happy blogiversary to me

blogiversary

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year and three days since I published my first recipe post on WordPress.com. On 21st May 2012, my recipe for Frangipane Tart with Rhubarb Pomegranate Compote and Pistachio Crumble was launched into cyberspace with photography (including editing) by my husband, Aaron and food styling, recipe prep and text by yours truly. It attracted six comments; 50% were responses from me and 30% were from friends and family. The last comment arrived much later, written by Azita from Fig and Quince. I believe we were discussing uses for pomegranates after Azita posted a delicious recipe series on this unique fruit, including instructions to make homemade Roe’beh Anâr (Pomegranate molasses). And that was it. We were blogging friends… which later turned into blogging sisters. I love how the medium of blogging crosses cultural boundaries, language barriers, distances and time zones seamlessly. In the past year, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of communicating with amazing cooks, writers and photographers around the world. I’ve learned much, shared much and enjoyed every minute.

So, as this post commemorates the one-year-mark of my blogging career (if you can call it that!), I’m going to share a few growth points that have happened in the home (and brain) of Laura over the past twelve months. Here goes:

  • I’ve learned how to use Photoshop. Believe it or not, I had absolutely no idea about this miraculous program when my first post was launched one year ago. I never had any use for it (as I’m normally quite happy with my photographs) and to be honest, I only knew it existed through media reports of celebrity photos being ‘airbrushed’. However, in order to format, adjust and montage shots for publication, I had to learn. My teacher? The very patient, talented and loving Aaron (I think I learned fast). Since about post three, I’ve been photographing, editing and layering all of my own shots for every post. I’m pretty happy with my progress!
  • I’ve bought more kitchenware. Not sure if this is a positive or not, but I’ve become a little obsessed with obtaining small ramekins, vintage knives, shiny plates and bottles for food styling purposes. I’ve visited more charity stores (‘op-shops’ or ‘thrift stores’, depending upon where you’re from) in the past year than the previous ten years combined. It’s been huge amounts of fun.
  • I’ve absorbed about 2% of the world’s knowledge of HTML. HyperText Markup Language is freaking hard. Thank goodness WordPress does most of the hard work for us. With the assistance of HTML Dog and WordPress tutorials, I have learned a tiny bit though. A miniscule drop in the huge, complex HTML ocean. I’m hoping to learn more with time and persistence so that I can actually revamp this site and make it a little more customized. But, for now… I’ll refrain from further torturing my brain (ah, poetry!).
  • I’ve increased my nutritional knowledge. Through researching information for each post, I’ve actually learned a lot more about the nutritional qualities of many ingredients, including alternative flours, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds. It’s been hugely beneficial to our dietary intake; we now eat about 80% fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds (with the remaining 20% including meat, dairy, sugar and other carbohydrates). I can read your thoughts. Yes, I bake a lot of sweet goods! I do eat some of it, but the rest is gratefully shared… either at work, home or elsewhere.

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  • I’m gifted with superfluous garden and fridge products wherever I go. I mentioned this in my post for Indian Lime Pickle, but one of the benefits (and drawbacks) of being a food blogger is that people give you perishables. Lots of perishables. So far I’ve received homegrown limes, lemons, tomatoes, apples, a few red peppers, guavas, chillies, courgettes and bags of herbs. All fantastic (I actually get excited when I receive gifts like these; the ‘recipe development section’ of my brain goes haywire). I’ve also received half-finished bags of spinach, jars of half-finished pickles, limp supermarket herbs, Kraft String Cheese (Cheestiks, for Australians) that expired in 1996 (actually, this was really cool. They’d turned completely black and hard, and smelt like feet) and leftover bits of cheese. Sometimes cool, sometimes, uh… not. But, in saying this: any representatives of corporations or companies, if you want to give me stuff, I say YES. Especially if you work for the Hendricks gin factory. Please.
  • I feel like I have so much more to learn. The world of blogging is rich, multifaceted, humbling and inspiring. I read (or see, in terms of photography or art) so many people’s work and feel humbled at the level of skill, work and passion that’s gone into each and every post. I love the fact that I can learn pretty much anything I want to by clicking through to a particular blogger’s site. It’s amazing. It inspires me to become a better version of myself, both personally and in terms of blogging itself.

I intended to include my response to some recent awards I’ve been blessed with as part of this post, but… well, my verbal diarrhoea has flared up again. I’ll leave the awards post til next time.

I’m also working on a soon-to-be-completed recipe for sourdough, but you know what? My lovingly fed sourdough starter-baby (I named it ‘Glop’) died in the first Winter cold snap a couple of weeks ago. It now resembles a sad, thick jar of grey goop with a layer of liquid floating on the top. I mourned the loss of my starter with the beautiful Brydie from Cityhippyfarmgirl (my original sourdough teacher) and she’s offered to send me a carefully-packed portion of hers on Monday. I am certain that the bloggers are some of the best, most beautiful and generous people in the world. All of you remind me of that. Every single day.

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To end this post: a little story about last night’s dinner experience.

A few days ago, I purchased a large handful of chestnuts from my local farmer’s market. I’ve been eating chestnuts since I was a little girl; usually roasted at Christmastime, on an open fire at my grandparent’s house near the river Thames (in England). The smell, the crackle of the splitting skins, the beautiful, warm fragrant meat… every part of eating chestnuts revisits the six-year-old me. A time of fun, presents and minimal responsibility.

So, anyway; I squirreled this bag of chestnuts home, my breath fogging the cold air with puffs of excitement. They were stored in the fridge for two days before I fired up my oven to ‘roast’ them, in absence of an open fireplace. While the chestnuts roasted, I prepared a roast beetroot, fresh mint, goats cheese and walnut salad with lemon-infused oil. I heard a sound like gunfire… a clear, loud bang… and a rattle on the side of our old gas oven. Uh oh.

The oven door opened. The chestnuts were sizzling and fragrant, their shells cracking in the wafting heat. Tiny bits of exploded chestnut clung to the interior surface of the oven like soft white shrapnel. I lifted the tray out of the oven carefully and placed it on the cool hob.

Bang. I screamed. My face, hair and the tiled splash-back were peppered with tiny pieces of hot white chestnut. What an idiot. I placed a tea towel over the tray of chestnuts, annoyed at myself, before turning around. Another nut exploded behind me. It wasn’t restrained by the limp tea towel and sent more chestnut meat flying around the kitchen. I looked at my poor beetroot salad, which was now dusted with a fine white powder. No, not cocaine. Exploded chestnut.

About two minutes later, the chestnuts stopped sizzling and I breathed a sigh of relief. I went to the bathroom and started removing exploded chestnut from my hair, eyelashes, skin, cleavage (sorry to the male readers, but it’s true!) and nostrils. There’s a lot of meat in one tiny chestnut. I then cleaned the fine film of exploded chestnut off every surface in my kitchen. It covered a radius of about three metres. Once dry, exploded chestnut is quite hard to scrub off tiles.

I am now officially scared of roasted chestnuts. But, they were exceedingly tasty.

By the way, treatment for PCED (post-chestnut explosion disorder) included watching this video. It helped (watch it, amigos).

The end.

laurasun*thanks for sharing this blogging year with me!

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banana, coconut and rum cake

yumI have come to the realization that I’m a chronic over-purchaser of bananas. Every week, I bring home a bunch of golden, blemish-free beauties from the farmer’s market. I sample one before placing the rest into the fruit bowl; the flesh is creamy, white and gently sweet… perfectly ripe. I then forget that I purchased bananas, perhaps eating one during the course of the week before realizing that the rest have developed more freckles than my own face. They then move into the fridge, to the decelerate the ripening process, until I figure out what to bake with them.

bananamontDuring the course of writing this blog post, I came to a second realization. My husband never eats the bananas from the fruit bowl. I asked him why, curiously, as he definitely likes eating bananas. He answered, “Well, if I don’t eat them I know that they’ll turn into banana bread”. Ah, right. Yep, I am a creature of habit. Both in terms of over-purchasing bananas and then turning the eventual blackened bananas into a sweet quick bread. You can see some of my versions here and here; others not-yet-posted include a cinnamon banana bread with a thick, glossy Nutella ribbon and another with dried sour cherries and dark chocolate chips.

Yes, they’re all delicious and go from mixing bowl to oven in under 20 minutes. But… well, with my latest lot of overripe bananas, I wanted to do something more challenging. Enter the banana, coconut and rum cake with a thick, crunchy coconut and walnut crust.

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The inspiration for this cake came from an archived blog post by Tracey at SugarPunk Desserts (a small one-woman baking business in North Carolina that sadly no longer exists). She in turn found the recipe she used in a book called Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. As per usual, I couldn’t leave the recipe alone… and no, I didn’t quite keep to quantities.

I swapped a portion of the flour for protein-rich, dense and fragrant coconut flour just because I thought the flavour would match beautifully with the bananas, rum and nuts. I also swapped sour cream for organic coconut milk yoghurt from Co Yo (this stuff is amazing… Australian-made, creamy, rich and completely plant-based for you vegans out there!), butter for Nuttelex, reduced the sugar and egg content, and added shredded coconut to the crunchy nut topping. The result? Amazing.

yoghurtjug2I took this cake along to a boozy party at a friend’s house, where it was critiqued as an “…awesomely amped up banana cake. Yeah, it’s a banana cake on steroids!” (the booze might explain the colloquialisms. Possibly. Or not). Version two travelled to my office where slightly more subdued responses were gained, including “Holey moley Laura! So delicious” and  “…this is almost better than your chocolate truffle cake! But, uh… not quite. When are you bringing the truffle cake in again…?”.

cake crumbsSo, I guess we could say the slightly confused consensus is that this cake is good. Not as knock-out spectacular as the praline-topped chocolate truffle cake but amazingly good. Its dense crumb is moist and fragrant from the coconut flour, with sweet banana undertones and the warmth of rum. It’s christened with a rich, buttery rum-spiked glaze that soaks through into the soft cake, contrasting against the crunchy coconut and walnut crust (the original recipe called for pecans. I’ll forgive you if you revert back to Pecanland).

So, next time you have overripe bananas in your fruit bowl or fridge, I’d recommend that you take a little extra time to make this recipe. No, it’s not as simple as banana bread, but it’s a spectacular way to help those poor, neglected fruits die a worthy death. Trust me. You will win friends and conquer kingdoms. Or possibly not, but either way… you won’t care after your first slice.

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Banana Coconut and Rum Cake

Makes one 22cm cake

Topping:

  • 1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and crushed
  • 1/2 cup shredded or flaked coconut, toasted

Cake:

  • 325g Nuttelex (substitute Earth Balance or unsalted butter)
  • 2 cups raw caster sugar
  • 1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp dark rum (I used Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva, but I’d recommend Clasico)
  • 2 cups (250g) plain flour
  • 1 cup (125g) organic coconut flour (I used Eco organic coconut flour)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup organic coconut milk yoghurt (substitute natural yoghurt or sour cream)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Position a rack to sit as a middle shelf. Grease and line a 22cm springform pan, ensuring that the base is firmly in place. Sprinkle your walnuts and toasted coconut evenly over the base of the pan, then set aside.

tinnutsmontIn a large bowl, beat together the Nuttelex (or butter) and sugars until pale and fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in your mashed bananas, yoghurt, coconut flour, vanilla and rum, then mix well. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes so that the coconut flour can soak in the liquid ingredients (read notes, below). My batter was entirely fine, but if your mixture appears too dense or dry, add in an extra mashed banana or a couple of tablespoons of almond milk (or dairy milk).

vanillapourmontSift in your wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Fold together using a rubber spatula until no streaks of flour remain.

Carefully spoon your batter over the walnut and coconut layer in the pan, ensuring that the mixture doesn’t displace the nuts. Tap the pan lightly on the benchtop to even out the mixture and to ensure that the batter adheres to the coconut and walnuts.

sift bowlmontBake your cake for around 60-80 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. During this time, you can make your rum glaze (as follows; keep reading for directions on how to finish your cake).

rumcakemontRum Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup Nuttelex (substitute Earth Balance or unsalted butter)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark rum

Combine the Nuttelex, water and sugars (not the rum) in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low. Allow the mixture to simmer for around 1o minutes, or until reduced and syrupy. Add in the rum, then keep the mixture warm until you’re ready to use it.

sidecakeTo finish your cake:

Whilst still in the tin, use a wooden skewer to gently poke holes all over your cake. Pour over 1/4 cup of the warm rum glaze, and allow to soak into the holes. Leave the cake for 5 minutes before releasing the tin and inverting it onto a serving platter. The base of your cake (with its walnut and coconut crust) should now be the top. Carefully poke a few more holes in the surface of the cake and then slowly spoon over the rest of the glaze, allowing each spoonful to absorb (if the glaze starts to pool on the plate, scoop it up with a spoon or spatula and spread it over the sides of the cake). As the glaze hardens, the walnuts and coconut will form a crunchy, sugary, nutty crust.

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Let the cake cool completely before serving, to prevent the interior collapsing (it’s a very moist, dense cake and it firms up upon cooling). It’s delicious served warm (blitz each piece in the microwave for a few seconds) with extra coconut milk yoghurt or ice-cream… or just on its own, for a mid-afternoon kick with a hot cup of tea.

It will stay moist, covered, for about 3 days in the fridge (though the crust will soften slightly). Freeze in an airtight container for up to two months.

creamspoonNotes:

  • Coconut flour is made from the dried, ground coconut meat that’s leftover after virgin coconut oil is extracted. It’s packed with fibre, protein and good fats whilst being gluten-free and wheat-free (perfect for coeliacs or those who are wheat intolerant).
  • I wouldn’t recommend swapping all of the grain-flour content in a recipe with coconut flour, as its baking properties are entirely different. A general rule is to swap 20-30% of the stated flour in a recipe for coconut flour and it’ll work out fine with the existing ingredients.
  • However, several articles on the internet also state that you can successfully substitute the entire flour content of a recipe for coconut flour. Bakers such as Sarah Rae Trover (at The Kitchn) have had success with a ratio of 1 egg for every ounce (30g) of coconut flour. The egg acts as a raising agent for the flour (which, in itself, contains no gluten) whilst the coconut flour will absorb the entire liquid contents of the egg. I’ve never tried this method so I can’t vouch for it, but the science makes sense. Other bloggers with egg sensitivities have had success substituting the eggs for ground chia or flax + water (‘chia eggs’ or ‘flax eggs’).
  • Don’t attempt to use coconut flour for an airy, light cake or cupcake recipe. It works best in recipes that are dense, moist and deliciously indulgent. You can also add a tablespoon or so to smoothies for a thick, subtly sweet protein and fibre boost.
  • After doing a bit of supplementary research for this recipe post, I’ve discovered that a lot of bloggers out there are actually making their own coconut milk yoghurt. As stated above, mine was shop-bought from Co Yo (lucky for me it’s an Australian company which keeps local prices down slightly… it’s delicious) but if you’re interested in making your own, check out these posts from The Mindful Foodie, London Paleo Kitchen and Cultures for Health. Big yay for making our own ‘cultured’ products at home… my next batch will definitely be home-made!

indian lime pickle

limes2Let me start off by saying that this recipe is well-intentioned, but… uh… a little non-authentic. Being of British birth and Australian upbringing, I am much better versed in making orange marmalade than lime pickle, though I have eaten enough of the latter to sink a small dinghy.

A few years ago, I dabbled in the creation of my own mango chutney, which was delicious but a little Westernised. This lime pickle is similar, if not the same; inspired by the cuisine that’s close to my heart but not naturally embedded in my brain.

gingersugarI decided to make lime pickle about three days ago, after being gifted with a bag of fresh limes by my lovely colleague, Joyce. One of the interesting things about being a food blogger is that people everywhere seem to ‘gift’ you with their superfluous produce, whether it be from their own gardens (Great! So far I’ve been given a lot of citrus, herbs, a couple of knobbly red peppers and some beautiful home-grown squash) or from their refrigerators (Not so good. As in, “…oh, I’ve got this half-finished bag of two-week-old slightly-decaying spinach left in my vegetable crisper. I’m not going to use it, would you like it for your blog?”).  As for the limes, well… as per usual, I excitedly carried them back to my office and squirreled them into my desk drawer.

When the end of the day arrived, I took my little bag of glistening green orbs and carried them home. Then I stared at them for about ten minutes before searching in my cupboard for some mustard seeds.

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From the archive of my brain, most lime pickles seem to contain four main ingredients: fresh limes (uh, yep), mustard seeds (brown or black seem to be used interchangeably), garlic and spices. I’ve tasted sickly sweet ones and acidic, hot varieties that burn at the back of your throat. Though all are great with a range of curries, naan bread and buckets of saffron rice, I do prefer the less sweet, more spicy versions with a lingering acidity and softened, tender chunks of lime peel.

jarstringThe version that I made today is based on a recipe by Alison Adams. It’s relatively simple, but requires a bit of time for the lime peel to cure in salt prior to cooking. The recipe itself contains the ingredients I listed above with additional fresh ginger, chilli, brown sugar and pungent, nutty mustard seed oil.

In a diversion from the recipe, I boiled the mixture down for about an hour (see, I told you I’m used to making marmalade) until it was glossy, fragrant and speckled with blackened mustard seeds. The lime peel still has resistance to the bite but melts upon chewing to release a fragrant, complex mouthful of slightly tart, spicy goodness. So good.

bowlmontThis pickle improves upon canning so if you can (no pun intended), leave it in a cool place in your house for a week to develop the flavours.

It tastes delicious with traditional (or non-traditional) Indian curries, rice and breads… or, if you’re a rule-breaker like me, slather it onto a piece of crusty French bread to enjoy with some great hard cheese.

picklelike

Indian Lime Pickle

Makes about 2 cups/500mL

  • 8 whole, fresh unwaxed limes
  • 1-2 tbsp salt (start with a little and add extra to ensure that your limes are thoroughly covered during the curing process)
  • 2 tbsp mustard seed oil
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds (I used yellow)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2cm-piece fresh young ginger, scraped
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp chilli powder, to taste
  • 250ml (1 cup) water
  • 125g (3/4 cup, lightly packed) brown sugar
  • 2 tbs white vinegar

Prepare your limes: Cut each lime into 8 wedges. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Mix, cover and set aside in a cool, dry place for 2 days, stirring occasionally.

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To cook: Heat the mustard seed oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook without stirring until the seeds start to pop (be careful here, as they jump). Finely chop or crush your ginger and garlic. Add these to the pot with the cumin, coriander and chilli powder. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until aromatic and lightly browned.

mustardmontAdd the water, sugar, vinegar and your salted lime mixture, including the juices that have collected in the bottom of the bowl (note: if you find the collected juice to be too salty, discard it and rinse your limes in some fresh water before tipping them into the pan. Taste as you go!).

Stir well, and bring to the boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45-60 minutes or until the mixture thickens and the lime peels soften considerably. The flesh will break down slightly and create a beautifully aromatic, glossy liquid. Taste and add more chilli, sugar or salt as required.

picklelsSterilise two 250-300mL jars. Whilst your pickle is still hot, fill the jars and seal them immediately. Invert for 5 minutes to ensure the lids seal properly. Leave the jars for 1 week before eating to develop the flavours.

limespoonNotes:

  • Choose unwaxed, heavy limes that are bright green and fragrant. These have the most juice and will add the most flavour to your pickle.
  • Mustard seed oil is a beautifully pungent, nutty and rich oil that tastes amazing when used to cook Indian food. Though this oil doesn’t rank as highly as coconut, olive or pure walnut oil in terms of nutritional content, it’s low in saturated fat and it does contain some heart healthy Omega 3.
  • Label, date and store this pickle in a cool place for up to 6 months. Once opened, it needs to be refrigerated but will keep fresh for about 2 months under normal conditions. I mean, if you don’t have a curry fiend living in your house. Or if you haven’t discovered how amazing this pickle tastes with cheese. Mm, cheese.

orange and almond cake with lavender and rose syrup

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I’ve never liked orange and almond cake. Despite being lauded as a ‘healthy’ alternative to calorie-laden treats such as brownies or cheesecake, it’s always tasted a bit like wet, orange-infused sawdust to me.

However, approximately two months ago I began contemplating the design of a ‘healthy cake recipe’ for my mother’s upcoming birthday celebration. Unlike me, she’s managed to completely escape the hereditary sweet tooth (mine is firmly embedded in my jaw) so her desserts of choice are usually fruit, nut or cheese based. If it came to the proverbial crunch, she’d choose carrot over chocolate cake, granola bars over brownies and zucchini bread over an ice-cream sundae. Every. Single. Time.

vbeanmont

So, knowing my mum’s preference for healthy, fruit-and-nut-based cake alternatives, I set to work on writing a recipe for orange and almond cake that both fit her criteria (healthy, not-too-sweet, fruity and nutty) and my criteria (sweet-enough, non-grainy and still-indulgent). Why orange and almond cake? Well, I’ve cooked various carrot cakes, healthy banana bread and honey chia muesli bars as a treat for mum many times before. I’ve also seen her enjoy this cake many times over during mother and daughter coffee-and-cake dates, so I knew it was part of her accepted dessert repertoire.

It seemed to tick all the boxes; except that most versions I’ve tried have been grainy and cloying, with a bitter aftertaste. Cue: paper, pen, laptop, snack (banana with peanut butter and sultanas; yum), drink (milk) and iTunes (see here for one of my favourite bands of the moment). By the next morning, I had a spiced up, Persian-inspired recipe for orange and almond cake in my hot little hands, plus a two-page birthday speech awaiting revision in Microsoft Word. Yikes.

flowersmont

Fast forward two days. A crowd of 20+ friends and family stand in a grassy, tiered backyard under a borrowed beach umbrella. I’m standing next to my beautiful mother, speech in hand and lump in throat. The cake sits on a nearby table; orange, glossy with syrup and speckled with dots of vanilla bean. Beads of condensation run down a tub of cold, creamy mascarpone. Bubbling champagne dances in glasses around deep, dark Wild Hibiscus flowers.

The speech ends. I embrace my mother in a well-practiced hug, my heart swelling with pride, love and gratefulness for the woman she is: brave, strong, wise, intelligent, generous and loving. The crowd claps, mum speaks and then… well, it’s the moment of truth. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Or uh… cake, in this case.

cake

Lucky for me, my untested recipe proved to be quite the success; both by my mother’s taste buds (the most important taste buds, in this case) and by the testimony of her friends and colleagues. I’ve had many requests for the recipe (hence this recipe post) and after a second trial of my scribbled techniques (Mark II was inhaled by my colleagues in a matter of minutes) I can truly say that this cake is easy, delicious and not at all sawdust-like.

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The batter for this cake was based on a recipe for flourless orange cake by Yin Tang (via Taste.com.au). I spiced it up with smooth vanilla and the warmth of cinnamon before adding some cornflour for texture and a dense, aromatic floral syrup for moisture and wow-factor. If you’ve always loved orange and almond cakes, you’ll love this amped-up, less grainy version of an old favourite.

If you’ve never liked orange and almond cakes (like me), well… give this recipe a go. It might change your mind.

caketop

Orange and Almond Cake with Lavender and Rose Syrup

Makes one 22cm cake

Cake ingredients:

  • 2 organic, unwaxed oranges
  • 3 whole free-range eggs
  • 215g (1 cup) white caster sugar
  • 300g (3 cups) almond meal (make sure you have a little extra on hand… I’ll explain below)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp cornflour or plain flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Syrup ingredients:

  • 1 organic, unwaxed orange
  • 150g (3/4 cup) white caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 whole vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp organic, unsprayed lavender buds
  • 1/4 tsp crumbled organic, unsprayed dried rose petals (plus extra, to decorate)
  • a splash of orange blossom water (optional)

To bake the cake: Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees f). Grease and line a 22cm springform pan (you can use a fixed base pan but it’ll be much harder to remove your cake) then set aside.

boilchopmont

Place the oranges into a medium saucepan, then cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Allow to cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the oranges soften. Drain your pot, retaining the oranges. Re-fill the pot with fresh cold water then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until a knife slides through each orange easily (using a new batch of fresh water for the second boil will reduce the bitterness of the peel).

Drain the oranges, then refresh them under cold water. When they’re cool enough to handle, drain then chop them coarsely. Place your orange pieces and residual juice into the bowl of a medium food processor or blender, making sure to remove any seeds or large chunks of pith.

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Process until smooth. Set aside and allow to cool.

Place the eggs and caster sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk with an electronic beater until thick, glossy and pale. Add in your blended orange puree and mix well. Sift in your other ingredients: almond meal, baking powder, cornflour and spices. If there is any residual coarse almond meal left in your sieve, weigh it, and then discard it (you can use the coarse almond meal in homemade granola, muesli bars or other such things; sieving out coarse particles helps give the finished cake achieve a smooth, luscious texture). Replace the discarded meal with an equal quantity of fine, sieved almond meal (repeat above process if necessary).

mealsiftmontGently fold together all of the ingredients until just combined, then pour into your prepared pan. Smooth the surface of your cake, then tap the tin gently on a bench surface to remove any air bubbles.

Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached (not sticky liquid). Set aside for 15 minutes to cool whilst you prepare your syrup, as below.

cakebatter

For the syrup: Use a zester or knife to remove the rind from your orange (I used a knife to remove long, even strips before running the knife blade along each strip to remove the remaining white pith. You can also follow this method with a vegetable peeler; slice your prepared rind into thin strips).

Place the rind into a saucepan with fresh, cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes or until soft and fragrant. Drain well, then return to the saucepan (off the heat).

rindmont

Juice the orange. Add the juice to the saucepan with the prepared rind, adding in the caster sugar, vanilla bean (split the bean with a sharp knife and scrape the seeds out) and dried flowers. Place the pan over low heat and cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes or until the sugar fully dissolves and the syrup thickens. Remove from the heat and add in a small splash of orange blossom water, if using (taste, then add more if required).

Allow  the syrup to stand for at least five minutes before pouring it over your cake.

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To soak your cake: Whilst you were making the syrup, your cake will have cooled and slightly sunk. Leaving it in its tin, gently prick holes all over the surface with a thin skewer.

If you’ve used a springform tin, place the tin over a wire rack with a plate or large bowl underneath to catch any syrup that escapes. Spoon over the warm floral syrup, then allow the cake to soak for at least 30 minutes (if using the springform tin and drip-catcher method, pour any syrup that’s dripped out of the tin back on to the surface of the cake).

rosemarycakecnr

To serve: Carefully remove the cake from its tin and transfer it onto a serving plate. Decorate the edges with more crumbled rose petals, some lavender and either fresh, unsprayed lavender leaves or rosemary.

Cut into wedges and serve with a thick dollop of mascarpone, Greek yoghurt or sour cream.

rosemarycake

Notes:

  • Make sure you use good-quality, sweet oranges for this cake as despite the boiling process, some bitterness will end up in your finished cake batter. Poor quality oranges = less flavour in your finished cake. There’s no way around it.
  • Do not compromise with waxed oranges or fruit/flowers that have potentially been sprayed. You’re eating whole fruit and flowers in this cake. Any waxy rind will affect the finished texture and any potential chemicals will end up in your gut (never a good thing).
  • To make this cake completely gluten-free, omit the cornflour and ensure that you’ve purchased gluten-free baking powder. There’s no need to add a flour-replacement unless you really want to, as the cake holds together well. As I’m a gluten-eater, I just enjoy having a little flour in the mix to increase the density and ‘soften’ the texture of the almond meal.
  • Feel free to replace the orange blossom water in the syrup with some fragrant rose water if desired. Both are beautifully fragrant, but make sure that you’re sparing with the amount that you initially add (just a splash). You can always taste the syrup and add more if desired.
  • I’ve also made a version of this cake with simple orange syrup (omit the floral elements, retain the vanilla bean) before topping it with glossy pomegranate seeds, crushed, toasted pistachios and mint. Most classic Middle Eastern dessert flavours work quite well, so feel free to play around… you can even add a 1/4 tsp of ground cardamom to the batter for more of a spicy twist.

cakegone

Cake gone. Me sad (never thought I’d say that about sawdust cake, but… yep, I’m a convert. This will be a regular in our home from now on… I hope you enjoy it as much as we did).

awards and acknowledgements II

salmonplate

So… I’m late in responding to some blog awards again. Probably because I eating sashimi. And hanging out at the beach with a bucket in some puffy blue underpants (red shovel in hand, of course. I like to dig).

mebub

Uh, no. As you’ve probably realised, that photograph was taken quite a few years a go at an unidentified pebbly beach in Britain. Before I developed both culinary and fashion sense (though I was rather colour coordinated – thanks mum). I thought I’d add it with some unrelated food photography (sushi, which I made for dinner a little while ago. I took photos for the hell of it) as… well, words just don’t cut it on a food blog.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. Huge apologies, both for the belated thanks and the underpants remarks. I do appreciate each and every nomination that’s been gifted to me by my blogging peers. Despite being in danger of repeating myself, I just want to reiterate that the beautiful people I’ve ‘met’ over the past twelve months (almost… my first post was published on May 21st, 2012) have been the most wonderful and unexpected blessing along the learning curve that is food writing, recipe development and photography.

sushimont

I initially started this blog as a way to archive my evolving collection of unique recipes, experiments, photographs and successes to share with a small group of interested family and friends. However, along the way, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the most beautiful, generous, talented and creative people I’ve ever known (yep, that’s you!) and it’s been through regular blogger exchanges of humour, encouragement, cooking tips and constructive feedback that my passion for quality and growth have been maintained.

So, before I move on to the awards, I just want to say thanks to each and every one of you for taking the time out to share this journey with me. You’re wonderful, and I look forward to sharing many more recipes, stories, photographs and life events as time leads us on… past the one year mark, to many more.

kreativ-blogger-award

1. The Kreativ Blogger Award

This award nomination came from the beautiful woman behind Live Blissful, an Australian blog that documents the somewhat challenging journey towards maintaining a healthy vegan lifestyle. It’s been such a pleasure reading the recipes, stories and challenges faced by this Brisbane-based blogger… particularly as her partner and now fiance, Marco (yaaay! Read about the engagement here) still maintains an omnivorous lifestyle (argh, bacon and cheese = temptation). Ms Blissful is also one of the most encouraging, generous and warm food bloggers you could ever meet. If you need to know information about specific food exchanges, vegan-friendly products or food establishments, I’m sure she’d love to help you out.

Rules for the Kreativ Blogger Award

  1. Visit and thank the blogger who nominated you
  2. Acknowledge that blogger on your blog and link back
  3. Share 7 (seven) random interesting things about yourself
  4. Nominate 7 (seven) Kreativ (CREATIVE. Argh, these weird spellings are one of my pet hates!) Bloggers for the award. Post a link to their blogs then notify them of their nomination
  5. Copy and paste the award somewhere on your blog

Okay, seven random facts about me:

  1. I have freckles. Mostly scattered over my nose, with a few on the rest of face and body. When I was a child, my mother informed me that I’d ‘grow out of them’ as my father had when he reached adulthood. Well… I waited. And scrubbed my face with various creams. But they’re still here. I’m trying to make myself love them.
  2. Having freckles can be an advantage when you accidentally get pen, cocoa or other dark-coloured products on your face. Everyone just assumes that you’ve somehow grown some new freckles.
  3. I love red wine. It’s one of my absolute favourite things. One of my favourites is 2% (shiraz with 2% tempranillo) from the First Drop winery in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. Closely followed by their glorious Fat of the Land and Sandalford Estate’s Prendiville Reserve Shiraz from Margaret River, Western Australia.
  4. Both Aaron and I love dogs, of all breeds, shapes and sizes. We pretty much swoon at every dog that we see walking down the street (whether we’re on-foot or in the car), much to the chagrin of our friends. We’d love to buy a boxer or French bulldog one day; we’ve been holding off due to the lack of space in our shoebox apartment.
  5. I dislike molluscs, whether they be cooked or raw, in sauce or without sauce, fresh-from-the-ocean or frozen. Particularly bivalves. Yes, you can talk to me about the wonder of oysters til you’re blue in the face but they still make me want to gag (in fact, I did gag whilst sampling a raw one at a specialty seafood shop… I felt sorry for the gentleman who had freshly shucked it for me. I wanted to vomit. I did vomit. Thankfully, once I’d already exited the shop)
  6. I used to hate all ‘slimy’ vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms. When I was tiny, my mother encouraged me to eat ‘just one spoonful’ whenever she cooked them… I gradually grew to love them, and now they’re pretty much my favourite vegetables of all time (alongside Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach and potatoes). So, if you were wondering, tough-but-kind parenting does work. Completely for the child’s benefit!
  7. I love buying grey clothing. In fact, when my husband and I got together, we both pretty much owned 70% grey clothes (the rest being blue jeans, black or white accessories). We’ve gradually been encouraging each other to include some colour variance in our wardrobes, and it’s working. But… we still end up dressing the same at times. Purely because of our similar tastes.

cucginger

Nominees for the Kreativ Blogger Award:

  1. Johnny from Feed the Piglet: Johnny is awesome. He hails from ‘The Garden of England’ (also known as Kent) and produces endlessly creative recipes that really showcase earthy, organic produce cooked from scratch (my kind of cooking!). Take a look at his blog and meet both him and piglet (no, I’m not giving anything away. Read, people). His photography and food styling are pretty inspirational, too.
  2. Danny at Gotasté: I’ve been following Danny’s blog for a while now and he’s definitely one of the most encouraging bloggers I’ve had the privilege of meeting. He cooks a beautiful array of international dishes, all with his own signature flair. It’s actually amazing what he can produce whilst mourning the lack of homegrown produce in his home country of Singapore (makes me feel lucky to have such amazing access to farmer’s markets here in Australia). Definitely a worthy contender for a creative award!!
  3. Richard from REM Cooks: Yup, this blog is proof that lawyers can cook! And in the case of Richard, he cooks very well indeed. I’ve learned tons of things about traditional French cooking methods, sauces and other such things from this blog. I’d encourage you to take a look if you’re interested in the finer details of making desserts or savoury dishes with an impressive twist. Baby lady is pretty lucky. And so are we, as we get to share his creativity through the blogosphere!
  4. The lovely Katie from Katie at the Kitchen Door: Katie is gorgeous, inside and out. She’s a perfect example that I am entirely stupid in hating my own freckles, as for some reason I can see their absolute beauty on other people’s skin! Anyway, apart from freckles, Katie is a talented writer, baker and photographer. I love the refreshing honesty in her writing and the generosity in her comments. She also hails from Boston, which as we all know has been in the media for all of the wrong reasons recently. Luckily, she’s safe. And she’s publicised her hometown cause via this post.
  5. Lindsay from Fleur de Sel: Aah! Lindsay and Matt just got engaged! Sorry… I’m getting a little excited at the moment, when I’m supposed to be talking about reasons for nomination. Ahem. Lindsay is a beautiful San Franciscan woman who has an amazing eye for photography and food styling. She’s an inspiration for me, in terms of the freshness of her ingredients and the way she presents her creations. Definitely a worthy contender. And… argh! She’s engaged!
  6. Greg (aka Rufus) and Katherine from Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide: I love this blog. It’s my go-to site for savoury recipe inspiration, cocktails and infused spirits (the Praline Bourbon is to die for). This man works wonders with meat, as does…
  7. Conor from One Man’s Meat: Now, I’m a pretty recent follower of Conor’s blog, but his brilliant humour, intriguing posts and meat genius have impressed from the outset. If you want to know how to cook meat well, this is the place to visit (slight warning: there are some gross pictures on this site. Conor does not shy away from photographs of raw, slimy ingredients. Browse at your own peril).

sisterhood-of-the-world-bloggers-award

2. Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award *is the logo for this award supposed to resemble The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants?

Anyway, ahem. This award nomination also came via my beautiful friend at Live Blissful. If you’d like to read more about her, take a look at her ‘About’ page or scroll back upwards. Thanks so much lovely, it means a lot.

Rules for the Sisterhood Award:

  1. Provide a link and thank the blogger who nominated you
  2. Nominate 10-12 blogs that you find a joy to read
  3.  Provide links to these nominated blogs and kindly let the recipients know that they have been nominated
  4. Include the award logo within your blog post for the award

Nominees for the Sisterhood Award:

  1. The gorgeous Bec from Daisy and the Fox: I love this Aussie blog. It’s a tumble of fresh recipes, fashion and beauty tips, stories and other things that will definitely inspire you. Bec is only 17 and she’s already full of talent in the kitchen… in terms of cooking, food styling and photography. Take a look and say hello – you’ll be glad you did!
  2. Hannah from Gypsy Roller’s Vegie Kitchen: You definitely need to take a look at the lovely Hannah’s patch of the internet! She writes from the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, and her recipes and stories are fresh and fantastic. Love it.
  3. The beautiful Annie from An Unrefined Vegan: This blog cuts quite deep, when you sit down and read it for a while. Annie documents the deeper issues of being vegan (whilst also providing gorgeous, fresh and inspiring recipes) whilst also delving into the complexities of having a family member with a terminal illness in her Terminal Illness Primer for Caregivers (borne out of her personal experience with her late brother, Charles). She’s beautiful inside and out. She’ll teach you something. Take time out to read.
  4. My dear friend Viveka from My Guilty Pleasures: Viveka blogs from her hometown of Landskrona, Sweden. She’s got a beautiful eye for photography and also gives us glimpses into her own life… the beauty, the challenges and all that’s in-between. I won’t write too much about Viveka’s content as she can say it much better than I ever could… but have a read. You’ll be glad you did.
  5. The lovely and talented Azita from Fig and Quince: She’s funny, she’s talented and arty (see some of her artwork here!) and she can cook up an incredible Persian storm! I’ve learned so much from the family musings, recipes and stories over at Azita’s blog. She uses many traditional ingredients and she’ll happily share her knowledge with you. I count her as a beautiful blogging friend.
  6. The gorgeous Suzanne from A Pug in the Kitchen: Haha. Check out the ‘About‘ page and meet Izzy and Nando, Suzanne’s gorgeous kitchen-hands (aka pugs). I love Suzanne’s recipes and stories, all written with homage to her Italian heritage and her hometown of Brooklyn, New York. She’s also a generous commenter and encourager in the blogosphere. Check her out!
  7. The inventive Christina from Small Kitchen Chronicles: Christina is beautiful. She’s got a kitchen that’s probably as small as mine, and she creates a whole myriad of amazingly delicious things on a regular basis! I love the honest way that she writes, the way that she draws inspiration from her Greek heritage, and the fact that she’s entirely unpretentious (despite obvious talent!)
  8. Andrea from Middle East Moments: It’s been a few months since I first discovered Andrea’s blog, and I’ve been continually inspired by her journey as an Australian woman who’s now living in the cultural whirlpool that is Jordan. Her stories are real, challenging, beautiful and honest. I’ve learned a lot about her personal strength, patience, her compassionate heart and her love of family (near and far). I’d definitely encourage you to take some time out and read her beautifully eloquent posts.
  9. Hayley from The Domestic Rebel: This girl is cool, colourful and creative. She specialises in sweet (and I say, sweet) indulgent treats, cupcakes and all things funfetti. She’s already got heaps of followers (and she’s probably already been over-awarded, sigh!) but there always has to be one rebel in the bunch! Plus, she deserves it!
  10. The gorgeous Sawsan at Chef in Disguise: Sawsan is another beautiful and talented Middle Eastern blogger who has posted an incredible array of resources on her blog. There’s everything from a cheese making guide to conversion tables and references on Middle Eastern spices. I love the generosity of heart that Sawsan displays in all of her comments and tips… she’s an inspiration.
  11. Carla from eat sweet.by Carla Sue: Now, this sisterhood wouldn’t be complete without the lovely Carla, from whom I’ve gained many sweet tips and slices of inspiration! She’s a fellow Antipodean (from Tassie! Which, of course, automatically makes her a genuine sister for the rest of us Aussie women) and she’s got a beautiful knack for baking and food photography. Say hello… she’s generous and warm, so I’m sure you’ll make a friend!

carrotsesamesalad

So that’s it, round two of blogging awards complete. Thanks again to all of you who inspire and share with me on a daily basis – the blogging network is a wonderful thing. Oh, and for those of you who are interested… I’m currently boiling oranges for a flourless orange cake with lavender and rose ryrup. They smell divine… next food post on the way!

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