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.

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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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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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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

spiced apple and buttermilk cake

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If you haven’t already figured from Instagram, I’m… uh, kinda excited about this post. I’ve been waiting approximately two weeks to upload it and in the meantime, I’ve had joy bursting out of my ears.

Why? Well, it’s not just any old post about apple cake. It’s a celebration post; a deliciously heartfelt contribution to a virtual Bridal Shower hosted by my blogging friends Kayle, Stef and Stephanie.

You may already be familiar with the gorgeous bride-to-be – it’s the auburn haired, ever-smiling Stephie from Stephie Cooks (read more about how I met Stephie here). She and her fiance Alex are set to get hitched in a few short weeks (April 2015!) so we’re celebrating in the natural way that bloggers do: making food and photographing it. And then eating it, with Stephie and Alex in mind.

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The girls above spilled the beans on Stephie’s wedding theme a few weeks ago in preparation for this virtual shower. She and Alex are running with the idea of ‘rustic elegance’, complete with BBQ for dinner and pies for dessert!

In keeping with the ‘rustic’ idea, I decided to discard my initial plan to make individual tarts or decorated cupcakes in Stephie’s honour. Instead, I made one giant country apple cake, complete with chunks of fruit and lashings of double cream.

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A comment from Stephie’s mum Julie (@jkswope) on an Instagram post of mine further solidified my decision to use homegrown apples:

Make those little Apple pie cookies that Stephie made. They are so good!

Then, bring some to us. We’ll need them with the frantic wedding planning. #fourweeks 

Apple goodies for wedding planning? Okay Momma Swope… I’m onto it!

However, after searching Stephie’s blog for the apple pie cookies, I became sidetracked by this stunning apple cake from a few months ago. Caramel, apples and vanilla bean? Yum. I quickly decided to make my very own apple cake, packed full of organic apples from my own mother’s heaving apple tree. After it baked, I briefly considered the idea of sending it over to the United States but… well, that didn’t seem so sensible.

Yep, I ate it instead.

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So, before I stop blabbering and leave you with the recipe, I just have a few short words to share in regards to our amazing bride-to-be:

Stephie, you are brave and beautiful, hilariously creative, heartfelt and loyal. It’s been a privilege to be a friend across-the-seas for the past couple of years. I will be praying for strength, love and blessings to inhabit each step that you and Alex take as a married couple – on your wedding day and afterwards. I can’t wait to see your celebration photos, to drip tears of joy into my keyboard and to cheer you on in your endeavors to come (of which there will be many, I’m sure!).

One day, we will share cake together across a table. But for now, this recipe will have to do.

P.S. I know this is a Bridal Shower but Alex, you’re pretty awesome too. Peat whisky has made us friends for life.

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Spiced Apple and Buttermilk Cake

Adapted from A Pinch of Yum

Cake batter:

  • 1 cup raw caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses sugar (substitute dark brown sugar)
  • ⅓ cup virgin coconut oil
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp natural vanilla essence
  • 2½ cups plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 cups peeled. diced apples

Topping:

  • 1 apple, peeled and finely sliced to decorate
  • ½ cup raw caster sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp butter

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Grease and line a 20cm diameter round cake tin, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars, coconut oil, egg, buttermilk and vanilla essence. Sift in the baking powder and plain flour. Stir through the diced apples.

Pour the cake batter into your prepared cake tin. Mix together the caster sugar, cinnamon and butter for the topping. Gently layer over the reserved sliced apples in a circular pattern from the outside to the inside of the cake. Dot over the cinnamon butter mixture.

Gently transfer the cake into the preheated oven. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until risen and pale golden (a skewer inserted into the centre should come out with only a few moist crumbs attached).

Allow to cool in the tin before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar and accompanied by a thick dollop of double cream.

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Want to visit the rest of the Bridal Shower?

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Click on the links below:

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dark chocolate pistachio torte

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If you follow me on Instagram you’d probably already be party to my big news of the month. Three weeks ago, Aaron and I adopted a tiny chocolate brown poodle x mini pinscher puppy (a ‘pinny poo‘) with golden eyes and a wispy grandpa beard.

Subsequently, our night life has transitioned from drinks with friends to pee puddles, gushing swoons (when he frets in his sleep, so cute) and copious amounts of mashed sweet potato (not entirely new, but this time with minced chicken and puppy biscuits). It’s been a beautiful learning experience, for both teeny pup and his proud new parents.

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If you’re wondering what his name is, that admittedly took a day or two (I’m predicting a week of baby-without-a-name when Aaron and I make a human). We finally settled on Loki, more for its cuteness than mythology or semantics. It seems to suit him.

Names aside – I’ve come to a few realizations about pet ownership over the past three weeks. First and foremost, it’s much harder to cook with a puppy sitting on your feet. Secondly, it’s impossible to type when a puppy is gnawing on your keyboard; stern words and distraction techniques are required.

Thirdly? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Anyway, chocolate brown puppies aside, let’s get back to the real purpose of this post. CAKE. Or rather, a recipe for dark chocolate and pistachio torte.

This dark, rich slab of heaven was baked as a birthday gift for a very special work friend of mine, Belinda. Despite many challenges of her own, this amazing woman has been a steadfast source of encouragement, support and grace throughout the past two years. I’m grateful that life brought us together.

Thanks Bels, for all you are and all you do.

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Strangely enough, I wrote notes whilst baking this cake (a scattered occurrence, to say the least). And just as well, as I’ve been asked for the recipe at least five times since the cake was baked.

So, a few nights ago I gathered my crumpled notes and typed out a semblance of a recipe. It’s dead easy, inspired by Nigella Lawson’s chocolate and pistachio fudge and a similar recipe of hers which I believe was published in her cookbook, How to be a Domestic Goddess (which I do not own, so admittedly the reference is vague).

This cake is deeply chocolatey, complex and densely moist. Ground pistachios add both texture and flavour to the cake batter, whilst orange blossom and dusky rose provide sweet fragrance to the rich, shiny ganache.

I hope you love it as much as we did.

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Dark Chocolate Pistachio Torte

Makes one 23cm round cake

  • 150g dark (at least 60% cocoa) chocolate
  • 150g raw caster sugar
  • 150g shelled pistachio nuts
  • 150g soft unsalted butter
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Grease and line a 23cm round springform cake tin, then set aside.

Place the pistachio nuts and caster sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture reaches a fine meal.

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Melt together the butter and chocolate over a double boiler. When thick and glossy, remove from the heat and add to the processed nut mixture with a pinch of sea salt. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time, ensuring they’re fully combined. Set aside.

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In a separate clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they reach firm peaks. Add a large spoonful of egg white to the chocolate mixture and vigorously fold in (you need to chocolate mixture to loosen).

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Add the loosened cake batter to the rest of the egg whites and fold in gently but firmly until no large patches of egg white remain. Pour the cake batter into your prepared tin.

Transfer into the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until risen and firm when touched in the centre.

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Allow the cake to cool in the tin, then refrigerate for at least one hour before icing with ganache (recipe below).

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Orange Blossom Ganache

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 150ml thick cream
  • 1/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • optional: 1-2 tbsp roasted, crushed pistachio nuts + 5-6 dried organic (unsprayed) rosebuds, crushed.

Melt the chocolate and cream together over a double boiler until smooth. Remove from the heat and add in the splash of orange blossom water. Keep mixing until the mixture is thick and glossy.

Cool slightly then pour or spread over your cooled cake. Use a palette or butter knife to smooth out any extra-thick patches.

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Sprinkle the edge of your cake with the pistachio and rose mixture, if using.

sidecu*Another big thanks to our dear friends Shawn and Erin for providing us with fresh, home-laid eggs from your chicken coop over the past few weeks. Seriously blessed <3

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spiced pumpkin cake with cinnamon oat streusel

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It’s late on a warm Monday afternoon. The sun is slowly dipping towards the horizon, leaving weathered streaks of gold upon the sky. I’ve recently returned from work, mentally depleted and weary boned. A glass of cool, clear water sits on the kitchen bench as I move, trance-like, between the stove and the sink.

This is my wind-down space; a capsule of relaxation and creativity. My hands move on autopilot, chopping, stirring and selecting herbs as my mind slowly loosens from the demands of the day. Potatoes softly bubble in water. Steam hisses in a hot, starch-scented cloud. Garlic crackles in olive oil, fragrant gold spitting against glistening black.

oiloilwater2 I’m sure most of you would agree that there’s something beautifully organic about cooking. Something intrinsic and habitual, corporeal and instinctive, hands working in synchronicity with the subconscious mind. Most days, I can cook without thinking. In fact, my mind wanders elsewhere whilst my hands do the work. Today, I drifted by the ocean in a cloud of sea spray as sweetlip snapper crisped on the stove. When cooked, the flaky white flesh was devoured with a drizzle of lemon oil, smoked sea salt, charred asparagus, roasted potatoes and warm, tapenade-doused cherry tomatoes bursting from their skins.

It was good. It took care of itself. I just supervised the harmonious simplicity.

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But today’s post isn’t about fish or potatoes, relaxation or heavy limbs. It’s about pumpkin; specifically, ‘pumpkin in a can’ sent to me by a beautiful woman named Mackenzie who lives in Minneapolis (USA) with her husband Mike and their gorgeous pup, Abby.

Some of you might recognize Mackenzie by her blogging moniker, Susie Freaking Homemaker. If you’re not yet acquainted, I’d encourage you to visit her beautiful blog space very soon. Mackenzie is the queen of candid photography, nourishing recipe posts, real life stories, biting humour and workout inspiration. She writes from her heart, and what overflows is an obvious passion for food, life, health and humanity. She’s beautiful inside and out, and I now feel lucky enough to count her as a friend (though we’re yet to meet). I hope that you’ll soon feel the same.

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Anyway, back to the pumpkin story. Some weeks ago, Mackenzie and I had a quick ‘chat’ on one of her blog posts about unique products from our respective countries; mostly those that the other dreadfully ‘missed’ or was yet to try (Tim Tams and Australian Kettle chips for Mackenzie, Reese’s peanut butter cups and Starbucks coffee for me). What followed was a casual agreement to send each other a tailored ‘care package’ full of these delicious treats… from one bank of the Pacific ocean to the other.

One week later, my package arrived (whilst I was still gradually scrambling to put Mackenzie’s together; organization is not my strong point). It was heavy, brown and curious. After ripping off some duct tape, I caught sight of the characteristic orange and black Reese’s candy packaging. I’m pretty sure my eyes beamed like headlights at midnight. A further rummage revealed two bags of fragrant Starbucks coffee beans, a gorgeous handwritten card and four cans of Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin.

I stared at the cans curiously. Australians don’t sell pumpkin in cans. Heck, we hardly even eat sweet pumpkin things, with the exception of the Queensland Premier’s wife’s pumpkin scones.

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One week after receiving my care package, I’d nibbled through some of the Reese’s candy whilst trawling the internet for recipes using canned pumpkin. There are many, particularly as Americans are currently in full autumn (fall) mode in the lead-up to Thanksgiving.

Mackenzie has some great ones on her blog, including chewy, pecan-crusted Pumpkin Whoopie Pies and a recipe for an amped-up Pumpkin Pie with a fluffy cream cheese layer and a salted pretzel crust. Both sounded delicious. However, after reading the ingredients I realized that both contained American ingredients that couldn’t be sourced in my home town. Darn it.

bowlI ended up putting the call out on facebook for favourite pumpkin recipes. I gratefully received lots of wonderful, gooey, pumpkin-y recipe links that I’ll be exploring further in the coming weeks, including this one from Stephie over at Eat Your Heart Out (yum!). However, Sunday’s bake-a-thon called for something simpler, something utilizing common ingredients in an Australian pantry: flour, oil, eggs, spices and oats.

I ended up with a dense, spicy, moist and delicious pumpkin cake based on this recipe from Food.com (however, I modified it significantly; you know me by now). It was indescribably delicious. Indescribably. I never thought that sweet pumpkin could be so good.

*Thanks Mackenzie! I hope that you get your Aussie care package soon.

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Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Cinnamon Oat Streusel

Makes 1 x 22cm cake or 2 medium loaves

Cake:

  • 2 cups (425g/1 can) canned pumpkin
  • 2 cups organic raw caster sugar (substitute brown sugar)
  • 1 cup water, at room temperature
  • 1 cup rice bran oil (substitute vegetable oil/other mild oil)
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 3 free-range egg yolks
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup hazelnut meal
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup, to glaze (optional)

Streusel topping*:

  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup organic raw caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup rolled wholegrain oats
  • 1/4 cup crushed hazelnuts, pecans or walnuts
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup soft butter (test for consistency)

*this recipe will make extra. I like to freeze it in plastic wrap for later use. You can also bake it on a greased tray alongside the cake for a crumbly fruit or ice cream topping.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 22cm springform cake tin or two medium loaf pans. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine your pumpkin, sugar, water, oil, eggs and egg yolks. Whisk until smooth and creamy. Sift your measured dry ingredients into a separate bowl. Add them slowly to the pumpkin mixture, whisking as you go.

mix2 mix3

The finished mixture should be thick, smooth and glossy. Pour into your cake tin/loaf tins, then set aside whilst you prepare the streusel.

To make the streusel: Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Using your fingers, carefully rub in small chunks of butter until you have a crumbly mixture that sticks together in chunks.

streuselCrumble the mixture slightly and distribute it in small crumbles/chunks all over the surface of the cake (ensure that the layer isn’t too think or the cake won’t rise; any extra streusel can be baked alongside the cake on a greased tray and eaten with the cake or over ice cream).

Oven bake for 60-70 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges with only a few moist crumbs attached. Whilst still hot, brush with maple syrup (if desired). Cool on a wire rack.

glazecakestyled

I baked two of these cakes, one of which was eaten on Saturday night at a friend’s house with a side of Jamie Oliver’s summer berry and yoghurt pavlova (baked by my beautiful friend Erin). So good.  cuttingcake piecetakenThis cake is wonderful on its own, at room temperature, on its own or with a thin lashing of cream cheese. However, if you’re wanting a delicious dessert, warm up a slice and serve it à la mode with ice cream and/or cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

streuselcupcans

berry pavlova with lemon curd and wild thyme honey

side

It’s a rainy Sunday evening; the third week of Western Australian Spring that’s been pervaded by dark clouds, high winds and cold nights. Not that I mind. It’s decidedly cosy in our small apartment; a frosted lamp casts a warm glow across the coffee table as I sit, sipping warm rooibos, on a nearby couch. My fingers tap against plastic keys, pausing momentarily to hear the steady beat of rain against the balcony window. Perfect conditions for evening reverie.

blueberries3

As I type this sentence, I have exactly three minutes until the last year of my third decade begins: the big three-oh. Two days ago, I was filled with ardent opposition to this idea; mostly as I loathed the idea of leaving my fading youth behind. However, as the day fast approaches, I’ve actually gained some much needed perspective.

This year is to be celebrated, not commiserated. I’m blessed to be alive, to be fit and healthy, to be surrounded by those I love on a daily basis. Each year that passes brings a stronger sense of ‘self’; both individually and within my personal relationships. Plus, I get to eat cake whenever I want (and bake it, too).

eggshells

This particular cake was the product of a shopping trip to the beautiful Boatshed Markets in Cottesloe. If you’re a Perth foodie, I’m sure you’ve heard of this place already; aisle after aisle of fresh, local fruit and vegetables, gourmet olive oil, house made antipasti, biodynamic meats, aged cheeses and artisan breads.

I bring home a considerable bounty each time I visit, and Saturday was no different. By checkout time, I had squirreled purple congo potatoes, fresh broad beans, sourdough and cheeses into our basket with some watercress, cured meats and a $9 punnet of vibrant edible flowers.

flowerboxflowersdark

Edible flowers are a source of inspiration for me. As soon as I see them, I feel an urge to create something delicate; a fragrant, delicious creation to act as a ‘throne’ for their beauty.

On Saturday, the flower was the common Stork’s Bill, or Erodium cicutarium. One glance at the blushing pink petals, red stems and variegated leaves had me itching to create a delicate pavlova, sandwiched with cream, homemade lemon curd, berries and a fragrant drizzle of wild thyme honey.

honeycurdstrawberrycup

This pavlova is beautiful in every sense of the word. With one bite, you get crunchy meringue, earthy pistachios and a pop of fresh berry wrapped in soft, luscious lemon and crème fraîche.

The wild thyme honey is entirely optional, however the earthy sweet flavour, herbal notes and intoxicating fragrance is incomparable. If you can’t find J.Friend and Co, I’d suggest steeping some fresh thyme in another floral honey (heat it on the stove gently before adding some thyme stalks to soak). It’s the next best thing.

meringuetop

Berry Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Wild Thyme Honey

Serves 12

For the meringue:

  • 6 large free-range egg whites
  • 300g raw caster sugar
  • splash of white wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • a pinch of sea salt

For the filling/decoration:

  • 300ml very cold, full-fat whipping cream
  • 100ml crème fraîche
  • 4-5 tbsp (about 60-70g) lemon curd
  • 150g punnet fresh blueberries, washed
  • 200g fresh strawberries, washed and diced
  • 100g pistachio nuts, toasted and coarsely crushed/chopped
  • wild thyme honey (I used J.Friend and Co Artisan Honey), to drizzle (substitute your favourite floral honey)
  • few sprigs of fresh thyme, washed, leaves picked
  • edible flowers or dried rose petals, for garnish (optional)

Place your egg whites into a clean, dry bowl. Whisk them at medium speed until they begin to form firm peaks. With the mixer still running, add the sugar in a steady stream alongside the salt and white wine vinegar. As the mixture starts to thicken, turn the beater up to high speed and whisk for another 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture is glossy and smooth.

meringue

Rub a bit of the mixture between your finger and thumb; if you can still feel grains of sugar, whisk the meringue for a bit longer until the graininess disappears.

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees c (300 degrees f). Line two flat-bottomed baking trays with parchment (I use a small dab of meringue in each corner to stick the paper to the tray) and draw a 20cm-diameter circle in the centre of each piece of paper with non-toxic pen or pencil (if you’re unable to find one, draw your circle on the parchment before you line your trays. Stick the paper on upside down so that the circle is still visible but the pen or pencil marks are on the underside).

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With a spatula, drop half of your meringue mixture into the centre of each circle, smoothing the mixture out to the edges of each circle. Try and ensure that the meringue discs are even in height and density. Place the trays into your pre-heated oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, swapping the trays half-way through. When cooked, the meringues should be dry to touch on the outside, and slightly hollow when tapped. Leave the meringues to cool in the oven (temperature off, door slightly ajar) for one hour.

Whilst the meringues are cooling, prepare your filling. Place the whipping cream into clean, medium bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Mix through the crème fraîche, then refrigerate until you’re ready to complete your meringue stack.

table

To assemble:

Carefully peel your meringue discs off the parchment paper. Dab a couple of teaspoons of whipped cream onto a cake platter (to stop the bottom meringue dish from moving) and place one meringue disc on top. Smooth over half of the cream mixture, then dab on the lemon curd (use a knife to gently ensure that it’s evenly distributed). Scatter over half of the strawberries and blueberries.

construction

Place the next meringue disc on top. Cover with the remaining whipped cream (leave about 1-2 cm from the edge of the meringue) then scatter over the remaining berries. Top with the crushed pistachio nuts, then drizzle with a little wild thyme honey. Scatter over the edible flower petals and thyme leaves.

aerialbetterblueberries1 meringuetop2

Note: My mention of J.Friend and Co artisan honey has been unsolicited and unpaid, based entirely on my positive view of this particular company and their products. The views expressed are entirely my own.

flourless orange and cacao cake with spiced orange syrup. with hippy vic

clseupIt’s just passed three o’clock on Sunday afternoon. I’ve been up for approximately four hours, mostly spent in a sleepy daze whilst sitting in the dappled sun from our balcony window. Ice cubes clink in my water glass, dancing merrily in transparent liquid. Cheerios crunch against my teeth. I’m still a little dazed from the fullness of the Saturday-that-was.

‘Fullness’ is a good descriptive actually, in every sense of the word. We spent twelve hours of our Saturday between three beautiful houses, eating, drinking, laughing and cooking with wonderful friends. Yes. Twelve hours. That’s three meals with a little exercise and driving in-between (emphasis on ‘a little’ as to be honest; we mostly just ate).

beeThis massive day of food was the brainchild of my gorgeous friend Hippy Vic, who was first introduced to you in my Curing Olives post two months ago. Vic has spent the past month organizing a progressive, roving menu between her home and two mutual friends’ houses, all of whom live about 20 minutes north east of the Perth city centre.

wineRegrettably, Aaron and I spent most of the day eating and not taking photographs. However, I can provide the full day’s menu, as follows:

Breakfast by Floss and Simon: Soft-poached eggs with crispy bacon, herbed tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, hash browns and sourdough toast / tea and coffee / fresh orange juice

Lunch by Alex and Merryl: Hot Turkish bread with artichoke dip, extra virgin oil and dukkah / grilled chicken, vegetable and crisp-fried haloumi stacks with lemony crème fraîche foam / homemade vanilla bean ice cream, salted caramel apples, Cointreau, fresh strawberries and sweet hazelnut dukkah / fresh apple, triple sec and Hendrick’s gin cocktail / coffee

Dinner by Vicky and Laura: Slow-roasted lamb shoulder / mint pesto / lemon pistachio tabbouleh /  baba ghannouj with lemon oil / cucumber and cumin yoghurt with smoked sea salt / marinated eggplant with chilli and garlic / pomegranate salad with micro-greens, avocado, pistachio and soft-curd feta / Persian flatbread / flourless orange and cacao cake with spiced orange syrup (recipe to follow) / Grant Burge Cameron Vale Cabernet Sauvignon (2009)

Twelve hours of absolute food indulgence. Both Aaron and I left Vicky and Mark’s house in a state of slightly sleepy, full-bellied bliss.

candlechocNow, without further ado, let me introduce you to Hippy Vic‘s recipe for Flourless Orange and Cacao Cake.

Vicky and I made the cake at around 6:00pm last night. She states that the original recipe was transcribed from her friend Melissa’s recipe book (Mel originally found it in a recipe guide for the Thermomix appliance) but ingredients and quantities have been swapped around in reckless abandon, eventually creating an entirely different version of the original cake.

In flurry of nut meal and cacao, I snapped urgent photos of the cooking process as the last of the afternoon sunlight faded into blackness.

choccinnamonThe cake was eventually served at around 8:30pm, with the last minute addition of a fragrant spiced orange syrup (due to concerns about dreaded cake ‘dryness’ from Vicky… though she needn’t have worried).

I sliced up some home-grown Valencia oranges and threw them into a saucepan with a cinnamon quill, star anise, some raw sugar and fresh orange juice. After the simmering liquid reduced to a syrup consistency, it was poured over the rustic, warm cake and topped with spiced slices of chewy orange rind. It was perfect addition to the dense, dark cake… the rind contrasted beautifully against the chewy, chocolatey crumb.

*I must apologise for some of the poor quality, 60’s-magazine style photographs in this post. The finished cake was shot entirely in artificial light and has a resultant yellowish tinge (oh, it hurts).

straightoutovenFlourless Orange and Cacao Cake

  • 200g finely ground nut meal (we used 160g almond meal, 40g hazelnut meal)
  • 2 whole, unwaxed oranges
  • 2 cinnamon quills
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 large, free-range eggs
  • 200g raw caster sugar
  • 40g organic cacao powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g good-quality dark eating chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), coarsely chopped
  • Optional: 2 tbsp Cointreau or other good-quality Triple Sec

Half-fill a large saucepan with water, then add your oranges. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 60-90 minutes or until a knife easily pierces through each fruit (if your water boils down too much, add more as required). Drain fruit and discard cinnamon quills. Leave for 10-15 minutes or until cool enough to handle.

blendmontWhen adequately cooled, slice each orange into pieces and add them into the bowl of a food processor.

Process the fruit until smooth, then tip the blended oranges into a large mixing bowl. Add the ground cinnamon, cacao powder, nut meal, caster sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate, chopped dark chocolate and Cointreau (if using). Mix well.

eggchocPreheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 22cm round springform cake tin (or just shove baking paper in and force it to conform, if you’re Vic!), then set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat your (happy) eggs to soft peaks. Gently fold them into your orange mixture, then pour the lot into the lined cake tin.

stircacaoBake for 30-45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges with only a few moist crumbs attached. Serve as it is, with cream and/or ice cream, or topped with the spiced orange syrup (to follow).

cakesideSpiced Orange Syrup

Makes about 1/4 cup syrup

  • 2 (small) whole, unwaxed oranges
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup raw caster sugar (to taste, we only used about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 star anise

Slice your whole oranges into 0.3cm slices, then place into a medium saucepan with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce temperature to a gentle simmer. Simmer for around 20 minutes, or until the orange peels have softened and the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency.

orangesRemove your orange slices from the syrup, then set aside. Discard star anise and cinnamon quill. Whilst still in the tin, pierce holes all over the top of your cake with a thin skewer, then pour over the spiced orange syrup. Allow to soak for about 5-10 minutes before removing from the tin and transferring to a serving platter.

Top your cake with the orange slices in a circular pattern. Dust with icing sugar to serve, if desired.

cakechocmontNote: If you’d like a good read, the beautiful Hippy Vic has a couple more posts up on her own site, including her latest post which includes a recipe for Mauritian Goat Curry (from fellow bloggers Alex and Priya, aka Boy Meets Girl Meets Food. Also worth visiting for fantastic recipes and travel posts)

coconut, banana and lime cake with lime syrup and candied carambola

cakesideazIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be well acquainted with the fact that I’m regularly ‘gifted’ with fresh garden produce by friends, family and acquaintances. Most of the time I view this phenomenon as a huge blessing; for example, I haven’t had to buy fresh limes for over three months.

However, last week’s bounty included four fresh carambola (star fruit), alongside six limes and a whole hand of overripe bananas (the latter were from an overly neglected fruit bowl). Being the headstrong, waste-hating cook that I am, I was determined to use the lot before heading to Margaret River for the weekend.

dropstar2So, early on Saturday morning, I awoke with one task in mind: to create a one-pan, palatable cake incorporating all of the above. As Aaron and I were planning to visit his family on the way to Margaret River, I decided to bake an organic, coconut-based cake for their predominantly healthy taste buds. Below, you’ll find the pleasing end result.

cocbanmontThis cake is dense, fragrant and lime-drenched, gently sweet with coconut sugar and soft, mild banana. I’ve used both coconut and plain flour for a super-moist interior, gently offset by the sweet, tropical candied carambola.

As the cake was topped, dusted and packed for transportation within 30 minutes of leaving the oven, I had little time to take beautiful photographs. It was served immediately in its warm, delicate form, with syrup still dripping from the knife.

Rest assured, there will definitely be a ‘version two’ of this tropical beauty. When that occasion arises, I will take some interior ‘slice’ shots and upload them for your perusal. Until then, please accept my apology… your imagination will have to suffice.

cakesideCoconut, Banana and Lime Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
  • 1 cup coconut flour, sifted
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut sugar (substitute brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup (270mL) coconut cream
  • 3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cup (180g) Nuttelex (substitute Earth Balance or unsalted butter), melted
  • 2 limes, zest and juice (equivalent to 1/2 cup juice)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a round 22cm springform tin, then set aside.

Combine dry ingredients and lime zest in a large bowl.

floursugarmontIn a separate bowl, combine your mashed banana, butter, coconut cream, lime juice and lightly beaten eggs. Add your wet ingredients to the dry mixture, then mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula until the mixture is smooth and no patches of flour remain.

batterPour into the lined cake tin. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is slightly risen, golden and firm to the touch. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Set aside to cool slightly whilst you make the syrup.

zestgrnLime Syrup

Makes about 1/2 cup

  • 1/2 cup white caster sugar
  • zest and juice of 2-3 limes (equivalent to 1/2 cup juice)

Combine sugar and lime juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens (about 5-10 minutes).

limemontRemove from the heat and add in the lime zest. Allow to steep for five minutes.

Whilst the cake is still warm, poke holes all over it with a wooden skewer. Slowly pour over the still-warm lime syrup in an even drizzle, allowing time for the liquid to penetrate.

soaktopSet aside to soak whilst you make your candied carambola (place a plate underneath your tin to catch any escaping syrup; pour it back over the cake as required).

crossec1Candied Carambola*

  • 2 firm carambola (star fruit)
  • 1 cup white caster sugar
  • 1 cup cold water

Wash your carambola, then slice off the ‘stalk end’ (the end that has an indent and a black spot. The other end should be pointy). Run your knife down the edge of each ‘rib’ to remove any discoloured or fibrous skin (see picture below, left). Slice the carambola into 0.5cm even slices, then remove any seeds with the tip of your knife.

sfmontAdd the sugar and water into a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium heat, then simmer gently until all of the sugar dissolves. Add in the sliced carambola, then allow to simmer for around 20 minutes, or until the liquid reduced and the fruit becomes translucent and glossy. Remove from the heat.

sfpotmontLine a large baking tray with greaseproof paper. Using a fork, carefully remove each piece of candied carambola, allowing excess syrup to drip back into the saucepan. Lay each ‘star’ onto the greaseproof paper to dry (this may take a couple of hours; if you’ve just cooked your cake you can place the tray into the still-warm oven [heat turned off] to accelerate the process).

sfcandiedmontWhen your carambola is ready, it should be slightly dry and sticky to the touch. To finish your cake, dust it gently with icing sugar then lay over your carambola ‘stars’ in a circular pattern, from the centre to the outer rim. If desired, add some extra lime zest or mint to serve.sfsimplesyrup

Notes:

  • This cake is beautiful served at room temperature with a dollop of thick Greek yoghurt or double cream.
  • For a vegan version, subtract the eggs and add in two flax eggs (1 egg = 1 tbsp ground flaxseed simmered in 3 tbsp water) or use an egg replacer such as Ener-G gluten-free egg replacer. Bear in mind that your finished cake may not rise as successfully, leading to a denser result.
  • *Keep the remaining carambola syrup for cocktails… I ended up with about 1/2 – 3/4 cup of residual syrup. It has a fresh, slightly sweet melon flavour and would be wonderful with mint, vodka (or gin), soda water and some extra sliced carambola (with a squeeze of lime if desired).
  • This cake can be frozen, wrapped or stored in an airtight container, for up to two months. I’d recommend storing it after soaking, without the candied carambola (the freezing and thawing process will remove some of its chewy texture).

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