quince and amaretto cake

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It was my mum’s birthday last week. As previously mentioned on the blog, she’s a fan of ‘healthy-ish’ cakes; those with chunks of fruit or shredded vegetables, almond meal or ricotta, less sugar than the average celebratory kind.

I usually bake her some sort of carrot loaf (like these cupcakes) or a dense orange and almond cake (like this one) but as I had leftover poached quince sitting in the fridge, I decided to experiment with a very old fashioned ‘upside down cake’.

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Just so you know: I’d never previously made an upside down cake. Despite trying the ‘classic pineapple‘ version during my childhood, the idea of making my own seemed… well, rather antiquated (perhaps due to mental images of 1920’s housewives!).

However, after spying this stunning creation by Gina De Palma on Fine Cooking, I was hooked on the idea of an upside down quince cake. Ruby wedges of fragrant quince atop a soft, moist almond cake? Definitely mum’s kind of thing.

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As I had already poached my autumn quince with a good amount vanilla and spice, I decided to divert from the spiced brown sugar cake batter in Gina’s original recipe. Instead, worked from this recipe, incorporating a generous amount of fragrant lemon zest whilst swapping the brown sugar and honey for white caster sugar. I also added a generous glug of Amaretto instead of vanilla essence (it’s a birthday, after all).

We shared this ruby red autumn beauty last night after a Moroccan-inspired dinner for mum’s birthday. Each slice was served warm (except dad’s, because dad) with a dollop of thickened cream and toasted almonds for crunch.

Happy birthday mama bear. Love you x

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quince and amaretto cake

Makes one 22cm cake

cake:

  • poached quince (about 2 quince worth, or 1/3 of recipe)
  • 250g salted butter (approx 1 cup) at room temperature
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups (250g) white caster sugar
  • 2 tsp finely grated (unwaxed) lemon rind
  • 1/2 cup (50g) almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 3/4 cup (185mL) almond milk (substitute other plant based or dairy milk)
  • 2 1/4 cups (300g) self-raising flour, sifted
  • good glug of Amaretto liqueur (substitute vanilla essence or another sweet almond or hazelnut liqueur)

to serve:

  • 1 cup quince poaching liquid, reduced over the stove into a syrup* (optional)
  • 1/4 cup toasted flaked almonds

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease the base and sides of a 22cm springform pan and line well with baking parchment.

Slice the quince wedges into neat slices that are around 1cm thick. Arrange half of the slices in a rough concentric circle around the outer ring of the prepared cake pan (set the rest of the slices aside to create a layer of quince in the centre of the cake). Keep moving inwards until the bottom of the pan is covered (I didn’t bother being too perfectionistic, however you can cut the slices a bit thinner and create overlapping patterns if you desire!). Set aside.

Add the softened butter and sugar into a large bowl. Beat well with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each new addition. Fold in the almond meal and lemon rind, then the milk and Amaretto. Finally, sift over the flour and fold to incorporate.

Carefully spoon half of the batter over the quince slices. Smooth out with the back of a spoon, then layer over the other half of your quince slices. Top with the remaining batter, carefully smoothing the surface to hide any pieces of quince. Tap the tin on a hard surface to ensure the batter fully adheres to the quince at the bottom of the tin.

Place the tin onto an oven tray (to ensure that escaping quince juices don’t end up on the bottom of your oven), then transfer the cake into your preheated oven. Bake, uncovered, for 60-90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin, releasing the sides of the tin after 5 minutes.

To serve, slice the domed top off the cake (if there is one) and carefully invert it onto a plate. Peel back the baking parchment slowly, ensuring that any broken or dislodged slices of quince are carefully placed back onto the cake with a butter knife.

If desired, pour over a little bit of the reduced quince syrup, smoothing it over the cake with the back of a spoon (I let a bit run down the sides to look pretty). Scatter the toasted almonds around the edges if you fancy. Serve wedges of this cake at room temperature or warm (don’t serve this cake cold or you’ll lose the subtleties of the quince and almond liqueur) with a good spoonful of thickened cream.

*quince syrup: just simmer the reserved poaching liquid in a small pan over medium heat (I add a little splash of white wine vinegar but that’s not even necessary,  I just like a little extra tang) until it becomes thickened and glossy. Watch the pan as you don’t want it to darken too much. When the syrup reaches your desired consistency, allow it to cool slightly, then drizzle some over the cake as above. Serve the remainder with the cake, for people to pour over as desired.

ginger chai hot cross buns

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For most of my life, I’ve observed the Christian holiday of Good Friday, both through prayer and fasting (as a Catholic school girl) and afterwards, by the eating of hot cross buns. Hot from the oven, split in half and slathered in butter, soft and fragrant with a slightly crunchy glazed crust. There was nothing better after Good Friday services (the liturgy) at the conclusion of Holy Week.

For those of you who don’t have a Christian background, the latter may sound a little antiquated. After all, big supermarkets stock hot cross buns for most of the year these days due to ‘high demand’ from the general public. Well, at least that’s what Woolworths says (much to the disdain of small bakeries).

It wasn’t always this way. In 16th-century England, these buns were baked on Good Friday only as a representation of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In fact, during the reign of Elizabeth I (1592) it was considered a transgression to bake these fruited, spiced buns on any other day. The London Clerk of Markets could legally confiscate any baked products that defied this rule, common practice being to give any confiscated buns to the poor and needy.

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I badly want to resurrect this rule, particularly in regards to the supermarket duopoly. These days, chocolate eggs and hot cross buns appear in early January (amidst Australia day flags and Valentine hearts) and stay long after resurrection Sunday. You can buy Belgian chocolate buns, orange and cranberry buns, apple and cinnamon glazed or fruitless buns… pretty much any type you like, nestled cosily next to jam-filled donuts and fudge brownies.

Now, I’m not against flavour variations in the slightest (as you can see, I’ve created a variant myself) but I do oppose the fact that these variations and loose selling times are desensitizing people to the fact that there is meaning behind this ancient tradition (I’m definitely not alone). The flour cross isn’t just there to look pretty and be peeled off after toasting; it’s significant, reminiscent of the meaning behind Easter itself.

Ok, rant over.

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Back to this particular recipe post for hot cross buns. Let me start with an admission: I’m not an expert when it comes to bread. I’ve tried and failed many times over with sourdough starters, no-knead recipes, dried yeast and fermentation processes, all of which left me with rock-hard loaves of disappointment.

However, about two years ago (after eating what seemed like my umpteenth slice of chewy, dense rye) I decided to try my luck with the simplest of Italian focaccia: Italian ‘tipo‘ flour, lots of hydration, extra virgin olive oil, yeast and crunchy sea salt flakes. It turned out beautifully, baked on a pizza stone to a golden crunchy crust with a soft and airy crumb. I was inspired to try again, so I did, with rosemary and caramelised onions. Something started to make sense. It clicked.

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Now, focaccia is a very easy and forgiving bread so in the first instance, I set myself up for a win. However, it was a combination of good quality products from All About Bread in Wanneroo (purchased through Swansea Street Markets in Victoria Park), following recipes (very difficult for an intuitive cook who hardly measures) and the pizza stone that led to continued success.

That and a fair whack of good ol’ fashioned practice. It makes perfect, as they say*.

*I’m taking about yeasted baking, of course, I still have a ton to learn. Next, I’m going to reattempt spelt sourdough with some dehydrated starter from the lovely Sandra aka Lady Redspecs (thanks Sandra! I’m excited and just a little bit afraid). Her notes, alongside those from Emilie and Brydie, will form my Sourdough Bible Version IV (yep, I failed a lot).

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Now, after completely ruining any chance I had of being respected as a baker (uh, just being honest), let me say that these hot cross buns are utterly delicious. They have a soft and tender crumb, a slightly crunchy exterior and gentle heat from the chai spice and ginger.  They’re wonderful warm, slathered with cultured butter and sea salt, particularly if accompanied by a cup of steaming tea. You won’t want to stop at one.

Happy Easter, everyone x

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Ginger Chai Hot Cross Buns

Adapted from Hobbs House Bakery

Makes 16 medium buns

Dough mix:

  • 680g strong white baker’s flour
  • big pinch of sea salt
  • 70g golden caster sugar + pinch of sugar, extra
  • 80g soft butter
  • 1 tbsp (15g) chai spice (I used Herbie’s ground chai spice. Substitute any ground chai spice or traditional mixed spice)
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 270ml warm water
  • 15g dried yeast

Fruit mix:

  • finely grated rind from 1 orange
  • finely grated rind from 1 lemon
  • 100g good-quality sultanas
  • 60g chopped preserved ginger (the ‘naked‘ kind, preferably not crystallised or in syrup**)
  • a little plain flour, to dust

Flour paste (for the crosses):

  • 100g strong white flour
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of sugar
  • a good knob of butter
  • 100ml water

Bun wash (optional):

  • 1/4 cup of boiling water
  • 1 pinch of chai spice
  • 2 tsp golden caster sugar

For the buns: Firstly, dust your dried fruit with a little flour, working it through with your hands to ensure there are no clumps of ginger or sultanas. Grate over the citrus zest and set aside.

Combine the dry yeast and warm water in a bowl, add in a pinch of sugar and leave to activate (the mixture should become clouded and frothy). Meanwhile, combine the dry dough ingredients in a large bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture is ‘sandy’ and no visible clumps of butter remain. Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and pour in some of the frothy yeast mixture. Mix from the ‘outside in’ with a wooden spoon or, if you don’t mind getting a little messy, just use your hands.

Once the dough starts to ‘come together’, turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 15 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Gently work in the fruit mixture, then place your kneaded dough back into the mixing bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel and place in a warm, drought-free spot* for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

When your dough ball has risen nicely, tip it back onto a floured surface and punch it down with your fist. Knead it slightly to form a log, then cut into sixteen equal portions.

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In the palm of your hand, firmly shape the pieces into flat-based rounds so that they’ll sit nicely in your baking dish. Assemble the sixteen buns with a finger-width between each.

Cover the tray again with your clean tea towel and leave in a warm, drought-free place* to rise (about 30-50 minutes or until doubled in size).

Preheat your oven to 210 degrees C (410 degrees f).

Make your flour paste: Whisk together the paste ingredients in a small bowl until smooth (the mixture should be runny enough to pipe but viscous enough to not run everywhere; add a little extra water if it’s too thick). Place the mixture into a piping bag with a round, small nozzle or a snap-lock bag (as I did, if using the latter, snip off one corner of the bag to pipe). Lightly score the buns with a cross pattern, then pipe a lattice of the  paste mixture into the scored lines (I find it easiest to do all of the ‘length of the tin’ lines, followed by the ‘width’ lines).

Place buns into the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until they have golden tops and bottoms (tap the surface of the bun, it should sound ‘hollow’. Whilst the buns are baking, prepare the bun wash (below).

Make the bun wash: Whisk the sugar and chai spice with hot water until the sugar is dissolved (there should be no granules at the bottom of the bowl). Using a pastry brush, generously glaze each bun as soon as it comes out of the oven.

These buns are delicious eaten warm, slathered with salted butter and (if you’re a sweet tooth) a bit of jam or honey. You can also keep them for 1-2 days in an air-tight container to enjoy at room temperature, or (my favourite) split, toasted and buttered with a cup of tea.

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Notes:

  • *if you can’t find any warm, drought-free places in your house, just switch on your oven to pre-heat, switch it straight off and then place your dough inside to rise (covered with a clean, damp tea towel). I’ve fallen into a habit of doing this at all times of the year, as it guarantees a rise each time. Tricky, I know, but it’ll all be worth it when you see your little bread children puffing up with pride.
  • **if you can’t find ‘naked’ ginger, you can use either glacé (candied in sugar syrup) ginger or crystallised ginger (candied, dried then coated in sugar crystals) in this recipe. Just make sure that you wash any extra sugar off, dry the ginger in paper towel and then dust it in flour as per the recipe. If your ginger pieces seem particularly hard or chewy, I’d probably also soak them in hot water for half an hour to rehydrate before chopping them up for the recipe.
  • Though I’ve called for chai spice in this recipe, you can easily substitute traditional mixed spice if you’ve got some in the cupboard. The main difference is the kick of black pepper, aamchur (citrusy dried mango powder) and cardamom that chai provides alongside traditional ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

buckwheat apple zucchini bread

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that my mother has an apple tree at the rear of her garden. It’s an espalier of sorts, trained to grow parallel to the back fence of her city apartment’s courtyard. Despite the confines of a garden bed, it produces a beautiful glut of organic fruit every year; plump, knobbly and subtly sweet under a crisp green skin.

Funnily enough, my mother purchased the plant with the intention of growing a Manjimup ‘Pink Lady‘, a tribute to John Cripps and our home state. However, the green apples never developed their trademark blush of pink and we figure the variety is a ‘Golden Delicious’ with nursery mislabelling.

Whatever the variety, it always feels like a privilege to participate in the growth and harvest of homegrown fruit each year. When I was at home, I used to regularly mulch, water and thin out the apple blossoms, but these days my job mostly consists of picking the high-growing fruit. And eating them, of course.

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So back to the annual apple harvest: this time each year, I start jotting down ideas for making buttery pies and glossy tarte tatins. Occasionally I’ll follow through, but more often than not the apples become crisp salads, coleslaws and the occasional moist apple cake with cream.

This year was no different. After a few weeks of waiting for this year’s apples, I had a list of potential recipes including a rustic galette and sugar-dusted jalousie. But after squirrelling them home, I ate one, dipping the crisp, juicy wedges dipped into homemade cinnamon almond butter. Accompanied by a mug of rooibos tea, there didn’t seem to be need for much else.

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Since that first day, I’ve done a little more ‘proper cooking’ with the apple harvest. I’ve sliced one into julienne, tossing it into a salad with radishes, soft herbs and mustard vinaigrette. I also stewed one for breakfast with some soft local figs and a vanilla pod, adorning it with thick coconut cream (skimmed from the top of a chilled can of coconut milk) and toasted walnuts.

Today, I made this gluten-free loaf full of buckwheat and ground almonds, gently mixed with some grated apples, mashed bananas and a zucchini that was languishing in the vegetable crisper. It tastes glorious; dense, moist and incredibly filling due to the inclusion of buckwheat protein, almond meal and pounded flax. I’ve eaten two doorstop slices at various points in the day, both toasted under the grill until browned before being topped with melted Nuttelex. They’ve accelerated my Monday happiness ten-fold.

So I’m making a bold statement: if you have a tendency towards three-thirty-itis or the dreaded lunchtime ‘hangry‘ face, this loaf is for you. Buckwheat zucchini bread, healing workplace relationships since 2016.

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This buckwheat loaf is completely gluten-free, egg-free, vegan and refined sugar free, though you can easily sub rice malt syrup for honey and flaxseed for an egg or two if you fancy. The latter seems to even qualify as a ‘paleo’ loaf (buckwheat = pseudograin according to paleo authorities) though as a non-paleo eater, feel free to argue the point.

Next on my apple recipe list: some sort of shaved apple salad with blue cheese, walnuts, watercress and a sticky pomegranate dressing (I made my own pomegranate molasses this morning, using this recipe by Sarah Hobbs). Perhaps served with these delicious crackers and a poached egg for Aaron.

If I don’t eat all the apples with almond butter first. Watch this space.

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Buckwheat Apple Zucchini Bread

Makes 1 loaf

  • 1.5 cups organic buckwheat flour
  • 1.5 cups almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk, however you can sub dairy, oat, soy or rice milk here)
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed (equivalent to 1 cup mashed fruit)
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 large or 2 medium apples, cored (I used Golden Delicious)
  • 1/4 cup rice bran syrup (substitute maple syrup or coconut nectar)
  • 3 tbsp flaxseed flakes (pounded flax; you can also use ground flaxseed)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • optional: add in some raisins or toasted walnuts if you feel like it!

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f). Line a 4 cup loaf tin with baking paper, then set aside.

Using the grater attachment on your food processor, finely grate the zucchini and apples with all the skins intact (you should end up with about 1.5 cups of grated zucchini and apple together). Add in the mashed banana and pulse again until well-combined (the mix should still have some texture and flecks of green from the zucchini and apple skins).

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Tip into a medium bowl and mix in the milk, vanilla bean paste, rice bran syrup and flax. Set aside for 5-10 minutes for the flax to thicken the mix (as an egg substitute).

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Sift the buckwheat flour into a large bowl. Add in the almond meal, cinnamon and baking powder. Make a well in the centre, then tip in the wet ingredients. Mix well and spoon into your prepared loaf tin.

Tap the tin on a sturdy surface to expel any bubbles, then transfer to your preheated oven to bake.

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Bake for 50-60 minutes or until your loaf is well risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

This loaf is beautiful served thickly sliced and toasted with dairy butter or Nuttelex. I would also attempt it with mashed avocado (due to that miraculous sweet-savoury lean that avocado has) or toasted til brown with a dollop of mascarpone (or ricotta), runny honey and a smattering of toasted almonds.

Cook’s note: I’ve also made this bread successfully without zucchini, just 4 bananas and 1 reasonably large apple. As long as you’ve got around 2.5 cups of mashed/pureed fruit and vegetables you’ll be fine. I’d love to know if you come up with any adaptations!

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australia day lamington pie

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It’s hard to believe it’s already the fourth day of February, 2016. The official last month of Summer and its long halcyon days. I’ve taken it upon myself to milk the very last drops from this season’s dwindling balmy nights, mostly by sitting near the back door as grassy breezes waft by. I’m drinking chilled Summer white, grilling fresh romaine and eating ripe stone fruit with juice dripping down my chin.

As I type, it’s nearing midday. I’m sitting on the couch in a t-shirt, barefoot, my skin tinged pink from yesterday’s sun-drenched day in the park. Yes, I know sunburn is bad. It definitely wasn’t intentional; to the contrary, I’m one who wears multiple layers of sunscreen and gravitates to every patch of impervious shade. I just have extremely low sun resistance, assumedly due to my English heritage and a distinct lack of adaptation during the 25+ years that I’ve lived in this hot climate (thank goodness that natural selection is rather antiquated amongst humans these days).

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Enough about me and my feeble freckled complexion (slip, slop, slap, you young ‘uns out there). Back to the end of Summer and its lingering sweetness. It’s actually nice to meet February, it already feels like a positive month full of fortunate (some might say serendipitous) events. It’ll be Valentines Day in a week (any of you harping on about commercialism, I don’t wanna hear it. #helplessromantic), Aaron‘s birthday right after and a celebration party for my mama bear the following weekend (she’s five years clear of breast cancer this year, yussss).

Matt and I are also finally meeting Graz next week after many months (actually, years by now, argh) of waxing lyrical about burgers, hot sauce, ribs and other barbecue food. At a joint that serves burgers, hot sauce, ribs and other barbecue food (of course). I can’t wait. It’s the next best thing to actually realising the glory of the hallowed ‘burger off’ challenge that we’ve been planning for a few years now (read one of Graz’s posts about it here). Next time, when I actually own a backyard, we’ll be doing it Graz and Matt. Start trembling.

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Anyway, the main crux of this post isn’t upcoming February wonderment. I want to take you back to the last week of January, during which roughly 23 million Australians celebrated something called Australia Day (I do realise and pay respect to the fact that there are mixed feelings attached to the celebration of our ‘national day’. Whilst I am not choosing to address political sentiment here, this message explains the current political standpoint).

For the majority of the population, ‘Aussie Day’ is characterised by time in the water (whether that be beach, bucket or pool), some sort of barbecue, beer, poorly executed face paint and the Hottest 100. Some also push the boat out with… well, a boat (usually in the shape of an inflatable thong).

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We were definitely no different: we ate snags, we drank beers, we sang songs and soaked in the pool ’til our skin was soft and wrinkly. Some of us visited the Skyworks, as per Perth tradition.

But our barbecue was followed by Lamington Pie.

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For those who don’t know, a lamington is a classic Australian dessert characterised by sponge cake (usually a square or rectangle) dipped in chocolate icing. The dipped cake is then rolled in dessicated coconut, occasionally sliced and sandwiched with jam and cream.

My idea to make a ‘pie’ version of a lamington this year was largely spontaneous, driven by a few types of coconut in the cupboard. In hindsight, I would’ve topped this pie with vanilla whipped cream rather than Italian meringue if I had some on hand (both for ease of construction and to channel a more ‘traditional lamington’ flavour). However, the meringue was equally delicious and stable for transportation in the January heat.

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If you’d like to replicate this pie, I’ve provided the ingredients and method for both Italian meringue and whipped cream below. As aforementioned, both versions have their advantages, though tasters of the meringue version (aka my friends at the Aussie Day party) stated that it was a little more like a ‘Bounty Pie’ than the traditional lamington cakes we scoffed as children.

If you try either version, please let me know your thoughts – particularly if you were a bake-sale lamington eater during your school days. I found that the soft chocolate layer reminded me of sticky lamington icing, particularly good against homemade strawberry jam, buttery pastry and a spoonful of cream.

To all my Aussie readers and friends, happy belated Australia day. May the last month of Summer be especially sweet.

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Lamington Pie

Heavily adapted from Emma Knowles’ Chocolate Coconut Meringue PieGourmet Traveller magazine.

Sweet shortcrust pastry:

  • 250g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour
  • 60g pure icing sugar
  • 160g cold butter, cubed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • splash of ice water
  • lightly beaten egg, extra (for egg wash)

Chocolate layer:

  • 120g desiccated coconut
  • 200g good quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup cacao powder, sifted
  • 1-2 tbsp coconut nectar, to taste
  • 300 ml pouring cream (I actually used half and half sour cream and regular cream)
  • egg yolks
  • good pinch of salt
  • 3-4 tbsp strawberry or raspberry jam

 Italian meringue (or substitute whipped cream option, below *):

  • 220g (1 cup) white caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125mL) water
  • egg whites
  • splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar

To serve: 

  • shaved coconut, toasted (optional) 

Sweet pastry: Sift the icing sugar, flour and a pinch of salt into a medium sized bowl. Add in the cubed, cold butter and rub in until the mixture reaches a ‘sandy’ consistency. Add in the egg yolk and a splash of cold water, then mix (with your hand or a spoon) until the dough starts to ‘come together’. Turn out onto a floured work surface, bring together with the heel of your hand and knead until smooth. Form the dough into a flattened disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour to rest.

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After your pastry is rested, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface to 2mm thickness. Carefully transfer into a  4cm-deep, 24cm-diameter tart tin, pressing to fit. Trim off any stray edges and refrigerate for 1 hour (in the meantime, prepare your chocolate filling).

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) and remove your tart case from the refrigerator. Line with baking paper and weights (baking weights or some dried rice or beans). Bake for 6-8 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove the weights and paper, prick gently with a fork. Bake for a further 5 to 7 minutes or until the base is light golden and starting to dry. Gently brush the half-cooked case with egg wash, then bake again for 4-5 minutes or until dark golden. Set aside to cool.

Chocolate layer: Whilst blind baking your pastry case, toast the desiccated coconut on a lined oven tray until light golden (5-6 minutes). Set aside. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl and set aside. Bring cream to the boil in a medium saucepan over low heat, then pour onto the chocolate. Leave for 5 minutes or until the chocolate starts to melt, then mix through. Sift over the cacao and mix again.

Whisk eggs and 1 tbsp warm water in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water until pale and thick (if you can’t control the heat of your gas or electric hob well, I’d recommend turning it off once the water starts simmering – there should be enough residual heat to thicken the eggs). Gradually pour the mixture into your chocolate and cream mix, whisking until thick and well combined. Taste, then add in coconut nectar and sea salt to your preference (bear in mind that you’ll be folding through toasted coconut). Finally, fold through the toasted coconut. Set aside until your tart case is baked and cooled.

When your tart case is cold, spread the raspberry or strawberry jam across the base. Pour over the chocolate mixture, smooth the top with a spoon and refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours). Top with either Italian meringue or whipped cream (both options below).

Italian meringue: Stir the sugar and water together in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and cook, brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to remove sugar crystals, until syrup reaches 115 degrees C (240 degrees f) on a sugar thermometer (approximately 6-8 minutes).

Whisk the egg white, lemon juice or vinegar and a pinch of salt together with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Continue cooking syrup for another 3 minutes or until a sugar thermometer reads 121 degrees C (250 degrees f), then slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the egg white, whisking consistently until thick and glossy. Cool to room temperature, if necessary, then spoon over the refrigerated tart.  Toast the meringue with a blowtorch if desired, and/or top with toasted shaved coconut. Refrigerate until serving.

*Whipped cream option:

  • 2 cups cold thickened cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 whole vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

Add the cold thickened cream to the bowl of your electric mixer. Add in the vanilla extract and vanilla paste (or seeds), then whisk until stiff peaks form (about 4 to 5 minutes). Top the chocolate layer with the whipped cream and toasted coconut, if desired. Refrigerate until serving.

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A few shots from Australia Day Skyworks, City of Perth CBD:

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meat cake and puppy teeth

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My husband bought me a laptop for Christmas. Well, Christmas and my birthday and our fourth wedding anniversary last year. Due to the notable expense, it was a few presents in one.

It’s beautiful; shiny and new and expeditious. After almost an entire year of stealing hours on Aaron’s desktop computer (read my original eulogy here) it feels like a luxury to have my own device again.

As I had hoped, the accessibility of a laptop has somewhat rekindled my passion for creative writing. I’ve been tapping away at all hours of the day and night, sipping cold tea and humming absentmindedly. I’ve also uploaded almost twelve months of digital photos from my DSLR, uncovering many edible inventions and several hundred (no, I’m not joking) photographs of Loki (our scraggly fur-kid with ambrosial eyes).

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ballAh, Loki. He’s one family member who’s less than fond of my Christmas present. Within a few days, he identified the laptop as competition for my undivided attention (second only to my cell phone). He takes great pleasure in lying across the keypad, ‘nosing’ my hand away from the keys at every given opportunity.

This occasionally leaves wet smudges on the corners of the screen. I kind of like them; I’ve left them to dry like a little line of clouds.

They’re evidence of his friendly occupancy, his shared residence of this shoebox of ours. This place is his home.

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It’s hard to believe we’ve had this smart little bundle of energy for over twelve months now. We celebrated his first birthday last September and, rather cheesily, I baked him a ‘meat cake’ with sweet potato and carrot ‘frosting’.

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It was an improvised job, a spontaneous project based on this idea by my friend Trixie. I packed it full of his favourite things (minus the loose ‘anything on Aaron’s plate’ category) in this order:

  • cake: one beaten egg (plus the ground eggshell – just dry them out and pound them up in your mortar and pestle), about 350g of beef mince, chopped parsley and some bone marrow (leftover from bone broth) mixed and oven-baked in a small 15cm/6 inch lined tin until firm (160 degrees C /320 degrees f for roughly 20 minutes from memory). Allow to cool, remove from tin and invert onto a plate.
  • frosting: mash one small steamed sweet potato and one steamed carrot (peel left on) together with some bone broth to loosen. Spread over cooled meat cake.
  • decorations: Italian parsley leaves and sliced vegetable leather (from my favourite local Perth dog bakery, Go Fetch)

I was rather pleased with his level of enthusiasm:

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Yep. One happy dog, although I can’t really extol my canine baking skills – he’s rather unfussy when it comes to food. We’re very, very lucky.

Hopefully he feels like he’s lucky, too.

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I treasure each moment with this pup; his tentative growls, morning licks, keen stick legs and pleading eyes (usually whilst I’m eating my cereal. Or eating anything. The common factor is eating). He’s always enthusiastic, regardless of fatigue, fear or pain.

The trust, unconditional love and genuine affection you receive from a dog is incredibly humbling. It makes me want to be better, to try harder, both for him and because of him.

He deserves the very best of me (as does my husband. No, not just because he bought me a computer).

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Thanks for indulging this very personal, sentimental post of mine (I do hope those of you who keenly follow my Loki photos on Instagram feel satisfied with a big ol’ dose of scraggly cuteness! For those who don’t – I assure you my next post will be something vegetarian and delicious).

I’m praying for many more years of meat cakes and nose smudges. It’s definitely worth the daily vacuum bag full of dog hair.

salted tahini date caramel slice

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It’s been a couple of years since I first discovered date caramel, initially as a filling for some sort of decadent raw truffle at a friend’s dinner party. Since that day, I’ve mostly thought about date caramel rather than making it, for the simple reason that… well, I’d probably eat the whole batch. Straight from the mixing bowl, with sticky fingers and a caramel-smudged grin.

It’s that delicious, particularly with the addition of smooth nut butter and crunchy sea salt flakes. Dangerously addictive.

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But despite the best of intentions, it’s been that kind of week. I’ve had frazzled nerves and an exhausted brain that hasn’t wanted to sleep. Trips to the gym didn’t work (it’s usually a massive stress reliever for me) and neither did the odd glass of wine. Finally, when I did achieve some semblance of normality, this happened.

Ah, heck. I think it’s time for cake.

nectarI don’t often desire cake. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that my sweet tooth left many years ago with my milk teeth and teenage demeanour. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a soft spot for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate (largely due to childhood associations and sentimentality) however, upon eating it’s tooth-achingly sweet. Despite the glass-and-a-half slogan, it’s also got little nutrition to speak of (you need to eat an entire 200g to get that calcium, darn it).

Give me a hunk of protein-rich cheese any day. Even better, some smoked roasted almonds.

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Anyway, I’m digressing (mmm, cheese): let’s talk cake.

On the occasions when I bake, I usually lean towards bitter cacao or a fruit-driven puddings made with rice malt or maple syrup. Yes, there’s an element of sugar, but additional nutrients result in a lower glycemic index and more benefits for my mind and body.

A good example of this is my previous recipe for sweet potato brownies with raw cacao and rice malt syrup. They’re completely delicious, refined sugar free and naturally nourishing with just the right amount of natural sweetness. However, it’s presently mid-summer. Even evenings are warm and sticky, so I’m gravitating towards refrigerator treats such as today’s recipe: salted tahini date caramel slice with glossy bitter cacao and a chewy oat and walnut base.

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As far as sweet treats go, this slice strikes a pretty good balance between deliciousness and nutrition. It’s full of dietary fibre, iron, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals from the dates alongside plant protein and good fats (monounsaturated, omega 3, good cholesterol) from the nuts, cacao and coconut oil.

It tastes deliciously rich without being overpoweringly sweet. Definitely a winner in my book.

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In terms of honest dialogue, this slice isn’t nutritionally perfect. I’m not going to shout ‘…it’s guilt free!‘ from the rooftop in my yoga gear. Both dates and coconut nectar contribute a reasonable dose of fructose* to this recipe which, in real terms, is just a form of sugar. And any sugar, in excess (whether that be in the form of fructose, sucrose, glucose, lactose or maltose) is still bad for your body and mind.

However, let’s talk about small amounts. A couple of tahini-stuffed dates, a Honeycrisp apple, a square or two of dark chocolate or a coconut banana smoothie. They’re okay, right? I definitely think so, unless you have a medical condition specifying otherwise (e.g. diabetes, fructose malabsorption; that’s an entirely different story).

For what it’s worth, I’m of the opinion that some natural sugar in the form of whole foods (such as dried or fresh fruits, carbohydrates and dairy products) is both acceptable and beneficial in a balanced, predominantly unrefined diet. The body needs fuel, particularly if you’re combining this diet with regular physical activity.

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So, where to next? I’m not about to tell you that ten pieces of this salted caramel thing are beneficial with one session of sweaty cardio, but if you want a small sweet treat, go for it. Eat. Eat with a sticky smile on your face.

Be thankful. Moderation is the key.

*If you want to read more about fructose, metabolism and energy, take a look here and here (or even better, consult a qualified dietitian or nutritionist on the issue). 

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Salted Tahini Date Caramel Slice

Makes approximately 18 squares

This slice is ridiculously easy to make. It involves a fair bit of food processing but otherwise contains no complexity. Don’t fret if your raw chocolate cracks after setting (this happens 99% of the time. Just heat your knife, breathe and try again). Just embrace the imperfections and how good that gosh-darn-salted-date-caramel tastes. 

Base:

  • 1 cup organic, raw rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw walnuts (or almonds, whichever you prefer)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates
  • a few drops of hot water, as required

Tahini date caramel:

  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates, about 11 dates
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp almond butter or tahini
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • fine sea salt, to taste (I added around 1/4 tsp)

Raw chocolate:

  • 6 tbsp raw cacao
  • 2 tsp carob powder
  • 4-6 tbsp coconut nectar or rice malt syrup (to taste, I add as little as possible, a slightly bitter chocolate layer works perfectly with the date caramel)
  • 1 cup melted coconut oil or cacao butter (my coconut oil was liquid at room temperature, being summer in Australia, but melt it on low heat in a saucepan first if necessary)

Blend the oats and nuts together in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add in the dates and a little pinch of salt, pulsing again until well mixed and cohesive. If your mix is looking a little dry, add in a few drops of hot water and process until the mixture comes together. Press into an 18x27cm greased and lined tin.

Soak dates in the hot water for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking water for later. Puree all the filling ingredients except the sea salt in a food processor, streaming in a little of the soaking water until you obtain a creamy consistency (add as little water as possible – too much and the filling won’t set properly. I added about 2 tbsp worth of soaking liquid). Add a little sea salt, pulse and taste, adjusting the level of ‘saltiness’ to your preference. Spread over the prepared base, then refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before preparing the raw chocolate topping.

Blend all of the raw chocolate ingredients together in a food processor, pulsing for at least 30 seconds to ensure the coconut oil is emulsified. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary. Remove slice from refrigerator and immediately pour over the chocolate mixture, tilting the tray to ensure even distribution (try not to touch the chocolate layer or you’ll probably end up with splotches of separated coconut oil rather than a smooth, glossy layer). Return to the refrigerator for 10 minutes to chill.

After 10 minutes, score the chocolate into 18 pieces (this will make it much easier to cut without cracks later). When the chocolate layer is completely set, cut through with a heated knife. Keep refrigerated or frozen (this is also amazing straight from the freezer!) in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

*Medjool dates are larger and softer than traditional dried dates, with a more complex caramel-y flavour. However, they’re also a bit more expensive than the regular packaged supermarket dates (which are usually the Empress or Deglet Noor varieties, click here for more info). If you’re trying to save cash, I’d recommend splashing out on Medjool dates for the salted caramel layer whilst using traditional dates for the oat and nut base. Please note: I soaked and drained all of the dates that I used in the recipe above (separate to and including those specified in the salted caramel layer) as mine were a little dry. However, if you have extra soft and moist dates, feel free to skip the soaking. Just ensure you have a little hot water on hand to stream into the food processor if your mixture/s aren’t the correct consistency.

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the life changing loaf. and authenticity

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It’s been a strange couple of months around these parts. Quiet, slightly uncertain, full of questions surrounding my future income, Worker’s Compensation, options and priorities. Weeks of diversion from my normal routine have resulted in extra time for sleep, walks with the dog, therapeutic cardio sessions and some dismal left-handed kitchen experiments (read more about my injury here). ‘Right hand dominant’ is an understatement.

Thankfully, the worst part is now over. I’ve commenced a ‘return to work program’ and I’m no longer the victim of bad daytime television. My application for Worker’s Compensation was thankfully approved and I’ve been fitted with what my therapist calls ‘sexy nighttime apparel’, aka a custom overnight wrist splint. I’m also strapping my wrist with Rock Tape so that I can complete some light upper limb work at the gym, which feels great after weeks of low activity. I’ve recommenced some independent cooking, though Aaron (my ‘sous chef’ – thanks baby) is still available for weight bearing or manual kitchen tasks as required.

I’m healing, my body is doing what it’s supposed to do, life is returning to some sort of balance. I’m thankful.

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I’ve still had fun in the kitchen during my weeks off. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’d be aware that I’ve been doing a lot of recent experimentation with vegan cuisine, particularly salads and healthy treats. This has been a natural response to my growing interest in plant based nutrition and whole foods whilst also doubling as a cost-saving measure (my preferred dairy brands aren’t cheap and neither is ethical, sustainable meat, so we avoided both whilst my income was awry).

It hasn’t been difficult; in fact, it’s been delicious and edifying. However, my ‘online profile’ (a strange concept to me, however I’m referring to this blog alongside my Twitter account, Instagram and facebook) has become a little confused as a result, so I’ve felt a growing need to formally clarify things on here. I hope that’s ok.

So, before I start: I’ve spent a lot of time dwelling on my nutritional standpoint over the past week. A lot of time. I’ve revised the content of this post about twenty times as I tend to overthink things, so if you’re not remotely interested in my nutritional standpoint (and philosophical musings) skip on to the recipe. Secondly, I am very aware that my Instagram and Twitter followers aren’t necessarily blog followers and vice versa, so you may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. I probably devote needless intellectual energy into thoughts of personal authenticity, but if I’m going to maintain an online presence I want to be accountable for it.

cocodishA lot can be misconstrued when scrolling through those little filtered boxes (yes, I know that they can be rectangles now but stay with me) on social media. They portray only a small part of a person’s varied, flawed and messy existence (usually the bits with good lighting and a timber backdrop), including my own. It causes me personal conflict, as I don’t want my social media accounts to be filled with images of burned grilled cheese under fluorescent lights. However, I equally dislike the idea that impressionable young people would stumble upon my account and view me as a ‘clean eating’, virtuous ‘fitspiration’ freak who demonizes animal protein and wakes with a passion to brew her own kombucha.

Here’s the (honest) deal: I don’t like labels. I care about my body but sometimes I’m lazy. I’m not an ethical vegan, a dietitian, a nutritionist or any sort of authority on physical health. I like beer (I have confessed this on many occasions, but just in case you’re uncertain), red wine, kale and oatmeal. I both hate and love cardio. I attempt to make good choices, but I don’t eat righteous food for every meal. There are many who do, and they have my respect. But I’m not one of them.

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Continuing with the theme of authenticity, I’ve written the notes below as an attempt to clarify my nutritional values for both myself and those within my network. It’s as free of hashtags, buzz words and media filtration as I can make it.

Again, I have no qualifications in dietetics or nutrition, so please visit your General Practitioner, a certified nutritionist or a dietitian (such as the beautiful Heidi, when she concludes maternity leave!) if you’d like any advice suited to your individual needs.

  •  In majority, I consume wholefoods (unprocessed and non-GMO, organic* if possible) and a vegetable-heavy diet (edit 06/2016: I previously termed this a ‘mostly plant based’ diet, however that’s caused some confusion with a vegan lifestyle. I’m referring to the terminology used in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food). However, I’m not entirely vegetarian nor vegan. I don’t eat much meat these days but when I do, I feel strongly about buying ethical, sustainable meat or fish from people who care about their animals.
  • I enjoy plant milks, creamy avocado and cashew cheeses but I also wholeheartedly support the inclusion of goats cheese, dairy milk, cultured butter and yoghurt in my diet (both for health benefits and enjoyment). I’m not really an eater of eggs (not that I’m philosophically against it, I just don’t really like them) but I purchase free-range eggs if/when required.
  • I’m resistive to extreme diets, fads and buzz words on social media. Though I’m not a dietitian, I believe that science has given us a solid basis for appreciating the benefits of a varied diet including some forms of cooked food, carbohydrates for energy and healthy fats in moderation (cholesterol is still bad, people). Crank nutritional information is rife within both social media platforms and the internet in general, as are extremist views from activists, so please, please seek professional dietary advice rather than excessively consuming the next ‘superfood’ (coconut oil is NOT a spiritual elixir. Whilst I do consume it in small amounts alongside other fats, I would go as far as saying that it cannot solve all of your dental problems, it will not cure you of high cholesterol, it should not replace all other fats in your diet. People talk complete rubbish).
  • I believe that dietary rigidity and categorization can lead to unhealthy thought patterns and disordered eating (speaking personally from my teen years, dietary rigidity can also act as a guise for disordered eating) whilst robbing an individual of the pleasure of social eating. I’m not saying that it’s not good to follow healthy dietary principles most of the time, but if it gets to the point where you feel guilty about eating a piece of chocolate (or you’re avoiding social events because there may not be ‘appropriate food’) then something’s out of whack. If a friend of mine serves me a lamb shank at a dinner party, I eat it (maybe not all of it, but at least some). Same goes for an occasional piece of cake or a fried donut made with refined sugar. I understand that some people may disagree on this point (and I’m not referring to those of you with medical issues such as coeliac disease or diabetes where compromise cannot occur) however I’m a person who demonstrates love and generosity through the preparation and offering of food, and I want to validate reciprocity in this area. This doesn’t mean that I abandon my personal food ethics and nutritional standpoint. An otherwise healthy human body will not be broken by a cheese and prosciutto pizza and a glass of wine at the weekend (and I don’t choose my friends by their nutritional preference).
  • *On the topic of unprocessed, non-GMO, organic, free-range: we’re not rich by any means, so this also affects my food choices. I buy a ton of vegetables and they’re not always organic as we just can’t afford it. I’ve recently been trying to keep my organic purchases to the the ‘dirty dozen‘ (produce that usually contains the most pesticides) whilst purchasing regular non-organic produce for the ‘clean fifteen‘ (products that generally contain the least amount of pesticides). I believe that a diet rich in vegetables, even if they’re non-organic, is preferable to a diet that lacks plants. Alternately, if I can’t find good dairy or meat from sustainable, ethical sources, I’d rather eat plant based sources of calcium and protein. I vote with my hip pocket (Aussies, click the following links to find some information on sustainable living and ethical meat suppliers) and my heart.
  • To sum things up, I’m just trying to cook, eat and live as responsibly as I can. I value and respect animals, but also want to value, love and respect my fellow humans. I want to enjoy food as well as nourishing my body. I don’t want to beat myself up if I feel like dairy milk chocolate or cultured butter on a piece of sourdough. I want to remain honest, true to my own conscience and principles. To be the best version of myself, not someone else.

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Oh, and one last thing. I eat messy food. Simple food. Ugly food. I eat mushroom burgers with aioli running down my chin. I sometimes eat in monochrome (usually brown; oats and tahini with mashed banana ain’t pretty) from chipped IKEA crockery whilst wearing the daggiest of trackpants. I’m massively imperfect and it keeps me humble.

You’re probably always known it, but I’m glad we’re straight.

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That brings me to this super simple loaf of seeded goodness from My New Roots. It didn’t exactly change my life but it it’s good, oh it’s good. And so is Sarah, the nutritionist who created it.  She’s authentic. And that resonates with me.

The Life Changing Loaf of Bread

Adapted from this recipe from Sarah Britton, My New Roots

  • 1 cup (135g) sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup rolled flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats
  • 1 1/2 cups (145g) rolled oats
  • 4 tbsp psyllium husks
  • 1 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt flakes
  • 1 tbsp rice malt syrup (brown rice syrup)
  • 3 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, set aside. Whisk together the water, coconut oil and rice bran syrup until the syrup is completely dissolved.

Pour over the dry ingredients, mix well until everything is completely soaked. The dough should be adhesive but still ‘mixable’ (add a couple more teaspoons of water if it is too thick). Pour into a silicone loaf pan (silicone will make it much easier to turn out your bread; however, I successfully used a rigid loaf tin greased with extra coconut oil, plus a little baking paper to line the bottom) and smooth the top with a spoon or spatula. Set aside at room temperature to ferment for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. When the dough is ready, it should retain its shape when you pull the sides of the loaf pan away from it.

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees f). Bake for 20-30 minutes on a centre oven rack until the bread can be carefully turned out of the tin. Place upside down directly onto the oven rack and bake for another 30-40 minutes or until the base sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

Store in a well-sealed container for up to five days. It can also be successfully frozen; slice before freezing and defrost in the toaster as desired (this makes the best nutty, crunchy toast, top with smashed avocado and seeds, ricotta and honey or a bit of chia jam for a delicious treat).

olive oil, rosemary and citrus cake

tableIf any of you are following me on Instagram, you’d know that I’m experiencing a woody herb obsession. It’s something to do with winter, cold nights and frosty mornings, slow roasting and baking whilst sipping a glass of wine.

Differing from soft-stemmed herbs such as parsley, coriander and basil (from which the entire plant is edible), woody herbs include the much-loved rosemary, sage, lavender, oregano and thyme.

As the name suggests, the stems of woody herbs are hard, fibrous and often inedible (think rosemary). As a general rule, they’re better in cooked dishes, finely chopped, bruised in a mortar and pestle, fried until crispy (think sage. JUST DO IT) or infused into oil.

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The robust nature of woody herbs makes them wonderful for savoury applications such as a classic meat stuffing or slow cooked meal. However, they’re also delicious in Mediterranean-inspired desserts when combined with delicately sweet ingredients such as citrus fruit, nuts, stone fruit and glossy olive oil. To me, it’s a little bit like the flavour profile of a cheese board in the semblance of a traditional dessert. Sweet with savoury notes. Perfect for those of us with dwindling sweet tooths.

Like my recent recipe for lemon thyme ice cream sandwiches, this cake offers beautifully herbal, woody and savoury notes alongside the sweetness of citrus and olive oil. It’s perfect when eaten with coffee and a big dollop of double cream.

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Olive Oil, Rosemary and Citrus Cake

Adapted from this recipe by Michael Chiarello at Food Network

  • 2 cups plain flour (I used gluten-free)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups white caster sugar
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp ground anise (Spanish anise seed, not star anise. Substitute fennel seeds)
  • 1 tbsp mixed orange and lemon zest, finely grated*
  • 1 cup mixed orange and lemon juice*
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (315ml) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur (eg. Cointreau, substitute brandy)

*I used 2 medium oranges and 1 small lemon to extract 1 cup of juice.

To serve:

  • 4 tbsp citrus marmalade, preferably without peel
  • icing sugar, optional
  • fresh rosemary sprigs and/or edible flowers

Grease and line a 24cm spring-form cake pan, then set aside. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).

In a nonreactive saucepan, reduce the citrus juice over medium heat to 1/4 cup. Add the salt, mix well and allow to cool.

Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl until frothy. Add the milk, sugar, liqueur, olive oil, reduced (and cooled) citrus juice, zest, ground anise and half of the fresh rosemary (the other tsp will be used for glazing the cake). Mix well.

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Sift in the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Mix until you achieve a smooth, even batter.

Pour the mixture into your prepared cake pan. Bake for 1 hour or until the cake is risen and golden (a skewer inserted into the centre should have only a few moist crumbs attached. Cover the cake with foil three-quarters of the way through cooking if it is browning too quickly. The cake will crack, it’s pretty much inedible so don’t worry!).

Place the cake onto a wire rack. While the cake is still warm, heat the marmalade until runny and incorporate the leftover chopped rosemary.Gently pour over the cake, using a spoon to smooth out any clumps. Allow to cool completely, then turn out onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar and top with rosemary sprigs.

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lemon thyme ice cream sandwiches. and life

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If you follow me on Instagram you’d be aware that I was diagnosed with a combination of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis in my right (dominant) wrist just over two weeks ago. Although I’m seeing a specialist, I’m temporarily off work as both conditions reduce my ability to write and type (key aspects of my professional role, unfortunately).

I’ve also been unable to complete upper body workouts at the gym, lift heavy objects, clean the house and cook (chop, whisk, use a mortar and pestle) with my right hand which has led to a lot of frustration and ‘experimental’ left handed activity.

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For instance, I’m predominantly typing this blog post with my left hand. It’s gosh-darn slow, but manageable. Left-handed cleaning yielded similar results; slow but steadily achievable.

Left-handed cooking? Uh, let’s just say that I’m far from ambidextrous. Flipping pans was fine, but left-handed chopping was downright dangerous. I ended up positioning the knife with my right hand and pressing down with my left to limit stress through my right arm. I felt like a three-legged tortoise trying to complete an obstacle course (only to be overtaken by a sprightly, ambidextrous hare).

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Thankfully, things have improved since the horrid first week and I’m part-way back to normality (with a bit of residual wrist tingling). Props should be given to sAaron for interim nourishment, sous chef services and love, alongside catch-up episodes of Masterchef Australia (for saving me from absolute boredom).

Anyway, I intended this to be a short post (reasons for which should be obvious) and here I am past paragraph four (reasons for which should be obvious; this blog is pretty much an omnibus). Let’s, uh, cut to the chase (that gosh-darn ambidextrous hare) which in this case, is otherwise known as a lemon thyme ice cream sandwich.

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The idea for these frozen treats came from (unsurprisingly, refer to above) an episode of Masterchef Australia. The recipe below is mine, however the flavour profile can be mostly credited to contestant Georgia Barnes (her version can be found here).

The cookies below are entirely dreamy; buttery soft (melt in the mouth), lemon scented and slightly savoury thanks to the addition of thyme. They can be eaten on their own with a cup of tea or sandwiched together with creamy ice cream and a drizzle of thyme-infused honey.

As noted, I used Wild Thyme honey from J.Friend and Co which beautifully echoed the herbal notes in the shortbread cookies. However, you can use regular honey, lemon curd or nothing extra at all. It’s entirely up to you.

Enjoy, with sticky fingers and honey dripping down your chin. With either hand (you ambidextrous hare).

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Lemon Thyme Shortbread Cookies

  • 1 cup (250g) salted butter
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s (icing) sugar. sifted
  • 1/4 cup cornflour (pure corn, not the wheat variety)
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest (roughly the zest from 1 medium lemon)
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme (or lemon thyme) leaves, chopped

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a hand held or electric whisk. When creamy and pale, add in the flour and cornflour. Continue mixing until well combined (the dough will still be rather sticky and soft).

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Add in the lemon zest and thyme, then turn out onto a bench lined with plastic wrap. Shape into a log (about 6cm diameter. 20cm length), then transfer to the freezer. Freeze for at least 30 minutes before cutting.

When your shortbread dough is frozen until firm, preheat oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees f). Line two baking trays with parchment paper, then set aside. Unwrap the shortbread log and slice into 20 x 1-cm rounds. Lay 10 pieces on each baking tray, ensuring that each round is at least 2cm apart (they will spread slightly during the baking process).

Bake immediately for 15-20 minutes* or until pale golden. The cookies will spread a bit and still be slightly soft when you remove them from the oven, so allow them to cool on the baking tray before transferring them to a wire rack.

*I’ve based this recipe on my gas oven with no fan, you might need to watch them a little more if you have a fan-forced electric oven. They spread and brown fast due to the high butter content.

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To serve you will need:

Carefully spread half of the cookies with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream (be careful as the cookies are extremely ‘short’, i.e. crumbly).

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Drizzle with a little thyme-infused honey if desired, then sandwich with another cookie (I probably didn’t need to tell you that, but anyway). Dust over a few edible flowers if you’re feeling dreamy.

Serve immediately (and quickly, mine started to melt instantly – hence the messy photos) or re-freeze, wrapped in a loose layer of plastic wrap. Enjoy. Unless you’re Loki. Poor Loki.

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chocolate cherry cake with sour cream ganache

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I hardly ever eat sweet desserts these days. Mostly as my taste buds have changed as I’ve grown older (give me some aged cheddar over a doughnut any day) whilst I’ve also developed a growing awareness of how food intake (aka nutrition) affects the state of my body.

I’m not talking about avoiding fat and sugar altogether, but rather about making the most of these elements of my diet. I’m choosing good fats over bad ones and nutritionally dense, unprocessed (i.e. low glycaemic index) sugars over refined sugars that lead to a massive insulin dump.

But in saying that (whilst posting about cake), I don’t view baked goods as ‘the devil in disguise’. I still enjoy the process of baking and when there’s an occasion for a special-kind-of-cake, I jump at the opportunity to pour love (and butter and sugar) into an occasional baked treat for family and friends.

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Last Sunday was one of those days. Some friends of mine decided to have a spontaneous get-together the following night (togetherness is enough of a special occasion for me) and I was asked to bring some sort of dessert.

I decided to bake this cake from Gourmet Traveller, with a few personal substitutions: raspberries alongside cherries, sour cream ganache for an extra bit of ‘tang’ (use the same 1:1 ratio of cream to chocolate, with a splash of vanilla essence if desired), the deepest, darkest chocolate I could find and a splash of brandy instead of kirsch.

I crowned the cake with a handful of golden-roasted hazelnuts (for crunch) and a sprinkle of edible flowers (I used this purchase from The Essential Ingredient; they’re definitely an optional extra, adding nothing in terms of flavour or texture… but I love them anyway).

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I’m not going to regurgitate Brigitte Hafner’s recipe here as it’s perfectly written on the Gourmet Traveller site, but I did take a few photographs as the afternoon light was beautiful last Sunday. If you make this cake, I do hope you enjoy it amongst your very best friends.

Food always tastes better that way.

P.S If you’re still waiting for the joint ‘Mexican Table’ post with Inspired Food and Feed Your Soul, Perth, please take heart – we hope to publish our recipes and photos by the conclusion of this weekend. Thanks for your patience and interest in this merry band of amateur cooks x

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

Chompchomp

Perth Food Blog | Restaurant Reviews | Food & Travel Blog | Gluten Free

The Veggy Side Of Me

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