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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Apricot Almond Cake

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This is a kind of frangipane, as the cake is mostly butter, sugar, eggs and ground almonds, with a little bit of flour to stabilize the mixture. I make it every summer, using whatever stone fruit is at its best.

I was lucky enough to pick apricots from the trees of my friends the Artist and the Artisan in Mittagong in the Southern Highlands this week. The fruit was abundant, but unlike the pristine looking fruit from the supermarket, these apricots were mottled and often marked.  The taste, however, was lovely.  They were so fresh and packed full of pectin, making great jam.

The rest of the fruit not used for jam went into my Apricot Almond Cake. I placed cut fruit halves sprinkled with a little golden caster sugar on top, which sank into the mixture as it was cooking. Once the cake was cooled, I scattered apricot pieces on the cake which had been lightly poached in sugar syrup.

Delicious on its own or serve simply with a little pouring cream.

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The photos below are of the trees from which the apricots came. Also pictured is a wild (but friendly) king parrot, and the latest art work from the Artist, made with her colleague and our good friend, Gazza, all in the same marvellous garden!

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Ingredients
Quantity of fresh apricots (about a dozen) halved and stoned
150g butter
150g sugar
3 free range eggs
I teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
1 teaspoon almond essence
100g – 125g ground almonds
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons golden caster sugar

Method
Preheat oven to 170 degrees C, 160 degrees C fan forced.

Combine butter and sugar in a food processor, with vanilla extract or paste and almond essence.
Add eggs one at a time. Mix well.
Fold in ground almonds, plain flour, baking powder and salt.

Put mixture into a greased flan dish, or springform tin lined with baking paper. It’s important to line the tin as the mixture can sometimes leak.
Scatter 3/4 cut apricots cut side up over top of mixture. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of golden caster sugar in the cavity of each fruit half.

Bake for 45 minutes  – 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the cake.

Dissolve the other tablespoon of golden caster sugar in a small frying pan or saucepan with a2 tablespoons of water. Bring to the boil and add the rest of the apricot halves. Simmer gently for a 3 or 4 minutes or until the apricots have softened slightly and mos of the liquid has evaporated.

Serve the cake with the apricots on top – you can quarter or slice them if you like – and with the afore mentioned pouring cream. Delicious.

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A Tale of Two Puddings

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For Christmas lunch  2014 I couldn’t decide between a traditional Christmas pudding and the Jamie Oliver Christmas bombe, see here for his recipe. I made the latter a couple of years ago and Quirky Sister the Elder made a special request for its return this year.  As one Christmas pudding is never enough, I made both!
The hot pudding is a tropical take on the classic as it’s filled with pineapple and rum… yum. The Christmas bombe is pudding shaped and filled with panettone, ice cream and glacé fruit and alcohol, finished with a dark chocolate glaze. Both are delicious!

Pineapple Christmas Pudding

I found this recipe in a little book of pudding recipes published by the Women’s Weekly, which I have had for many years.

Ingredients
450g can of pineapple (crushed or pieces) in syrup – crushed  gives a smoother texture, pieces gives you chunks of pineapple.
250g butter, chopped
200g firmly packed brown sugar
250g sultanas
250g raisins
125g dried currants
100g glace cherries
4 eggs, lightly beaten
110g plain flour
110g self raising flour
35g stale breadcrumbs

Rum Syrup
110g sugar
125 ml rum

Method

Grease a 2 litre pudding bowl.

Drain pineapple well, reserve 125ml of pineapple syrup. Place pineapple on absorbent paper, pat dry. Combine butter and sugar in large pan; stir over medium heat without boiling, until sugar is dissolved.

To make Rum Syrup, add sugar to small saucepan, heat gently, stirring until sugar is dissolved and browned. Carefully add rum and reserved pineapple syrup. Mixture will bubble. Continue stirring until the toffee like mixture dissolves. Stir in half the Rum Syrup to butter and sugar mixture and bring to the boil, then remove from heat. Stir in all the fruit and pineapple; cool to room temperature. The rest of the Rum Syrup can be used to make a sauce for the pudding or added to cakes or muffins as a flavouring.

Place the fruit mixture in a large bowl. Stir in eggs, sifted flours and breadcrumbs. Spoon pudding mixture into greased pudding bowl.

Top with foil-lined baking paper or if you don’t have this, use baking paper plus foil. Make sure you cut a piece large enough to allow the pudding to expand when cooked – you can make a pleat in the paper which will allow this expansion. Secure with string round the top of the pudding bowl.  You can make an easy handling device by simply folding a piece of foil lengthways with 4 thicknesses and placing this under the bowl in the pot rather like a handle. Place pudding bowl in a large pot with boiling water to come halfway up the side of the bowl. Cover with a tight fitting lid; boil for 6 hours. Replenish with hot water from a kettle as needed.

When cool enough to handle, take pudding bowl out of the pot and the pudding out of the bowl. Wrap in cling wrap and store in a cool place – in summer in the fridge.

To reheat, remove the cling wrap and return the pudding to its bowl and the bowl to the pot filled with water as before. Steam for  1/2 – 1 hour as above to gently reheat.

Carefully remove the bowl from the pot and turn out the hot pudding on to a plate. Serve at the table flamed with brandy or whisky and with hard sauce or brandy butter.

Jamie’s Christmas Ice Cream Bombe

Ingredients
• 1 litre good-quality vanilla ice cream
• 1 kg panettone
• 125 ml vin santo or sweet sherry or any nice liqueur ( I used my favourite Pedro Ximinez)
• 3 tbs raspberry jam
• 50g  glacé cherries  whole
• 50g glacé fruit thinly sliced – I used glacé pineapple, apricots and pears to contrast in colour with the cherries
• 200g good-quality dark chocolate, bashed up

Method
Take the ice cream out of the freezer so it can soften a little.  Line a 2 litre pudding bowl with 3 layers of cling film. Using a serrated knife,  cut four 2cm thick rounds off of the panettone then cut them in half. You’ll have some panettone left over, so keep this for another time. Arrange six of the slices in a single layer around the bowl and push them down if they overlap.

Drizzle some of the alcohol around the panettone slices so it soaks in, then use the back of a spoon to smear the jam over the panettone. 

Add 1/2  the ice cream to the bowl and spread it around in a thick layer. Spoon in the cherries and glacé fruit, gently pushing them into the ice cream – some pieces will be submerged and some will sit on the top. Add the rest of the ice cream. Spread it out, working quickly so the ice cream doesn’t completely melt. Put the rest of the panettone slices on top of the ice cream, drizzle over some more alcohol then cover the bowl tightly with the cling film that is overhanging the bowl. Cover with a final layer of cling film. Press a plate down on top to press everything down, then freeze overnight, or longer.

Take out of the freezer, unwrap the bombe and put in the fridge for 1/2 – 1 hour before serving.  Put the bashed-up chocolate in a bowl and melt gently over a pan of simmering water on a  low heat.  Add some grated orange or mandarin zest to the chocolate. Place the bombe on a serving platter or plate.  When the chocolate is melted, pour it over the top of the bombe and serve immediately while the chocolate is still warm.

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Christmas Cake

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This is the recipe for my family’s Christmas cake. I’ve been making it for a number of years and my mother made it for many years before I started making it – it’s been in the family a very long time.

It’s a traditional English Christmas cake, with marzipan or almond icing covered with royal icing. Our version is full of glacé fruit as well as dried fruit. We don’t make the cake very far ahead and we don’t soak the fruit in the alcohol – but doing either of these things is fine if that’s what you’re used to.  The cake has always been sensational without that forward planning.

It sometimes seems incongruous to be making this most traditional of northern hemisphere cakes in the hot summer days of Christmas week in Sydney. The weather is always lovely and the sun shines as I decorate the cake with its “snowy” icing. Making the cake in summer means that the almond paste icing dries quickly and sometimes if pushed for time I can do both icings in one day. However letting the cake rest for a day before you apply the royal icing is recommended.

Over the years of making I have tweaked the basic recipe, adding in things I love. I tend to put more glacé fruit in the mix; I love ginger so it appears in both crystallized form and as a spice in my cake.  I don’t stick to whisky and brandy for alcohol – I often add Grand Marnier and I have sometimes put a couple of tablespoons of Pedro Ximinez sherry as well as whisky into the cake.

This the “mother” of the baby Christmas cakes already featured on this blog – I give the muffin sized cakes to work colleagues every year as little  Christmas gifts.

It’s a VERY big cake. I actually halve the recipe and still end up with a decent sized cake, but if you have a cast of thousands to feed, the big size is the one for you.

Helpfully to save you the calculations I am including the quantities for the halved version!

The photos are of the halved version plus I got enough out of the mixture to make a little one too.

The recipe is SO versatile  – you can make so many different sizes.

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Big Cake Ingredients


500 gms butter
500 gms brown sugar
625 gms plain flour
750 gms raisins
750 gms sultanas
250 gms glace cherries
125 gms glace peaches
125 gms glace pears
250 gms glace apricots
125 gms glace pineapple
125 gms crystallized ginger
125 gms mixed peel (optional)
12 large eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons almond essence
1 teaspoon glycerine
Juice of an orange
Finely grated peel of the orange
1/2 cup of good brandy/whisky – extra 1/2 cup of brandy/whisky to pour over the hot cake when it comes out of the oven.

Medium Cake Ingredients

250 gms butter
250 gms brown sugar
315 gms plain flour
375 gms raisins
375 gms sultanas
125 gms  glacé cherries
65 gms glacé peaches
65 gms glacé pears
125 gms glacé apricots
65 gms glacé pineapple
65 gms crystallised ginger
65 gms mixed peel (optional)
6 large free range eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond essence
1/2 tsp glycerine
Juice of half an orange
Finely grated peel of half an orange
1/4 cup of good brandy/whisky – extra 1/4 cup of brandy/whisky to pour over the hot cake when it comes out of the oven.

Method for both sizes
Grease a cake tin and line with baking paper or aluminum foil. I use a 28cm or 11″ square tin  or a 28cm or 11″ diameter round tin for the big cake. For the medium cake I use a 18cm or 7″ square tin  or a 18cm or 7″ diameter round tin. You may end up with left over mixture with this size, so you could go up a size. I like a high cake and this cake doesn’t rise so you can fill the smaller tins fairly full.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C then turn back to 135 degrees C.  The principle of cooking a rich fruitcake is to put the cake into a preheated oven and cook very slowly. This size cake does take a long time!
The original recipe says to mix by hand in a large basin. This was lots of fun when we were growing up making the family Christmas cake but now I suggest using an electric mixer.
Cream butter and sugar and beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the sifted flour lightly. Stir in spices, essences, glycerine, fruit juice and brandy/whisky, and finally stir in the fruit the larger varieties of which have previously been cut roughly. There is no need to wash the fruit. If the fruit is wet it tends to sink to the bottom of the cake.
Bake about 3 – 4 hours (big cake) 1- 2 hours (medium cake) or until the top is pale brown and a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the cake.  It’s a little hard to be more precise than this as the weather, the quality of the flour and individual ovens have a lot to do with cooking time. You can put a piece of foil over the top of the cake during the last hour of cooking if the cake browns too quickly.
When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and pierce all over with a skewer. Pour 1/2 a cup of brandy/whisky over the hot cake and wrap in a towel till cool.
Turn out of the tin onto a board or large flat plate.

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Almond Icing

Big Cake
500 gms ground almonds
750 gms icing sugar
2 egg whites
Juice of a lemon

Medium Cake
250 gms ground almonds
375 gms icing sugar
1 egg white
Juice of  1/2  lemon

Mix all the ingredients to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into sections – one large ball for the top of the cake, the rest for the sides of the cake.
Brush the cake with apricot jam which will help the almond paste to stick. Let the cake rest for a day.

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Royal Icing
 for both cakes

The original recipe says :”2 eggs whites and the juice of a lemon to every pound of icing sugar”. This doesn’t tell you how much of these ingredients you will need.

Having just made the medium cake, it took all of the above quantities, so the big cake would need more. Make up the base recipe and if it isn’t enough – make some more – use your judgement!

2 egg whites
500 gms icing sugar
Juice of a lemon

Beat eggs lightly, add icing sugar and lemon juice.
Apply to cake with a palette knife. Be generous with this icing, to create a “snowy” effect.
Leave to set for at least a couple of hours.
The cake keeps well –  up to a year – although it is at its best when eaten within 3 months.

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Christmas Rocky Road

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I love Rocky Road and I make it quite often, using different kinds of chocolate, glace fruit and nuts depending on who I’m making it for or what’s in the store cupboard.

This recipe is based on Nigella’s Christmas Rocky Road. I substituted ginger nut biscuits for amaretti biscuits and used a mixture of brazil nuts, cashews and pecans. It’s an “adult” version  – more dark chocolate than milk, ginger biscuits and no peanuts!

Ingredients
250 gms dark chocolate
150 gms milk chocolate
175 gms soft butter
4 tbls golden syrup
200 gms ginger nut biscuits
150 gms brazil nuts, cashews and pecans
150 gms red glace cherries
125 gms mini marshmallows or whole marshamllows cut in half
Edible glitter  and icing sugar to decorate

Method
Chop the chocolate into small pieces and then put into a heavy-based saucepan to melt with the butter and syrup over a gentle heat.
Put the biscuits into a freezer bag and bash them with a rolling pin to get big and little pieces. Put the mixed nuts into another freezer bag and bash them to  get different sized nut pieces.
Take the saucepan off the heat, and add the crushed biscuits and nuts, whole glacé cherries and marshmallows,  turning carefully to coat everything with the chocolate.
Tip into a foil tray 236mm x 296mm / 9¼” x 12″.  Smooth the top,  not too much as the rough look is what you want.
Refrigerate until firm enough to cut, at least 2 hours, the longer the better.  Remove the set Rocky Road from the foil tray  and cut into squares or slabs – whatever you prefer.
To decorate, sprinkle the top of the Rocky Road with edible glitter –  I used gold.  Dust with icing sugar for a snowy effect. Or you can just leave unadorned – the squares are pretty enough on their own.

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Noosa and Sunshine Beach: Beautiful South Eastern Queensland

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Tropical days and balmy nights make Noosa and nearby Sunshine Beach on the Sunshine Coast in QLD a fabulous destination for weary Sydney-siders as well as holiday makers from all parts of the globe. The weather, some great restaurants and cafes and lovely local produce, plus beaches and beautiful scenery create a perfect holiday atmosphere.

I have just returned from a few days R and R. The weather is warm all year round, and in December, really hot, but you need to like humidity – however relief is always around at the beach or in the pool. We stayed at Sunshine Beach, in an apartment overlooking the beach.

This the view just before a late afternoon tropical storm and below that, the dawn of another hot day.

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If you want more info on the destination, for Noosa click here, and for Sunshine Beach click here.

Here are a couple of restaurants I really like –  Fratellini Italian Ristorante  in Sunshine Beach and Sails in Noosa. Fratelllini’s is a funky part cafe /part restaurant in the heart of the village in Duke Street. Shady trees and lush vegetation cascade down the street. The vibe in Fratellini’s is casual with the emphasis on great pizzas and pasta. They’re open all day too.

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My favourite was the iced chocolate served with an individual milk bottle on the side. I had a lovely dessert one night – a deconstructed tiramisu with a frozen chocolate sorbet and drowned in booze!

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Sails is on the famous Hastings St in Noosa. There are heaps of restaurants and cafes here. Sails is well known and well reviewed for its fine food and also for its fabulous location right on the beach front. I had some lovely dishes – unfortunately I didn’t photograph them… it wasn’t the kind of restaurant where one does that kind of thing. I was, however, able to grab a few shots of the amazing beach front. Seafood as one would expect figures largely on the menu.

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And lastly a candid shot of some “locals” enjoying cafe life on Hastings St.

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Jamie Oliver’s Hummingbird Cake

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This has to be the best cake: it’s super easy, looks spectacular and is really, really delish!

I have been keen to make this cake from Jamie Oliver’s great new book Comfort Food. It’s a special occasion cake and the special occasion it was made for, was the (early) birthday celebration for Katrina, friend and colleague, newly wed and faithful follower of this blog.

Here is the website page: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/recipe/hummingbird-cake/

I love this book and thoroughly recommend it – if you haven’t acquired a Jamie book yet, this is a lovely one with which to start your library.

Here is the recipe “un-tweaked”as Jamie’s instructions are accurate and really easy to follow.

Jamie suggests serving “in a bluebell wood on a fallen tree”; my garden, in leafy Rozelle, with a riot of over grown spring flowers, was my setting. And there was even a humming bird…

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Ingredients

250 ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing

350 g self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon

350 g golden caster sugar

4 medium-sized very ripe bananas

1 x 425 g tin of pineapple chunks

2 large free-range eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

50 g pecans

For the icing:

400 g icing sugar

150 g unsalted butter, (at room temperature)

200 g cream cheese

2 limes

For the brittle:

100 g caster sugar

50 g pecans

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Grease and line two 23cm round cake tins. Sift the flour and cinnamon into a mixing bowl, then add the sugar and a large pinch of sea salt. Peel the bananas and mash them up with a fork in another bowl. Drain and finely chop the pineapple and add to the bananas with the oil, eggs and vanilla extract. Mix until combined, then fold into the dry mixture until smooth. Finely chop the pecans and gently fold in, then divide the batter evenly between your prepared tins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until risen, golden and the sponges spring back when touched lightly in the centre. Run a knife around the edge of the tins, then leave to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Meanwhile, to make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a free-standing electric mixer, add the butter and beat until pale and creamy. Add the cream cheese, finely grate in the zest of 1 lime and add a squeeze of juice, then beat until just smooth – it’s really important not to over-mix it. Keep in the fridge until needed. To make a brittle topping, place the caster sugar and a splash of water in a non-stick frying pan on a medium heat. Shake flat and don’t stir it, just swirl the pan occasionally until dissolved and lightly golden. Add the pecans and a pinch of salt, spoon around to coat, and when nicely golden, pour onto a sheet of oiled greaseproof paper to set (check out the how-to video below). Once cool, smash up to a dust (you’ll need about half to top the cake – save the rest for sprinkling over ice cream.

To assemble the cake, place one sponge on a cake stand and spread with half the icing. Top with the other sponge, spread over the rest of the icing, then grate over the zest of the remaining lime. Scatter over the brittle dust and decorate with a few edible flowers, such as violas, borage or herb flowers, if you feel that way inclined. With a cup of tea on the side, this will make everyone who eats it extremely happy. Serve in a bluebell wood on a fallen tree, as you do.

 

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