whisky, carrot and ginger marmalade

Despite being an English-born child, my first recollections of ‘marmalade’ as an edible substance are rather ambiguous. In fact, my earliest memories of the word seem to be linked to my grandmother’s ginger tabby cat of the same name, with second place being given to Paddington and his marmalade sandwiches.

Image credit: Victoria Stitch, from ‘A Bear Named Paddington’ by Michael Bond (1958)

Oh, how I loved Paddington. If you’ve had a deprived childhood, I’m referring to a children’s story by Michael Bond that was first published in London in 1958. The storyline centres around a displaced bear from ‘deepest, darkest Peru’ who turns up at Paddington station in a duffel coat with a suitcase and note saying: ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you’. The family who eventually adopt him, the Browns, learn that he survived on the boat to England by eating only marmalade sandwiches, as ‘bears like marmalade’.

The story is quintessentially English, rippled with references to London landmarks and cultural eccentricities. Despite my later migration to Australia, the spirit of Paddington (in the form of a stuffed toy) stayed with me, as did my love of marmalade, hot tea and that other English cultural idiosyncrasy, Marmite.

To all Australians reading this, I do admit that 25 years later my yeast-spread loyalty has switched to our national staple, Vegemite (though I still eat it the English way, on toast soldiers with a dippy soft-boiled egg). But despite venturing into the world of peanut butters, Nutella, jams and conserves my marmalade loyalty remains strong. And the more bitter and ‘Old English’ it is, the better.

So, what is marmalade, other than a now-deceased ginger cat? Well, according to various sources the term is thought to have originated in Europe during the 16th Century, when Roman cooks first discovered that fruit could be preserved in honey. This method spread to Portugal, where the term marmelada was coined to describe preserved quinces. This product soon spread to the United Kingdom and British cooks began to apply the same methods of preservation to common citrus fruits such as Seville oranges. The rest is, as they say, history.

So, fast forwarding to today, it’s fair to say that English use of the word marmalade is still being largely restricted to the sale of citrus-based sweet preserves (though sales of the product have been dropping! Sacrilege! Well, unless people are making their own… I hope). However, in Australia and many parts of Europe, the word is being reclaimed to describe everything from quince paste to onion marmalade. Though the little expat inside of me screams at this departure from tradition, there’s also a twinge of excitement in witnessing the continued evolution of food. It’s awesome, and it’s the way that we discover new and exciting flavours, textures and nutritional benefits.

In fact, I’m also departing slightly from tradition in the recipe that you’ll find below. Though there’s a hefty amount of traditional citrus, there’s also the warmth of ginger, a splash of whisky and the sweetness of tender carrots. It’s an acceptable adaptation that’s loyal to the original whilst also being… different. It’s an expat adaptation. Like me.

Whisky, Carrot and Ginger Marmalade

Makes 4 cups

  • 1 organic, pesticide-free orange
  • 1 organic, pesticide-free grapefruit
  • 2 cups peeled, coarsely grated carrot
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 cups white caster sugar
  • 1 cup raw (brown) caster sugar
  • 3 tbs whisky or Grand Marnier
  • 2 tbsp finely minced fresh ginger

Prepare your citrus: Using a sharp knife, remove the top and bottom of your citrus fruits. Place the fruit on a flat surface, and using firm downward strokes, remove the outer rind and white pith completely.Prepare your rind by using a sharp knife to remove any remaining pith on your citrus zest. When only a thin layer remains, finely shred your citrus zest as desired (I usually leave it about 2-3mm wide). Set aside.

Segment your citrus fruits by removing the juicy flesh within each membrane with a sharp knife. You should end up with clean pieces like this:

Squeeze the juice from the inner membranes into a large saucepan, making sure that no seeds escape. Place the seeds and membrane into a clean piece of muslin, cheesecloth or sterilised stocking. Sew or tie the end firmly, then add your ‘pectin bag’ into the saucepan with the juice and your citrus segments (see ‘notes’ for an alternative to making a pectin bag).

Place your prepared rind into the saucepan with the rest of your citrus, adding enough water to cover. Over very low heat, allow the citrus to soak for about 30 minutes (do not allow to boil). This will allow the fruit pectin to steep into the water from the seeds, whilst also infusing the natural oils from the citrus peels into the water.

Once the mixture is fragrant, add about another 3-4 cups of water (as your pot capacity allows). Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook at a low simmer for 60 – 90 minutes. You’re aiming for the citrus rind to be very soft and for about one cup of liquid to remain (if the liquid is reducing too fast and your citrus rind is still firm, add more liquid as required). Remove your pectin bag, squeezing residual liquid back into your saucepan.

Add the grated carrot, ginger and lemon juice to your mixture, then bring it back to the boil. At this point you can add your sugar, stirring to dissolve it well (if required, add more water at this point so that you have a loose mixture); there should be no remaining granules in your pot as this will spoil the consistency of your finished marmalade. Once the sugar has dissolved, taste for sweetness – if it is a little tart, add a little more sugar or if it is too sweet add more lemon juice (whilst keeping in mind that your mixture will be further reducing, concentrating the sweetness, and that you’ll also be adding whisky later on).

Once at your desired level of sweetness, simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until your marmalade reaches ‘setting point’. This can be tested by placing a small teaspoonful on a chilled (refrigerated) plate. Leave for 10 seconds, then push the mixture with your finger to test if it has ‘gelled’ like this (you can see the place where my finger was on the left):

If your mixture is at setting point, add your whisky and stir well to combine. Pour your hot marmalade into sterilised jars and seal immediately. The sugar content and temperature of the marmalade should be enough to provide some natural preservation, however if desired you can process your jars in just-boiled water (fill your empty sink with enough water to completely cover the jars) for 10 minutes.

Notes:

  • Marmalade is traditionally made from Seville oranges, which have a strong, sharp flavour and a high amount of pectin which aids in the ‘jam setting’ process. However, as Seville oranges are seasonal I often find myself substituting organic Navels or Valencias, both of which are easy to find in Australia. Blood oranges are also a delicious alternative.
  • The peel of an orange has more vitamin C and fibre than the flesh, so marmalade is actually a very nutritious breakfast food (yes, I know there’s lots of sugar but… well, that’s not my point). However, due to the high concentration of pesticides, chemical sprays and herbicides that remain on shop-bought fruit, I’d recommend seeking out organic, pesticide free citrus for your marmalade. That way you can eat your peel the way nature intended… well, if it was actually intended. Either way, I’m still eating it.
  • As aforementioned, there is an alternative to making a ‘pectin bag’ by which you can still end up with a beautifully set marmalade. It’s called Jamsetta, a granulated mixture of caster sugar, dried pectin and citric acid that works every time. Where I live, it’s commonly available in the baking section at the supermarket in 50g packets. Add one packet per batch of marmalade.
  • If your marmalade jars have been processed correctly, you can store them in a cool place pretty much indefinitely. Once opened, they should keep reasonably fresh (there may be some mild sugar crystallisation on the surface) for a few months in the fridge.
  • Don’t be afraid to play around with this recipe. Bump up the ginger, whisky or carrot elements as desired, as long as you make sure that your pectin bag still contains sufficient seeds or citrus zest to aid the ‘jam setting’ process.
  • Homemade jams, chutneys and marmalades make beautiful gifts when embellished with your own personalised labels. The ones you can see above were made with brown paper and twine before being decorated with an ‘L&A’  (Laura & Aaron) wax seal that my husband and I designed for our wedding invitations last year. I love it, not just from a romantic point of view, but… well, wax seals just make everything look more special. If you’d like to order one for yourself, sites such as this offer a similar product.
  • The base recipe for this marmalade also works well with added spices, mimicking the flavours of both carrot cake and Christmas. If you’d like to give this a try, I’d suggest soaking 2 cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves and 1 tsp of grated nutmeg in a muslin bag during the first stage of the soaking process (over low heat). Alternatively you could add a little powdered cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to the overall mixture, tasting for desired intensity.
  • Original and spiced carrot marmalades make a delicious base for jammy winter puddings whilst also being perfect atop a steaming bowl of morning porridge… warm, sweet and comforting. You can also spoon marmalade into a fancied-up trifle with madiera cake (mimicking a jam roll), slather it over a leg of ham with some seeded mustard prior to roasting it or eat it atop some crusty French bread with aged cheddar (trust me, it’s delicious!).

*If at the mention of Paddington you’ve been travelling down memory lane, take a look at Marmalade Mayhem. It’s Paddington, marmalade and gaming goodness all wrapped up into one. Oh, and here’s an admission: yes, the game is aimed at children and still, I failed quite dismally.

walnut fudge brownies

Brownies must be one of the most useful, adaptable baked goods known to man. At a pinch, I’d say that it’s due to the fact that:

  1. Everyone (well, almost everyone) loves chocolate
  2. On a good day, they can be mixed and shoved in the oven in under 15 minutes, and
  3. They’re a cross between a dense, dessert-style fudge cake and a transportable cookie or slice.

The last point has meant that in recent years, brownies have transformed from being just a mid-morning coffee snack to an acceptable addition on fine dining dessert menus, commonly à la mode with lashings of clotted cream. They’ve even entered the wedding sphere, either as the official wedding cake or dressed-up cake pops with icing tuxedos. However, despite their mass popularity, there’s an outstanding point of contention that has spawned many a poll in cyberspace:

Fudgy Brownies vs. Cake-like Brownies.

Now, for me this isn’t even an issue. As you can probably see from my photographs, I like them dense, fudgy and intensely chocolatey, with a slight crackle of crust on the top. Eaten warm with ice cream, the brownie becomes a molten, smooth chocolate dessert, studded with toasted nuts. Pretty much heaven in a bowl.

Anyway, regressing from my chocolate moment… I do respect that there’s an element of the population that finds the fudge consistency intolerable. For those of you who prefer a lighter, cake consistency, I’ve written some adjustments in the ‘notes’ section which should help with the transformation. However, the rest of this post is pretty much centred around my version of the perfect brownie: dark with 70% cocoa content, dense with cocoa butter and infused with the earthy flavour of toasted walnuts.

The recipe below is the product of many months of trawling through recipe books and internet pages claiming to have the ‘best’ recipe for brownies. These have ranged from light cocoa based, sugary concoctions to flourless cakes and dense nausea-inducing ‘Slutty Brownies’ baked with Oreos and chocolate chip cookie dough. Now, even though the latter has the temptingly inappropriate tagline ‘…oh so easy and more than a little bit filthy’, well… I’ve decided that I’m a brownie purist. Sometimes the original, unadulterated version is all you need.

As you’ll see below, my recipe for brownies contains organic 70% dark chocolate, toasted walnuts and smattering of milk chocolate chips, lovingly coated in real dairy butter. On this particular occasion, I also had the privilege of using the most beautiful free-range eggs I’ve ever seen, generously supplied by our lovely friend Helen and her partner Dirk. I can’t get over the variations in colour, from soft blue to green to speckled peach. They’re definitely photo-worthy, both in and out of the shell.

My husband introduced me to Helen, his classmate and friend, at an end-of-year gathering last year. By the warmth of a bonfire, we drank red wine and ate hot baked potatoes laced with chilli beans, cheese and sour cream; absolutely delicious, made even better in wonderful company. I don’t remember the last time I felt so comfortable at someone’s house I didn’t know… it’s definitely a tribute to both Helen & Dirk’s hospitality. Since then, Helen’s become our official lemon and egg supplier. Thanks Helen, you’re going to be getting a supply of lemon curd very soon!

So, read on for what I’ve found to be my favourite brownie recipe. I’m not going to say it’s the ‘best’, as that’s entirely subjective, but for me it’s absolute perfection: gooey and fudge-like in the centre, with a light golden crust and a touch of bitterness from the high cocoa content. Brownie goodness in it’s purest form… no Oreos required.

Dark Chocolate Brownies
Makes 16

  • 140g unsalted butter
  • 200g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa, I use Green & Black’s Organic)
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp natural vanilla extract
  • 2 whole free-range eggs
  • 1 free-range egg yolk
  • 80g plain flour
  • 50g walnuts, lightly toasted, chopped
  • 50g organic milk chocolate (I use either Cadbury baking chips or chopped Green & Black’s Organic Milk)
  • Sifted organic cocoa powder, to dust

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f). Grease and line the base of an 18cm square slice tin with baking paper, then set aside.

Chop your chocolate and butter into small, even pieces then melt them together in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Use a spatula to stir the mixture frequently, and when the mixture is almost smooth, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool (the residual heat will melt any remaining small lumps).

In a separate bowl, combine your eggs, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla and a good pinch of salt. Add the egg mixture into the cooled, buttery chocolate and mix well with a balloon whisk. Sift in your flour, and continue to mix thoroughly until smooth and glossy. Stir in your toasted walnuts and chocolate chips.

Pour your mixture into the prepared tin. Smooth the top with a spatula, then tap the tin a couple of times on your bench surface to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only moist crumbs attached (as opposed to sticky, liquid mixture).

Allow the brownie to cool in the tin. There should be an even, light brown crust on the surface with a few cracks. When cooled, turn it carefully onto a chopping board and remove the greaseproof paper. Cut it into whatever size pieces you like (I cut it into 16, as they’re pretty rich) then dust the lot with sifted organic cocoa.

These brownies will keep in an airtight container (in the fridge, if you’re in a warm climate) for approximately one week. I usually stack mine with a layer of greaseproof paper in between. Alternately, you can wrap and freeze them for up to 2 months.


Notes:

  • The texture of a brownie is directly related to the ratio of fat (butter and chocolate) to flour. As mentioned previously, I prefer mine as fudgy as possible, however if you prefer a more cake-like consistency, there are adjustments you can make:
  1. Add in about another 20g of flour (100g in total) to firm up the mixture. Test your batter consistency: it should be slightly more rigid and less glossy.
  2. You can also remove the melted chocolate (thereby, removing the cocoa butter) and replace it with about 3/4 cup (80g) of unsweetened organic cocoa. To compensate for the bitter quality of the cocoa, you’ll also need to increase your brown sugar to around 250g. Leave your flour as per the original recipe, at 80g.
  • Slicing: The denser your brownie mixture is, the more difficult it will be to cut after baking. To make life easier for yourself, I’d recommend leaving the brownie to cool in the tin completely prior to cutting (yes, you can!!), and wiping your knife between cuts with a cloth rinsed in hot water. The latter avoids an over-accumulation of moist, sticky brownie crumbs, which ruins your cutting surface.
  • Avoiding ‘split’ chocolate: overheating chocolate can result in ‘splitting’, or separation of the cocoa solids from additional fats. Split chocolate both looks and tastes grainy, so to avoid chocolate disaster I’ve recommended a ‘double boiling’ method in this recipe (i.e. a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water).
  • However, despite the indirect heat, double boiling adds an extra element of risk: water. If any condensation or splashes of water get in your mixture, it can also result in the chocolate ‘seizing’ (solidifying unevenly) or splitting. To avoid this, try and keep the simmering heat as low as possible (there should just be bubbles forming on the water surface) whilst making sure that your bowl and cooking instruments are dry before use.
  • If preferred, you can use the microwave your butter and chocolate on low in a microwave-safe bowl. Restrict the cooking to short (20-30 second) bursts, stirring at each interval. Remove your mixture when there are still a few small solid pieces remaining; the residual heat will finish off the melting process.
  • Flour substitutes: This recipe works reasonably well with gluten-free plain flour of the same quantity (80g). You can also substitute refined spelt flour (with most of the coarse bran removed) or plain wholemeal flour, however be aware that with bran flours the consistency of your mixture will change. Expect a denser, potentially grainier finished product.
  • Additions: If you don’t like walnuts, other good nut substitutes include toasted macadamias, peanuts and pecans. Great fruit additions include dried sour cherries, cranberries and raspberries, all of which have enough acidity to ‘cut’ through the richness of the dense brownie mixture. No Oreo cookies. No.

Nutrition and Chocolate:

  • Fat: yep, overindulging in chocolate can make you fat, as cocoa beans contain approximately 50% fatty acids (saturated palmitic and stearic acids, plus mono-unsaturated oleic acid). Cocoa butter isn’t high in cholesterol, however when factoring in milk chocolate’s added dairy (milk fat) cholesterol levels may be adversely affected in very high quantities.
  • Sugar: Cacao (cocoa) beans themselves contain starch and dietary fibres, with a very low amount of simple sugar. However, the manufacturing process of solid chocolate adds between 13% (bitter, dark chocolate) and 65% (some baking chocolates) sugar to what you eventually consume. Have a look at the ingredients list. If sugar is the first ingredient, don’t buy it.
  • Antioxidants: Now, the good news. Cocoa beans contain polyphenols, with beneficial flavonoids (antioxidants) which reduce the blood’s ability to clot. This can therefore, in combination with other factors, reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. But in saying this, everything needs to be in balance, people.
  • Stimulants: Cocoa beans contain low amounts of caffeine (less than that in coffee, tea or caffeinated soft drinks) and theobromine, which is a mild stimulant with a diuretic action. This isn’t anything you’d need to worry about unless you’re a parrot, dog, cat or horse (theobromine is toxic to all of these creatures) or if you’re elderly and are planning to eat a large amount in one sitting (as your body may metabolise the substance more slowly).
  • Anti-depressant properties: Cocoa and chocolate can have a positive effect upon the levels of serotonin in the brain, whilst also containing phenylethylamine, a stimulant similar to dopamine and adrenaline. Some therefore argue that chocolate can assist in alleviating the symptoms of depression. However, exposure to light and exercise are more effective, scientifically tested methods that will lead to overall health and well-being. So chocolate might be helpful in moderation, but it’s definitely not an advisable ‘cure’.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Cocoa is rich in many essential vitamins and minerals including magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, manganese and the vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E and pantothenic acid.

For more history and brownie baking tips, check out this article from Shirley Corriher at The American Chemical Society. Science can definitely be interesting.

chilli bacon jam

Bacon is a funny thing. To the untrained eye, it’s a pretty ugly piece of meat. Streaked with ribbons of fat, it’s commonly cut from the sides, back or belly of a pig before being cured with copious amounts of sodium chloride (salt) or ‘brine’ (a mixture of salt, sodium ascorbate and potassium nitrate amongst other things). The meat is then air dried, boiled or smoked to in pieces before being sliced and sold in rashers or strips. The end product, as you’d well know, looks like this:


So why is bacon, of all things, loved to the point of absolute fanaticism? The term ‘bacon mania‘ has even been coined to describe the ever-increasing fervency of bacon enthusiasts around the world, particularly in the United States, Canada and other western countries. There are bacon products ranging from painted bacon coffins to an award-winning smoky Bakon Vodka alongside another product appropriately named baconlube (which pushes the boundaries of it’s maker J&D’s tagline, ‘Everything should taste like bacon’). But, ahem… moving on.

According to scientists, the explanation mostly centres around a Japanese term devised in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Tokyo chemist and university professor. Ikeda’s work isolated a separate taste substance from the four commonly accepted ‘tastes’ of sweet, salty, bitter and sour. He called this new taste ‘umami’, a combination of the Japanese words for ‘delicious’ (umai うまい) and ‘taste’ (mi).

So what’s this got to do with bacon? Well, to throw more science at you, the taste profile of umami comes from the tongue’s detection of an amino acid named L-glutamate. You can read more about the process here, but for the purposes of this blog post all you need to know is that umami basically makes everything taste good. That’s why Ikeda later went on to create and patent a chemical version of umami called monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common additive in Chinese takeaway. But, well… let’s just say the world is slowly rediscovering that natural is better.

Foods rich in umami include most meats, anchovies, Parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes, soy sauce, shellfish, seaweed and vegetable extracts (Vegemite and Marmite). The good news is bacon has six different types of umami in it. No wonder it tastes so darn good.

Okay. Now that you’ve learnt why you want to eat bacon, I’m going to tell you how you can eat bacon, with a spoon, straight out of a jar. Sound weird? Yep, I thought so too, but after reading this recipe by Martha Stewart I was keen to experiment.

So, fast forward to time spent at a friend’s house drinking mint tea whilst avoiding the nose of a curious Weimaraner. Over the course of an afternoon, we caught up on four weeks worth of conversation whilst chopping bacon, eventually producing a pot full of caramelised boozy relish that, despite initial doubts, was… well, umami in a jar.

Comparing my revised recipe to the original from Martha Stewart, you’ll see that I’ve added a range of aromatics whilst slightly reducing the sugar content. The finished product has lingering chilli heat and the bitterness of coffee whilst also being mellowed by sweet caramelised shallots, earthy maple syrup and brown sugar. It’s perfect straight from the jar, but if you feel like branching out it also partners beautifully with scrambled eggs, soft goat’s cheese, burgers, fresh rocket and crusty sourdough.

To conclude: bacon in a jar? It works. Try it, I’m pretty confident that you’ll be glad you did.

Chilli Bacon Jam
Makes 2 cups

  • 600g good quality smoked rasher bacon
  • 4 eschallots (brown shallots), thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp packed light brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3/4 cup (180ml/6 fl oz) whisky (substitute with brandy, or just water if preferred)
  • 2/3 cup (160ml/7 fl oz) strong brewed coffee
  • 4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Cut your bacon rashers into one inch pieces, then fry them in a large pot with a splash of oil until the meat is crisped and the fat has rendered out. Remove with a slotted spoon, then drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Drain all but 2 tbsp of bacon fat from the pot. Add in your shallots and garlic over medium heat, and cook until the shallots are translucent. Add in the spices, brown sugar, chosen alcohol (if using) and a pinch of salt, cook for 3-4 minutes before adding in your other liquid ingredients: vinegar, coffee and maple syrup. Bring to the boil, then allow the liquid to reduce slightly for about five minutes.

Add in your reserved bacon, then immediately reduce the heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes before stirring and allowing the mixture to evaporate. Cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the mixture is darkened, syrupy and fragrant.

Once at the desired consistency, allow the mixture to cool. Skim any oil off the surface with a spoon, and discard it alongside the bay leaves.

Transfer your cooled mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Process until it reaches the consistency of a chunky jam; you should still be able to see crunchy, crisp little bits of bacon amongst the syrupy, boozy spiced shallots. Taste, and add extra salt or pepper as required.

This mixture is delicious warm, eaten in it’s purest form on a slice of freshly toasted baguette. If you’d rather resist it’s syrupy deliciousness, it will keep well in the fridge (stored in sterilised jars or an airtight container) for up to four weeks. Read on for more tips and serving suggestions.

Notes:

  • This jam is not suitable for canning or longer-term preservation, unless you’re following the strict method of ‘pressure canning‘ to minimise risks of spoilage. Meat is a low acid food (with a pH <4.6) so it’s an optimum breeding ground for bacteria if stored over a long period of time. Read more about the risks here.
  • A preferable method for storing the jam for up to three months would be to freeze it in an airtight container. Though if I were you, I’d just get on with eating it as quickly as possible. Then I’d make another batch.
  • If you’re caffeine intolerant or just not into coffee, there’s no harm in removing it from the recipe. Just substitute with the same quantity of water. When added, the coffee contributes a richness, depth of flavour and slight bitterness to counteract the sweet stickiness of the maple syrup and brown sugar. An actual ‘coffee’ flavour is not really detectable. However, if you’re omitting it, just make sure that you taste your mixture for balance. Add extra salt or another splash of raw vinegar if necessary.
  • As per the coffee, there is no need to add alcohol if you don’t like it. Just add in an appropriate amount of water, or even orange juice if desired. If you are into alcohol and want to diverge from the whisky pathway, as mentioned above I’d substitute some good-quality brandy (Cognac, Armagnac).
  • If you really like chilli, you can substitute the dried chilli flakes (or add to them!) with 2 fresh jalapenos (finely chopped), a dollop of Sriracha or chipotles in adobe sauce (2 chillies, finely chopped). I’d also imagine that an injection of fresh orange rind during the cooking process would add another beautiful layer of complimentary flavour. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

This jam tastes good on pretty much everything. My serving suggestions include:

  • slathering it onto a burger bun then topping it with a juicy beef patty, sliced tomatoes and arugula (rocket)
  • eating it thickly spread on crisp crostini with a cloud of soft goat’s cheese (or blue cheese, if you’re brave) and watercress
  • spooning it onto a pile of soft, creamy scrambled eggs then devouring the lot with some thick-sliced, charred sourdough bread or potato rosti
  • spreading it onto one half of a soft white roll, then topping it with piles of fragrant, tender pulled pork (try this amazing recipe for pulled pork by Stephanie Le). Double pork + sticky, boozy chilli sauce = heaven.
  • stuffing it into a chicken breast with soft, mild goat’s cheese or brie, frying the skin til crisp then sticking the lot on a lined baking tray into a preheated oven (180 degrees C / 350 f) for about 20 minutes (or until cooked through). It’d be amazing with a rocket and vine-ripened tomato salad, dressed with aged balsamic, lemon and olive oil.
  • I imagine it’d even taste good in a great big spoonful atop creamy porridge oats, with a crumble of walnuts, though I haven’t ventured that far yet. Most of it’s gone straight into my mouth, from the jar, with a spoon…

Oh, just in case you’re curious, here’s a picture of that beautiful Weimaraner puppy I mentioned earlier in the post. His name’s Royce, and yep, being a puppy he pees everywhere. But he’s still ridiculously cute:

Naw! If I didn’t live in a shoebox I’d take him home…

lemon coconut cake with spiced lemon syrup

Childhood memories are funny things. Some fade to a distant recollections, whilst others, seemingly unimportant, remain as vibrant as they day they were splashed upon the canvas of life. When looking back upon my developing years, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why I remember one event over another. For instance, I have very vivid memories of the three year old me, sitting on a picnic blanket eating Paddle Pops with my mother in the backyard. It’s a complete memory, flecked with afternoon sun and a grassy scent on the breeze as milky ice cream dripped through my chubby fingers.

What’s made this memory stick, as opposed to other things that I’ve completely forgotten, like moments spent with my paternal great-grandparents on more than one occasion? I’ve got photo evidence of the latter, but yet, even they don’t trigger a response in my brain. Feeble glances across the internet suggest that memory retention is somewhat linked to the hippocampus, GABA and the ‘heterogeneity of synaptic strength’. If this interests you, read on here, but for those of you interested in my in-depth ‘research’ (meaning, I just thought about it for five minutes in the course of writing this blog post) I’ve concluded that in my case, memory retention seems to be linked to the completeness of my sensory experience: sound, smell, sight, taste and a surrounding emotional connection. Like the Paddle Pop example, a small bite of deliciousness enjoyed with my mother in the sun. Either that, or I’m just essentially greedy and my brain retains memories connected to food. Actually, it’s probably a little bit of both.

So, what’s all of this sentimentality got to do with today’s recipe post? A lot, actually. Primarily because a large portion of my archived memories seem to contain a certain baked good that’s steeped in emotion, permeated by the heat of summer and days spent covered in sand by the sea. We’d usually take this treat on holiday to a place called Yanchep, where my mother’s friend owned a beach house filled with reed mats, an old television and plenty of silverfish. We’d play cards by lamplight and eat freshly caught fish with thick mayonnaise, followed by fruit and wedges of this baked delight.

This treat was my mother’s lemon syrup cake, dense with citrus and moist with lemon syrup topping that soaked deep into the cake crumb. Originally passed on to my mother by a friend, this recipe was scrawled on a now-misplaced piece of paper, and we’re still mourning the loss of an old classic.

As the years have gone by, I’ve spent plenty of time trialling variations of this cake from recipe books, magazines, the internet and… well, my own head. All have been good, but I’m yet to find one that taps into the portion of my consciousness from years gone by. I’ve come to think that it’s the same phenomenon you experience when revisiting sweets you loved as a child – with dull adult taste buds, they never seem to be the same. Nevertheless, nothing’s wasted… I’ve now got sour cream, yoghurt, olive oil and butter lemon syrup cakes in my arsenal, and all are beautiful with a dollop of cream for afternoon tea.

For those of you who have eaten at our house lately, you’d probably be aware that I’m going through a bit of a ‘spice’ phase. Everything from chicken to chocolate mousse is being dressed with clouds of cardamom, cumin and cinnamon, therapeutically ground by hand in a mortar and pestle. So, when my husband came home with two bags of lemons earlier this week, an idea formed in my head: spiced lemon syrup cake. I’ve loved the combination of lemon, honey and cardamom for a long time, so the idea of incorporating these into a cake came naturally. With underlying excitement.

I initially scrawled the recipe for this cake onto the back of an envelope, with yoghurt as the moistening ingredient as opposed to coconut cream. However, I discovered that the remnants of my yoghurt pot in the fridge were a little worse for wear, and as I didn’t have any residual sour cream, I needed a substitute. Cue some rummaging in the cupboard for a can of coconut cream. I’d heard of this ingredient being used in vegan cakes and desserts before, and the combination of coconut, spice and honey worked well on my imagined palate.

During the mixing stage, the coconut cream definitely didn’t incorporate as smoothly as dairy based cream would, however everything soon emulsified with the addition of the dry ingredients. The finished cake was beautiful, lightly risen with a pale golden crust and moist crumb. The subtle fragrance of coconut worked beautifully with the warm spiced syrup, and my husband and I polished off a slice very easily with a drizzle of raw honey and a dollop of double cream. I’d definitely recommend trying it, but if you’re not into coconut the cream can easily be replaced with yoghurt, buttermilk or sour cream, with a reduction in the lemon juice to approximately one tablespoon.

It’s not exactly the cake of my childhood, but to my more mature palate, in some ways it tastes even better. Especially on a cold winter’s night with the very best of company.

Lemon Coconut Cake

Makes one 20cm cake.

  • 150g self raising flour
  • 100g plain flour
  • 215g caster sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 2 whole free-range eggs
  • 200g coconut cream
  • 3 tbsp lemon rind (about 2 large lemons worth)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom (seeds only, husks discarded)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F). Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin, then set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale, smooth and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in your coconut cream and lemon juice, beating well until the mixture is thoroughly combined (don’t worry if it still seems a little separated, everything will come together once you add your dry ingredients).

Sift in your flours and spices, then add your lemon rind. Mix well until the mixture is thoroughly combined, thick and creamy (if it seems ‘too thick’, feel free to add a splash of milk. It should be the consistency of muffin batter). Pour into your prepared cake tin, tapping lightly on a flat surface to remove any trapped air bubbles. Bake in the middle shelf of your oven for approximately one hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached. The top should be risen, slightly cracked and pale golden.

Whilst your cake is still warm in the tin, prick holes all over the top surface with a skewer. Pour over your strained lemon syrup (recipe below); the holes should allow the gently spiced syrup to seep through into the dense coconut and lemon cake. Allow to cool in the tin.

To serve: I’d recommend eating this cake slightly warmed with a dollop of double cream, fresh mint and a sprinkling of crushed, toasted pistachios. Alternatively, I’ve served mine (in the initial picture) with a mixture of crushed homemade meringue, cinnamon, powdered cardamom, toasted pistachios, mint and lavender flowers. It’s absolutely delicious and echoes the layers in the spiced honey syrup.

Spiced Syrup

  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • 3 tbsp lemon zest (about 2 large lemons worth)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 4 cardamom pods, crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 2 cinnamon quills, broken in half
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 star anise

Place all ingredients into a medium saucepan. Bring slowly to the boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer, and allow ingredients to infuse until the mixture is slightly thickened and syrupy (you will need roughly one cup of liquid). Cover, and leave the aromatics to infuse further for at least half an hour.

To serve: strain your syrup through a fine sieve into a jug. Squeeze out the aromatics and citrus zest so that the full amount of flavour is extracted. Pour your spiced syrup over the warm cake, ensuring that the surface is evenly covered. The liquid should be fully absorbed. I like to remove some of the candied zest to top the cake. If you want to do the same, make sure that any pieces of cardamom husk or other spice debris are removed.

Notes:

  • Make sure that your cake is fully cooled before you attempt to cut it. I sliced mine when it was semi-warm for the purposes of photography (the sun was going down!) and the edges slightly crumbled. Still delicious, just not quite as ‘presentable’ as it otherwise would be.
  • This cake works best when cooked in a moderate oven, quite slowly. If you have an aggressive fan forced oven I’d probably recommend reducing the temperature to 170 degrees C (338 degrees f). If you’re going to bake cakes regularly, I’d definitely recommend playing around with the shelving racks to learn where the hot and colder spots are, whilst also being aware of where the ‘fan’ directly blows. All of these factors will affect the quality and presentation of your finished cake. When baking, I’m actually not keen on fan forced heat. All of my baked goods are cooked on the centre shelf of an old fashioned gas oven, and I rotate the tin half way through the cooking process. Works every time.
  • As mentioned in the main body of the text, this recipe lends itself well to substitutions. Yoghurt, sour cream and buttermilk all work well in this type of cake as opposed to coconut cream. There will be slight differences in flavour and texture but you can still expect to achieve a dense, moist and delicious result.
  • If you’re vegan, just substitute the dairy butter for olive oil or vegan butter (I haven’t tried the latter, but olive oil or coconut oil normally work very well, maybe try 2/3 cup / 160ml then test your batter for consistency). You can also try egg substitutes like ground flaxseed, if you’re feeling brave. I have not tried this so I have no idea how it would affect the texture or flavour of the cake, but if you get good results, let me know!
  • Half a teaspoon of nutmeg would also be wonderful in this cake, however don’t be tempted to go overboard as the flavour is very dominant. It’s always easier to add more rather than trying to fix a nutmeg-soaked batter.

Other Traditional Lemon Syrup Cake inspirations, if you’d like to revisit memory lane:

Vegan Lemon Cakes that sound absolutely divine:

Cashew Kitchen

vibrant food. quiet soul. wild at heart.

Brooklyn Homemaker

modern classic recipes, story telling, and a little bit of history. Oh yeah, and schnauzers.

better than a bought one

as homemade should be

My Sweet Precision

Where flour, butter, and sugar collide

Chompchomp

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