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Bewitching Shetland

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.

Undulating countryside seen from Kettla Ness
Walking on Kettla Ness

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.

The island of Mousa
The Broch of Mousa from the ferry

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.

Cliffs at Eshaness
Rock formation at Eshaness

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.

Skaw Beach
Saxa Vord Hill

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
Jarsholf

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 ruins of Muness Castle
Inside the castle

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.

A puffin
Fulmars nesting

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…

Seals basking on the shore

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 Croft House Museum
Reestit mutton

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.

A wedding in Unst

Bus shelter Unst
Cake fridge

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.

Tea at the Walls Show

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!

Yellow sheep!
Vikings at the Walls Show

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.

Victoria sponge and coconut sponge at Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms

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.

My Fair Isle jumper
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Pizza on the Barbecue

Summer in Sydney is fast approaching, and it’s time to think about some different ways to use the barbecue apart from grilling steaks, chops and the obligatory snags!

Pizza on the barbecue is a great invention. I developed these recipes a while back, and they are so much easier than cooking pizza in a conventional oven. If you haven’t got a pizza oven, wood fired or otherwise, give the barbecue method a go! But you do need a barbecue with a hood, as this method relies on creating a really hot oven environment to cook the pizzas quickly.

Making pizza on the barbecue is really easy as I discovered when I made one for the first  time. I make lots of pizzas – home made is always nicest – but I was delighted with how quick and easy grilling the dough on the barbecue is.

You make a normal pizza yeast dough – then grill it for a minute each side on the bars of a very hot barbecue. Then dress the grilled pizza with your toppings of choice, place on a baking tray and heat on the barbecue on medium heat, with the hood down to simulate an oven.

Fresh, hot, grilled pizza made right in front of your friends! You could even do “make your toppings” with everyone customizing their own pizza!

Ingredients
Dough 

2 ¼ tsp dry yeast
1 cup warm water (40.5 – 46 degrees C)
2 to 2 ½ cups Tipo 00 flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil

Toppings
Roast Pumpkin, Avocado, Cherry Tomato, Sugar Snap Peas, Spring Onion and Taleggio Pizza

1/4 butternut pumpkin, baked in pieces, skin on
1 avocado, sliced
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
A few sugar snap peas
2 spring onions finely chopped
A few slices of taleggio cheese
Rosemary sprigs to garnish

Pear, Artichoke and Blue Cheese Pizza

1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 spring onions finely chopped
1 pear, sliced
2 -3 artichoke hearts, sliced
A handful of crumbled blue cheese (to taste)
Rosemary sprigs

Method
Pizza
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in most of the flour and the salt, stirring until smooth. Continue adding the flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until the dough comes away from the bowl but is still sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with lightly floured hands. Knead the dough until it is smooth, elastic and soft, but a little sticky, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to bowl lightly oiled with extra virgin olive oil, turn to coat. Cover with cling wrap and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume, about 2-3 hours. Press it with your finger to see if it’s done; an indent should remain.

Remove the dough from the bowl, divide in half and shape each half into a ball. This quantity makes 2 small pizzas. Or leave as 1 ball for 1 large pizza.

Brush with more oil and set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat your barbecue to very high.

Stretch and shape the ball/s of dough into a rectangle or round – or any rustic shape! Brush the top/s with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let rest for 15 minutes. Place on the grill directly on the bars, oiled side down, and grill until lightly golden brown, about 1 minute. Flip over and grill for 1 minute longer.

Place the pizza/s on a baking tray and apply your toppings:

For the Roast Pumpkin, Avocado, Cherry Tomato, Sugar Snap Peas, Spring Onion and Taleggio Pizza:

Scatter over the roast pumpkin, avocado, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, spring onion and taleggio.

For the Pear, Artichoke and Blue Cheese Pizza:

Scatter over cheddar cheese, spring onions, sliced pear, sliced artichoke hearts and crumbled blue cheese.

Return the pizzas to the barbecue, turn down the heat  to medium, close the cover and cook until the cheese has melted and the pears/veggies are crisp and a little charred – about 2 or 3 minutes.

Remove the pizzas from the barbecue and garnish with rosemary sprigs. Slice and serve piping hot!

Shetlandic Sourdough

Eshaness Shetland

It’s August 2019 and I’m in Shetland, seeking out the unique wildlife of the islands and finding out more about its Norse heritage. And doing some sampling of the food of the islands too.

So what has this got to do with sourdough you may ask? Quite a lot actually!

I have been making sourdough for a couple of years, but have been actively practising this particular sourdough recipe throughout this year, making loaf after loaf, every other day, trying to get a loaf that ticks all the boxes. I am by no means there, but I feel happy enough to write up my latest efforts for this post.

My version is based on the recipes of James Morton, the Shetlander baker known for his bread making skills and in particular for his passion for, and scientific approach to sourdough. His latest exploits on Instagram @bakingjames are a fascinating diary of a keen bread maker!

It seems appropriate, therefore, to be blogging about sourdough while I am actually in Shetland. 

My sourdough procedure is based on James’ recipe from the book Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World, co-written with father Tom Morton, but also on his original sourdough recipe from his book Brilliant Bread. I’ve got my own take too, on these recipes, and what I am blogging below is as much about my experience of the pitfalls of sourdough as well as its exquisite joys.

Shetland is utterly beautiful. I am gobsmacked by its rugged coasts and verdant pastures, and its birds, otters and seals. I am also quite smitten with the sheep of Shetland – picture perfect flocks, more romantic than our more prosaic Australian sheep! 

Today I’ve been in Hillswick and in Eshaness, walking stunning cliff tops and enjoying the local food at the St Magnus Bay Hotel and writing my sourdough post.

So here’s my take on James Morton’s recipes for sourdough, blogged on Shetland. 

Note: This recipe calls for baking the bread in a cast iron pot or casserole. It’s an amazing way of cooking the bread, allowing you to cook at quite high temperatures. I also use a bread proving basket. Not quite as necessary as the cast iron pot, but a really good investment if you’re a bread maker.

Sourdough Starter 

Ingredients 

100g organic stoneground flour

100g fresh orange juice 

Method 

Mix the flour and fruit juice together in a glass jar, big enough to hold at least triple the amount of the original starter. Leave this for about  5 days, or until the mixture is bubbly and frothy but has begun to settle. Now you can feed the starter with equal parts flour and just water. For the feeding stage, I use 125g flour:125g cooled boiled water. 

Leave for 12-24 hours until the starter is bubbly and has expanded in size.  It’s now ready to be used.

Keep on feeding every day in this way. If you’re not baking bread, you will need to discard a lot of the starter, to make room for more flour and water. You should have  only about 200g of starter in the jar left before feeding. 

If you don’t want to feed your starter every day, you can put it to sleep in the fridge and feed it just once a week.

Sourdough Bread 

 

Ingredients

250g tepid water

200g sourdough starter 

400g strong white flour

10g or 1.5 teaspoons salt

Method

Pour the tepid water into a large bowl.

Add the sourdough starter and stir together with the water until the mixture is loose and just mixed. It’s so loose it’s almost like soup!

Add the strong white flour and salt on top of the water/starter mixture. Use your fingertips to mix the salt into the flour, then a wooden spoon to mix everything together into a dough that is quite rough and sloppy.

The bowl needs to be covered and left for half an hour. I use a plastic shower cap, the kind you find in hotel rooms. I collect them just for this purpose. Or you could use cling wrap or a large plastic bag. Leave somewhere in the kitchen where it’s not draughty.

Remove the cover, and with the tap running, wet one hand, (to stop your fingers sticking to the dough), fold the edges of the dough over and into the middle. The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this for about 30 seconds.

Put the cover back on the bowl. 

You need to repeat this stretching and folding of the dough 3 more times. I make the time interval in between stretching and folding suit whatever I am doing on the day. The minimum time is 30 minutes. I often leave the dough 2-3 hours in between stretching and folding if I’m busy during the day. As James says: “Timings aren’t that important, as long as the stretching is done.”

After the last stretching session, cover the bowl and leave for 2  hours.

Sprinkle a work surface with some flour. 

Flour a proving basket. Proving baskets are great for shaping your loaf! If you don’t have a proving basket, put a tea towel into a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with flour.

Turn the dough out onto the floured surface, making sure there is enough flour on the working surface so the dough doesn’t stick.

Now here is the interesting part. That is, how to shape your bread. I have used the James Morton method very successfully, as described below. I also discovered another way on an Instagram video from @season_adam.  I suggest looking up this Instagram video as it’s well worth the look. It’s too tricky to try to describe here.

Here is James Morton’s method:

Using lightly floured hands press the dough out slightly flatter. Next you want to roll up your dough as if rolling up a Swiss roll or a Persian rug really tightly.

Turn the rolled dough 90 degrees and roll it up again.This time it will be harder – it will feel tight and try to spring back. You’ll now have piece of dough with a seam on the top and a smooth surface on the bottom. You want to keep this smooth surface on the bottom and sit the dough in your proving basket or prepared tea towel in a bowl.

The dough should be proved again in the proving basket or bowl. Put the dough in the proving basket or bowl in the fridge to rest for a few hours, or overnight if you reach this stage at night. This fridge prove is important as it allows the bread to develop flavour.

Heat the oven to 240 degrees C half an hour before you want to bake the bread.  Place the cast iron casserole pot, lid on, into the oven to heat up over the half hour.

After 30 minutes, carefully remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid.

Turn your dough out into the pot, so the smooth side is on top and the seam side is on the bottom. This can be tricky, but be bold – and careful – and turn the dough out as deftly as you can.

Score the dough with a sharp serrated knife or lame. This is a sharp razor blade attached to a handle and is really useful to have if you bake a lot of bread. Replace the lid and put the pot back in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. After this time turn the oven down to 230 degrees C. Then carefully remove the lid  from the pot and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the loaf is very brown. The loaf needs to be a really dark brown colour. Don’t be afraid to go an extra 5 minutes to get that colour.

Once cooked, remove the loaf and turn out onto a wire rack to cool. You need to wait an hour before slicing as the bread is still cooking!

Serve with lashings of butter and homemade jam. Sourdough toast is lovely with a boiled egg too!


Special note re oven temperatures! 

The temperatures given work well for me in a fan forced oven. I have read several recipes which also use similar high temperatures. And I have made this recipe countless times using these temperatures. However, you know your oven and whether the suggested temperatures would work for you.

The magic of any bread, but particularly sourdough, is seeing how much the bread rises. I am always nervous on lifting the lid after the first part of the baking to see how much it has risen. But it’s a fantastic feeling to see that beautiful risen loaf in the pot! And when you take the bread out of the oven after the final bake there is another moment of triumph when you see your brown risen sourdough loaf in all its glory. 

Sourdough bread is so worth the effort to make!

And the sheep of Shetland are pretty good too.

No Knead Bread!

I am sure many of you will be familiar with “no knead” bread, developed by Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. The technique has been used by many bakers to produce virtually effortless bread.

I discovered no knead bread only recently, via the TV program Paul Hollywood City Bakes – New York, when he visited the New York bakery, and Jim Lahey showed him the magic technique.

And yes it’s easy and yes it works! You only need to invest time, up to 24 hours, but the result is beautifully baked bread!

Here is the recipe/technique, based on that of Mark Bittman, who first shared the recipe in the New York Times in 2006. As Mark says “a wet dough and slow fermentation are the keys to success” as well as “the unique baking method — a heated covered pot — which creates essentially an oven within an oven to trap steam as the bread bakes.”

Ingredients

430g strong flour plus extra as needed

345g water

1g yeast  

8g salt 

Cornmeal, semolina, or wheat bran for dusting

Method

Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and stir until blended. The dough should be shaggy and sticky – add a little more water if it seems dry. Dont knead!

Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap or my favourite, a plastic shower cap. Let the dough rest for a minimum 12 hours, or up to 18 hours at room temperature. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.

Lightly flour a work surface, and turn the dough onto the surface. Carefully and quickly lift the edges of the dough in toward the centre, folding the dough over onto itself. Tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round. Don’t knead!

Generously coat a cotton tea towel with cornmeal, semolina, or wheat bran and put the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour or cornmeal. Cover with another tea towel or plastic wrap and let rise for about 2 hours. When ready, the dough will be more than doubled in size and won’t spring back readily when poked with your finger.

At least a half hour before the dough is ready, adjust an oven rack to the lower third of the oven, and pre-heat the oven to 230 degrees C. Place a medium sized cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic casserole pot, lid on, into the oven to heat up. I used a Le Creuset casserole.

When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid. Turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up, by sliding your hand under the tea towel and quickly turning the dough over into the pot. It can look a bit untidy but the dough seems to settle into an acceptable shape in the oven!

Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is quite brown. The bread should look really brown – I am sometimes tempted to take out the bread 10 minutes too early. Brown to dark brown is good!

Once the bread is done, lift the bread from the pot onto a wire rack with pot holders or tongs. Let the bread cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting the loaf.

Serve with lashings of butter, olive oil or a great dip!

 

 

 

 

 

Walnut Cake with Caramelised Figs

Figs are plentiful in the height of summer here in Sydney. I love cooking with seasonal fruit, particularly at this time of year when there are a multitude of summer fruits available. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, pineapples and mangoes, peaches and nectarines, my absolute favourite passionfruit, and of course delicious figs.

This recipe for walnut cake is based on my almond cake recipe that I usually make with stone fruit. I have a couple of versions on this blog. This time, I used walnuts, as I was looking for a robust flavour to go with some caramelised figs. In the almond cake recipe, I use bought ground almonds, whereas in this recipe I take whole walnuts and whizz them in the food processor to make ground walnuts with some little nutty bits still remaining. This gives the cake a nice texture.

The cake is drizzled with a coffee caramel syrup, and figs which have been poached in this syrup are placed on top. I also put some fresh figs on top which worked well too. But I think the caramelised figs are nicer!

Ingredients

150g butter
100g caster sugar
50g brown sugar
3 free range eggs
I teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
1 teaspoon almond essence
150g walnuts
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

Coffee Caramel
3 tablespoons caster sugar
75mls good coffee liqueur- I used Mr Black from Botanica Distillery in NSW, a cold brew coffee liquor. Any liqueur is fine!
A few splashes of water up to 50mls to thin syrup to pouring consistency
3 figs, cut in half for poaching, or 2 or 3 fresh figs.

Method

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C, 160 degrees C fan forced. Grease a 20cm springform tin and line the base with baking paper.

Put the walnuts into a food processor and pulse, stopping every so often to make sure you don’t over process. You want some chunky bits as well as some fine ground walnuts. Set aside, but don’t bother washing the processor!

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

Put the mixture into the springform and bake for about 45 minutes  or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the cake.

While the cake is baking, make the caramel.

For the coffee caramel, put the caster sugar in a small frying pan or saucepan and dissolve the sugar gently over a low heat. Don’t stir the sugar or it will crystallise! Once the sugar is dissolved, cook until it turns light brown, sort of tea coloured. Take it off the heat and add the coffee liqueur carefully, as the caramel is hot. You can add some water if the syrup is too thick. If the caramel has already turned to toffee, don’t worry. Just gently heat the caramel with the liqueur over low heat and the toffee will dissolve.

Put 6 of the fig halves into the coffee syrup and poach for a couple of minutes over a low heat until the figs are slightly softened.

Once the cake is out of the oven, and while it is still hot, pierce the top a few times with a skewer and pour a few teaspoonfuls of the syrup over the cake.

Serve the cake with the poached figs on top, with a little more syrup drizzled over the figs, and Greek yoghurt or whipped cream or creme fraiche. Or decorate the cake with the plain figs, or a combination of poached and fresh, and a little of the syrup and yoghurt or cream. Either way it’s delicious!

Pavlova with Blackberries, Raspberries and Toasted Macadamias

You can never have too much pavlova in my opinion. It’s a truly luscious dessert, that’s as perfect on a hot summer’s day as in mid winter. Serve it with tropical fruits, berries or lemon curd in summer, or warming poached quince or chocolate and hazelnuts in winter.

I have had a pavlova week! Last weekend in Sydney there were summer lunches and barbecues planned to mark Australia Day. You might notice I don’t use the word celebrate, as there is a rising tide of discussion about whether we should mark this day on the 26 January or indeed mark it at all. But I leave that discussion for another post.

Notwithstanding, many pavlovas would have been dutifully made and consumed last week! I didn’t actually make a pavlova, but I did get very involved in the efforts of my friends to produce this famous dessert for their Australia Day lunch.

One friend, a novice cook, sort my advice about pavlova making via text over several days! I found it quite stressful, trying to give the right advice without watching the work in progress. I sent a link to my own pavlova recipes in this blog as well as a helpful YouTube video I found. I was so relieved to hear that the pavlova was a big success – the photos looked great!

Over the weekend I stayed with my friends in beautiful Palm Beach, the Architect and the Delegator, mentioned before in this blog.

The Architect was making his famous pavlova, and I was lucky enough to watch him in action. The recipe comes from that wonderful cook Maggie Beer, but the Architect has now made the pavlova his own, putting his own inimitable stamp on it.

I’ve blogged the original pav before, see here, but I’m doing it again as I have picked up a few tricks and tips watching the Architect in action.

In this version, we made blackberries the star, as they are so plentiful and delicious in high summer. We added raspberries as in the original recipe too, for colour. I laughingly say “we”, as I was giving a little advice, but it was the Architect’s creation!

So here is the recipe. I can only say that that it’s so worth making – it’s absolutely delicious!

Ingredients

6 free-range egg whites

Pinch of salt

2 cups (475 g) caster sugar

1 tbl cornflour

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1/2 cup macadamias

500 mls thickened cream

250 g creme fraiche

250 g blackberries

250 g raspberries

Method

Preheat oven to 140 degrees C fan forced. My experience with pavlovas is that you need this low temperature. Some recipes suggest higher, but I really think low is best. You can always cook a little longer if you’re worried the pav is not done.

Draw 3 x 22 cm circles on baking paper and place the paper on 3 oven trays.

Beat the egg whites and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Don’t over beat at this stage as you can actually beat the air out and the whites will flop!

Ideally a stand mixer is best, but the Architect used hand electric beaters. If you use these you will need an assistant to spoon in the sugar for the next stage. . Luckily I was there to assist!

Gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon full at a time, beating well after each addition until the sugar is dissolved. When all the sugar has been added, best for another minute to make sure all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is not grainy. To test, squash a little piece of meringue between thumb and forefinger and it should should feel smooth.

Fold in the cornflour and vinegar. Now spread the meringue evenly onto the circles. This is where the Architect used his incredible skills, judging exactly how much meringue to spoon onto each circle. You want the discs to be flattish, as you will be layering them, but a few rustic peaks are definitely ok!

Bake the meringue discs for about 40 minutes. They should look dry and crisp on the outside. Turn the oven off and leave the discs to cool on the trays in the oven.

Lightly toast the macadamias in a frying pan over a medium heat until they are golden to light brown.

Whip the cream in a large bowl and then stir in the crème fraiche.

To assemble, place 1 meringue disc on a large serving plate, spread with 1/3 cream mixture and top with 1/3 of the blackberries and raspberries. Place the second meringue disc on top, then another 1/3 cream mixture and 1/3 berries. Top with the remaining meringue disc and decorate, as artfully as you like, with the remaining cream mixture, blackberries and raspberries, and the toasted macadamias.

PS The left over pavlova, while looking a little messy, is so worth fighting friends and family for!

Buttermilk Crumpets for Breakfast!

This is the third post on breakfast featuring yummy home made treats which taste so much nicer knowing you have made them yourself, plus you can feel pretty virtuous too!

I have made crumpets a few times before, but this time I was keen to incorporate buttermilk from the wonderful Pepe Saya, maker of all kinds of delicious dairy products. I didn’t know how buttermilk would go in the recipe, but figured it could only add to the flavour. Which it did. 

This recipe owes a lot to a version I found while searching the internet, from this wonderful blog. http://www.kulinaryadventuresofkath.com/theblog/2017/7/7/buttermilk-crumpets-homemade-butter

I have tweaked here and there to suit my version of these delicious crumpets. 

Ingredients

250g strong white flour
9g fast action yeast
55ml tepid water
275ml buttermilk at room temperature
1tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50ml warm water
Butter for greasing and cooking

Method

Put the flour and yeast into a large bowl. Measure the water and buttermilk and combine with the sugar. Add this mixture to the flour/yeast and stir to combine.

Cover the bowl with cling wrap or my favourite – a plastic shower cap, the kind you get in the toiletries provided in hotels. I collect a heap of them for all my bread, yeast pastries and crumpet making! Leave to rise until the mixture has almost doubled in size and has lots of bubbles.

At this point turn on your hot plate and heat a large heavy bottomed frying pan or griddle pan. You will need to cook the crumpets in metal crumpet rings, but egg rings will do too. Grease whatever rings you are using with melted butter.

Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the water, then stir into the batter.

Melt a small knob of butter in the pan. You don’t need too much – be prepared to pour some out – you don’t want the crumpets to swim in the butter.

Place 2-3 rings in the pan, depending on the size of your rings and the pan. Spoon in enough mixture to fill about ½ to ¾ of each ring. Cook on a medium heat until bubbles then small holes appear on the tops. This should take about 3-5 minutes. Then flip the crumpets over, easing the crumpets out of the rings. Cook on the other sides for a couple of minutes until the bottoms are brown.

Remove from the pan, keep warm to eat straight away. Or cool to room temperature and then freeze. They freeze really well – defrost in the fridge, then toast before serving.

Re-grease the crumpet rings and cook the crumpets using the rest of the batter.

I served the crumpets with butter and lots of beautiful Beechwood honey! Yummy!

 

 

 

 

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