With spring very much in the air in September in Sydney, the produce that is available in fruit and vegetables is amazing. We are seeing in particular lots of early summer berries, and at great prices too. The markets are full of big juicy strawberries and punnets of oversized blueberries, with both kinds of berries going for a song. So delicious, so tempting!
September is the also the season for blood oranges, and I have been buying these to cook with, or just to eat, as I love their ruby red fresh and intensely sweet juice.
With so much lovely produce on hand, I have been jam making madly! My current favourite jam I call “Ruby Sunrise”. It’s a marmalade made from blood orange, ruby grapefruit and mandarin. It’s got a great colour and that blood orange tang. Recipe to be posted soon!
These little tea cakes were just an excuse to use my Ruby Sunrise marmalade and to make a rich sticky blueberry compote, to adorn those little cakes.
The tea cakes are made from my go-to easy cake recipe featured in the last post – Yoghurt Cakes with Middle Eastern Flavours. This is such a great recipe as its easy to make in the food processor, the cakes turn out really well and they are light and moist.
I halved the quantities from the original recipe this time. I got 5 good sized tea cakes baked in my popover moulds. I could have got 6, if I’d gone a little smaller. If you used ordinary muffin moulds, I think you could get 6-8 little cakes from the mixture. Or you can use the original recipe quantities if you are cake making for a crowd.
Ingredients 125mls canola or vegetable oil 165g caster sugar 1 free-range eggs 140g Greek yoghurt 150g self-raising flour 1 teaspoon orange blossom water (or vanilla extract or almond essence if you prefer) 1 quantity blueberry compote 2 tablespoons any good marmalade
Method Preheat oven to 170 degrees C fan forced. Grease and flour whatever moulds you are using – popover or conventional muffin tin.
Place the oil, caster sugar and egg in the bowl of a food processor. Process until well combined. Pulse in the yoghurt, followed by the flour. Stir in the orange blossom water to the mixture.
Pour the mixture into the popover or muffin moulds.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If you’re cooking in muffin moulds, you might like to check after 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven, and cool for 10 minutes then turn out the cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Spoon over some blueberry compote and some marmalade onto each cake while they are still warm. The quantities are up to you, but a good teaspoonful over each little tea cake seemed about right to me.
To make the blueberry compote: Place a punnet of blueberries (125g) in saucepan with 3 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. Stir gently till the sugar dissolves. Simmer for a few minutes only until the some of the blueberries have broken down, the compote is slightly reduced and is thick and syrupy.
Serve the little tea cakes more Greek yoghurt, or cream, with a spoonful more of the compote or marmalade if desired.
This recipe has become my go-to recipe for an easy, full proof flavoursome cake. I make it as one cake or lots of little ones, in different tins and moulds. As someone who has problems with cakes sticking to tins, I’m very impressed that the cakes turn out every time!
The recipe comes originally from the taste website. I have tweaked and made variations many times. The link to the original recipe is here.
I posted the rosewater version a while back. I have also made an orange blossom cake using the same basic recipe. Here is the recipe for both versions.
I really suggest that you try your own variations using different flavours, such as coffee or mocha, or folding in a handful of fresh berries such as blueberries or raspberries. It’s such a great recipe, it’s worth trying the possibilities!
Ingredients 250ml canola or vegetable oil 330g caster sugar 2 free-range eggs 280g Greek yoghurt 300g self-raising flour, sifted 150g icing sugar, sifted For the Rosewater Cake: 2 tablespoons rosewater and 1-2 drops pink food colouring For the Orange Blossom Cake: 1 tablespoon orange blossom water, 1-2 drops yellow food colouring and the juice of half an orange
Method Preheat oven to 170 degrees C fan forced. Grease and flour a large Bundt mould or a 22cm cake tin.
Place the oil, caster sugar and eggs in the bowl of a food processor. Process until well combined. Pulse in the yoghurt, followed by the flour. Stir in half the rosewater for the rosewater cake. Stir in all the orange blossom water for the orange blossom cake.
Pour the mixture into the bundt mould or the regular cake tin.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Just make sure you keep checking with a skewer for “doneness” after 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven, and cool for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
For icing the rosewater cake: place the icing sugar in a bowl with remaining rosewater and pink food colouring. Gradually stir in enough warm water to make a smooth icing, slightly runny.
For icing the orange blossom cake, place the icing sugar in a bowl with the yellow food colouring and enough of the orange juice to make a smooth icing, slightly runny.
Drizzle the icing over the cake, letting the icing drop down the sides. Decorate with edible flowers, crystallised rose petals and candied orange.
I love picking up local cookery books from places I’ve visited, the more esoteric the better. Visiting Shetland, I was keen to explore the food of the islands and to collect some recipes. I loved my exploration through eating! I had some wonderful food, particularly some excellent baking.
In Shetland I bought a facsimile edition of Cookery for Northern Wives by Margaret B Stout, a book published in 1925, “containing practical recipes for old-time and modern dishes, all suited to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.” Margaret Stout was a Shetlander who wanted to encourage young northern wives to cook simple dishes and also to record traditional Shetland recipes.
This is a recipe for Yeast Buns. They are basically fruit buns. I decided to give the recipe a go! The result was a rather soft style bun, almost like brioche. I expected it to be a bit like a hot cross bun, but it was much softer, more cake like, than a hot cross bun.
I did some tweaking to the original recipe. First, I substituted dry yeast for fresh yeast for the sponge. I also added sourdough starter for extra flavour as I always have plenty on hand from making sourdough bread. This changed the amount of flour I used in the sponge. I have included flour amounts for both using sourdough starter and without using it.
I cut down on the flour in the main mixture, as my baking sensibility suggested that 560g was a bit too much. I added more dried fruit than in the original, and substituted some candied clementine for the candied peel, as that is what I had on hand.
I converted the imperial measurements to metric, rounding up or down as necessary.
The bottom photos are of the original recipe from Margaret Stout’s book.
Sponge 113g strong flour 10g yeast 1 teaspoon caster sugar 113g sourdough starter (or 226g strong flour all up if not using the starter) 400 mls lukewarm milk
For icing: 1 cup icing sugar and enough orange juice to make icing of dripping consistency.
Here is the method, adapted from the rather scant instructions given by a Margaret Stout.
For the sponge, sieve the flour into a large bowl, then add the yeast and sugar and mix in the sourdough starter if using. Gradually add the lukewarm milk, stirring to make a smooth batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel, or my favourite, a disposable plastic shower cap. Leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.
Prepare the rest of the mixture. Rub the butter into the flour. Add the sultanas, raisins, caster sugar and candied peel or clementine to the butter flour mixture. Beat this mixture into the sponge, once it has risen, and mix in the beaten eggs. Mix well, for about 5 minutes.
Cover the mixture in the bowl with plastic wrap/tea towel/plastic shower cap and leave to rise again for 1 ½ hours.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C fan forced.
Form the dough into small balls, place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover the tray loosely with a tea towel and prove for 10 to 15 minutes in a warm place.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the buns are a deep brown colour.
Once out of the oven, while warm, brush the tops of the buns with a tablespoon of sugar mixed with a tablespoon of milk.
These buns are delicious eaten as is while warm! You can also eat with lots of butter and jam.
If you think the buns need zhushing, you could drizzle a little icing over the tops, made by mixing icing sugar with enough orange juice to produce a soft icing. I used blood orange juice as they are in season now in Sydney.
These buns keep well as they are enriched with milk, butter and eggs. They are really soft, and they remain soft even after a few days.
I’m so pleased I made them! It wasn’t difficult to adapt the recipe. The results were delicious.
To travel is to broaden the mind, as people say. New vistas, new cultures and new ideas enrich and even change our perspectives.
What this Antipodean writer did not expect when I travelled to Shetland was to be so captivated by the beauty of the wild islands, as well as its history so well preserved, and its fascinating culture, in particular the food and the cooking of the islands. I was under a spell, utterly smitten.
Shetland is a group of islands, north of mainland UK, and surprisingly close to Norway. Described aptly by the official Shetland website, “where Scotland meets Scandinavia and the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.” I can attest to the latter, as I actually crossed from sea to ocean, walking the distance of a whole 80 metres!
In life, I am very much influenced by place, the physical environment, the light, the sky and even the weather. I instantly feel a connection, or not, as the case may be, to a place. I feel the place too, in the mood, the atmosphere, a sense of what has happened in a place, its emotional gauge.
So what I experienced in Shetland is coloured by these kinds of reactions to places that made some very strong impressions on me. I am writing here a little about those places I saw and experiences I had there, to give the reader an idea of the power of Shetland to capture one’s spirit and imagination.
I was gobsmacked by the views. The coastline is stunning, beautiful and largely free of the impact of humans, unending vistas where sheep rule. Wild, but not rugged, to my mind. The absence of trees on the landscape, the verdant slopes, close cropped green pastures, soften the view. The vast expanse of sky and the sheer cliffs, all buffeted by bracing winds, make the landscape wild but not forbidding.
I’m no great walker, but I was able to have the experience of walking this beautiful coastline. The Kettla Ness headland, in West Burra, on the island of Mainland, provided spectacular high views of an extensive and gentle coastline, and gave me the sense of the vastness of sky and ocean.
I loved the island of Mousa. The visit to the island was a memorable day, everything about it was special, from the ferry trip to the walk to encountering my first Iron Age broch.
I was able to walk around a part of this island, where the principal inhabitants are birds, and the Broch of Mousa is a testament to its Iron Age history. Indeed, this Broch is the most well preserved and significant Iron Age broch in Britain. Walkers are delivered by ferry to Mousa, the only humans on the island. Eating an egg sandwich for lunch at the base of the historic Broch was a curious and slightly comforting experience. A very human activity, creating a connection across two thousand years with those people who had ate, slept and lived in that very place.
To the north west in Mainland is Eshaness, rugged and wildly beautiful cliff tops. Sea and wind have carved and shaped the cliffs into fantastic shapes. A circular walk from the lighthouse really made me aware that the sheep of Shetland dominate landscape and agriculture. I loved the walk, where you cross many fences and stone walls with stiles, the startling coastline to the west, untouched by human hand, and undulating pastures to the east, evidence of human occupation.
Unst is the most northerly island in Shetland. I’m not sure how close to Norway the top of Unst is. Walking on Skaw Beach, and on top of Saxa Vord Hill, on a wild and windy morning, I definitely felt that Norway was only kilometres away – quite a few, I grant you – but the Norse connection to Shetland seemed palpable. The top of Unst is another place that is desolate and beautiful, exposed and raw, a powerful place.
It’s hard not to look at the landscapes and seascapes of Shetland without connecting them to Shetland’s history, as they are so intertwined.
The history of Shetland fascinated and engaged me. The Neolithic, Iron Age and comparatively recent Norse occupations have shaped the culture of the islands. The Viking invasions from around 800AD, created the northern outreach, the Shetland islands, of a great Norse earldom that had its base in Orkney, and it’s this that has influenced language, laws and culture in Shetland.
With time Norway, from where the Norse invaders had come, was increasingly under Danish control, and in 1471 Shetland was annexed to Scotland as a result of a marriage treaty between James III of Scotland and Margaret, a Danish princess. The Danish repeatedly tried to have the islands returned to them, but Scotland never agreed. That Shetland has had such a significant Norse influence and occupation in relatively recent history speaks much about the ethos, the outlook of the islands.
I am keen to research more of the Viking story in Shetland and Orkney. I have a connection with Orkney and its Norse past. My given name, Inga, is an inheritance from that past. The wider narrative, told in the Orkneyinga Saga, is a source of both fictional and historical detail and an interesting resource.
You find evidence of an amazing past everywhere in Shetland. Wherever you go, you stumble across places and relics of archeological significance. From deserted Iron Age remains on walking trails, to the Mousa Broch already mentioned, and the magnificent Jarlshof in Sumburgh, Mainland, one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Britain.
Jarlshof is an incredibly well preserved site of human occupation, with remains dating from 2500 BC up to the 17th century AD. There is evidence from Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Norse settlements. Luckily for me this amazing site was next door to the hotel where I was staying in Sumburgh, affording me a close inspection of the site. Standing at the top of the tower and surveying the region on a clear day was another of those experiences of connection with lives of the past.
Muness Castle, on the island of Unst, is a remarkably preserved example of a fortified castle. It was interesting to examine a ruin that was comparatively “modern”, built in 1598 for Laurence Bruce. It is the most northerly castle in the British Isles. Laurence Bruce, a lowlander, was Sheriff of Scotland and an oppressor of its Scandinavian inhabitants. The castle, although ruined, felt oppressive, even menacing, evoking its dark past. Walking in the ruins, into rooms largely intact, where people had lived their lives, seemed to dissolve the five hundred years that had elapsed from the building of the castle to 2019.
The land and seascapes of Shetland are stunning, but part of their beauty is the abundant and at times unique wildlife. Shetland attracts walkers and wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world. There are countless opportunities to observe colonies of seabirds, as well as rare bird species.
Walking to the top of Sumburgh Head, to the lighthouse, there was an abundance of bird life to see. This was my first introduction to puffins, that iconic symbol of Shetland wildlife, as well as fulmars and gannets. On the island of Mousa, there are Arctic and great skuas, Arctic terns, gulls and storm petrels, those much sought after residents of this small island.
In islands where the sea is king, sea mammals proliferate. Otter tracking, and seal and whale spotting are popular. I was lucky enough to encounter the first two of these sea mammals.
An otter tracking morning on the island of Yell provided an opportunity to see an otter in action, if only from a distance. Otters were probably introduced to Shetland. As there were no large rivers they had to adapt to living by the sea. Their holts or dens are next to fresh water so they can wash the salt off their fur when they come ashore. Our otter was spotted near the low lying shore, and did indeed make a bolt for his holt!
Seals are plentiful and easy to see. We saw quite a few seals, sporting in the shallows or sun baking on the beach or rocks on days that were not really that sunny…
The land, the sea, the wildlife are special, but it’s the people and the stories of the past that I wanted to find out about. For me the social history of the islands was important and I particularly wanted to investigate food and culture in Shetland.
There is so much wonderful produce in Shetland – in particular, seafood is amazing – fish, scallops and mussels. It’s obvious that sheep are an important food source. While lamb is delicious, I did try reestit, a leg of mutton that has been dried and cured. I think this might be an acquired taste!
A really interesting look at social history was at the Croft House Museum in Dunrossness, Mainland. The Croft House Museum is a mid-nineteenth century Shetland croft, beautifully preserved to show the day to day life of the crofter and his family. I loved the cooking arrangements over the hearth, complete with legs of reestit mutton hanging up to dry.
The roadside provided a wealth of views and insights into Shetland life. The wedding displays with bride and groom on Unst (I don’t know what these are called), the “furnished” bus shelter also on Unst and the cake fridges, where all manner of cakes can be picked up from the fridge by the roadside – paid for of course with an honesty system.
The craft scene is big in Shetland, with much of it based around wool. Fair Isle knitwear is everywhere, as well as more contemporary designs in knitted items. I was happy to sport the Fair Isle look with a jumper or two and a really warm beanie.
I am really interested in the baking in Shetland. I had lots of scones, cakes and crumbles wherever I went. Alas I didn’t get to eat bannocks, those floured scone like creations traditionally cooked on a girdle hung over the fire, and still cooked today, on girdles on stove tops and also oven baked. I’ve made bannocks here in Oz, and I wanted to know how mine compared.
Sunday Teas are legendary in Shetland! They are an institution, where local communities provide sandwiches, baked goods and all sorts of treats, and of course tea, for a modest price, as a fundraising activity.
The timing just didn’t work out for a visit to a Sunday Tea. But I did get to go to the Walls Show, on 10 August 2019. The Tea Tent provided the same kind of fare, with a lovely array of delicious cakes, traybakes and scones.
It was so much fun to go to the Show, and I was reminded that country shows all over have a lot in common, with lots of animals, exhibits, prizes for “best in show” and of course things to eat. The Walls Show was a great day out. I loved the sheep, the Shetland ponies, the jumpers and the afore mentioned Tea Tent! The Vikings even made an appearance!
Just about everything I had to eat in Shetland was delicious. I have to mention the tea, scones and cakes at Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms in Haroldswick, Unst, “The Most Northerly Tea Rooms in Britain”. Victoria sponge to die for, Jammy Dodger cupcakes, tiffin and those scones with clotted cream. Yummy.
My experience of Shetland was memorable. I need to mention here the wonderful Shetland Nature, so knowledgeable and willing to provide that Shetland experience, and in particular Rob Fray, whose expert guidance from the south to the most northerly tip of Shetland not only showed me the physical land but also the heart and spirit of the place and its people.