  to 1½ hours and remove when a skewer inserted into the mixture comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin. For additional flavour, trickle a couple of spoonfuls of brandy or rum over the warm surface. (Great for when you send it to an alcohol-free base!).

 

 

 

Advertisements

Linzertorte- totally irresistible

Linzertorte

We have had a cold, blustery damp week and I was getting sugar withdrawals. I had been too busy to bake and had avoided going out to the shops so consequently I didn’t have anything sweet in the house, not a block of chocolate, no biscuits or cakes to nibble on with morning coffee. This is not normal for me as my children will verify. Their delight in coming into my study or office was to raid the drawers in which were stashed my supply of nibbles including salted nuts, chocolate and sweet and savoury biscuits. I work better when I am munching and as my weight has never varied more than a kilo or two, my diet suits me.

So when my family were coming for Sunday dinner recently I went into overdrive and cooked not only a chocolate cake but a Linzertorte as well. Talk about sugar overload: this was the ultimate in a sugar fix. The walnut and caramelized citrus cake with chocolate ganache is superb cut into small pieces to have with coffee and the jam tart: this was pure heaven.

I took pity on my nephew who is studying and sent him home with a large piece of each to get him through the next day while sitting at his desk but there has still been enough for me this week. I am thinking of hiding the last piece of Linzertorte from my husband but he knows all my hiding places. I managed to snaffle the last piece for the photo.

I will share this recipe as it is the easiest torte to make and so adaptable that you can use any type of nuts and jams you have in your pantry and it will still taste divine. I used almond meal as I had already used my walnut meal in the chocolate cake.

I didn’t have raspberry jam but had a small amount of homemade strawberry jam and topped it up with homemade blackberry jam, which was just as delicious. I blended the ingredients in my food processor makes it quicker but it is just as easy but slower made by hand. As I had a small amount of pastry left over, I have made biscuits sandwiched with jam to consume later in the week.

Timing: Pre heat oven to 180°C / 350°F when you have formed the lattice pattern over the jam.

LinzertorteIngredients

  • 160g almond meal (hazelnut or walnut works just as well.)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (an orange or lime will add a different flavour)
  • 200g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 180g butter, unsalted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs, yolks only, gently combined
  • 1 cup of jam, (traditionally raspberry, but I used strawberry and blackberry and it is just as delicious. You could use apricot jam also.)
  1. Toast the almond meal in a frying pan over a moderate heat, or in the oven, until it is lightly coloured and gives off the lovely toasty smell of roasted nuts.
  2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before using it.
  3. Blend the almond meal, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, lemon rind, flour and baking powder in a food processor.
  4. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the dry ingredients to make fine crumbs. You can do this in the processor or by hand.
  5. Add the egg yolks and blend together. You can do this gently in the blender or by hand in a bowl. It is a dry mixture and tends to want to crumble. Rest the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to one hour. On hot days, if the dough becomes too soft, just refrigerate it for a while.
  6. Lightly grease a pan that has a removable base. I use a long 34cm x 11 cm pan, but a square pan or a round 23 cm pan works just as well. Cut off about ⅔ of the dough and roll it out thinly until about 2-4 mm thick. Don’t worry if it won’t roll out just pat it into the pan and up the sides. Place the torte on an oven tray to keep it stable.
  7. Spread the jam over the pastry. I used the strawberry jam and then topped it up with the blackberry jam. Refrigerate this while you roll out the top sheet of pastry.
  8. Roll the remaining pastry out until it is also 2-4 mm thick and cut it into thin strips. Place the strips across the top of the jam in a decorative pattern. Diagonal works well to form a lattice pattern. Refrigerate to rest the dough for about 30 minutes.
  9. Place the torte into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the jam starts to bubble. Remove and cool in the pan before removing the tart. Do this before it is completely cold or it might stick to the sides because of the jam.Dust with icing sugar and serve with ice cream or crème fraîche to cut the sweetness.

 

 

Chocolate Banana Cupcakes

By mid-morning I am wilting under the influence of a heat wave in Brisbane with temperatures reaching 31°C. My coffee habit is entrenched but instead of hot coffee I make myself a Frappé Coffee using chilled brewed espresso, a small amount of low-fat milk and ice blocks. It is delicious but I still feel the need for something sweet to nibble on. There is no ice-cream in the freezer and no sweet biscuits.

I am not the only thing in my kitchen looking the worse for the heat. A solitary home-grown lady finger banana lies in the basket looking particularly unappetising with its blackened skin. The heat has probably caused it to over-ripen which is why both Andy and I have avoided eating it for breakfast. I don’t like waste and I need a chocolate fix so the only thing to do is make some chocolate and banana cupcakes. Within 30 minutes I am sitting under the fan on my deck, newspaper in one hand, Frappé Coffee on the table and I am taste testing my fresh batch of  delicious cupcakes.

I decided to make this recipe as it uses canola or light olive oil rather than butter and my husband can then justify eating them without worrying about his cholesterol levels. It is also easy because it doesn’t need a mixing machine.

fresh from the oven - chocolate and banana cupcakes

fresh from the oven – chocolate and banana cupcakes

Chocolate and Banana Cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Place small muffin paper cases into muffin tins or lightly butter the muffin trays.

1 cup castor sugar;  1cup plain cake flour;  ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder;  1 teaspoon baking powder;  pinch of salt;

1 large egg, (free range if you can get it);  ⅓ cup of banana, smashed. My small lady-finger was perfect and wasn’t too soft. You could use up to ½ cup if you prefer a stronger flavour;  ¾ cup low-fat milk (or a mixture of milk and water);  ¼ cup of canola or light olive oil; ½ – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, blend the sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder.

In another large mixing bowl, blend the egg, the smashed banana, the milk, oil and vanilla. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients and blend well. Pour the batter into the muffin cups ¾ full or to the top depending on how rounded you want the rise to be. Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. If using large muffin pans you might need to cook them for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

chocolate and banana cupcakes

chocolate and banana cupcakes

These cakes were so nice they didn’t need to be iced. The mixture makes quite a lot of little cakes, about 20. By the time I sent some over to my grandson for pre-school, given my parents some for their morning tea, Andy and I had just enough left for a couple of days. I think the oil keeps them lovely and moist, and they keep in the fridge for a few days.

Madeleines keep memories fresh

These petite cakes are a delightful way of recalling a french holiday.

These petite cakes are a delightful way of recalling a french holiday.

I needed a reminder of my time in France and decided that Madeleines with all their associated history would be just the treat to bring memories back. I also wanted to use the silicone miniature Madeleine molds I bought in Paris. The very sound of the word Madeleine brings memories of holidays in France where my husband and I would sit in a café, sipping a coffee and indulge in one of these light irresistible cakes and watch the world pass by. These buttery little cakes are so delicious and are terribly easy to make (a type of génoise gateau). Perfect for busy cooks. This mixture does not contain any rising agent. It is the shock of cold to hot that assists the rising.

The trick is to allow the batter to rest and to chill it. This is what makes it such a perfect cake. If you know you are having a girlfriend drop by either later that day or the even the following morning you can make the batter up, then place it in the fridge. When you are ready to cook them, make sure the oven is hot and then just pull the batter out of the fridge, scoop it into the molds and stick them straight into the hot oven. Voila. 10 minutes later you have beautiful freshly baked cakes to impress your family and friends. Like any small cakes, they are most delicious eaten the day they are made but if there are any left over they taste wonderful the next day, particularly dipped into a cup of coffee or tea.

Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F). If not using silicone molds, butter the Madeleine tins well with melted butter. This mixture makes 12 – 20 Madeleines depending on whether you use the miniature or traditional size molds.

52 g (1.8 oz) unsalted butter;  60g (2oz) castor sugar;  2 eggs;  1 teaspoon vanilla, (other flavourings such as orange water or rose water, grated rind of a lemon, lime or orange, cardamom etc.;  52 g (1.8 oz) plain cake flour

Melt the butter over a gentle heat and allow to cool. Put sugar and eggs in a mixing bowl and beat together until the mixture forms a thick mousse.  Add the vanilla to the mixture and blend well. Other flavourings can be used.

Fold in the sifted flour and using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix well. Fold in the melted butter and blend well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour and even overnight.

Remove from the fridge, divide batter between the molds filling them about ¾ full. The fuller the shell, the rounder the hump on the cakes will be. Cook for about 7-10 minutes until golden. Remove from the pans immediately and allow to cool on a rack. Make a cup of coffee or tea pick up a cake and sit back and enjoy.

IMG_6303