australia day lamington pie

pie

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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eggshells

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.

dough

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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blackberry and coconut muffins. and friendship

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In recent years, I’ve become more and more aware of how blessed I am to have lifelong friends. Friends who I know (with absolute certainty) will be there during the highest points of my life whilst also traversing the earth-shattering lows. Friends like these are a rarity in the transient nature of modern life. I’ve somehow been blessed with a few.

I’ve written a few times on this blog about one of my best friends, the absolute treasure who answered to Hippy Vic (I’m using past tense as she’s progressively abandoned the blogging game). It was her birthday on Monday and I still haven’t given her a hug.

It frustrates me how life has steadily crowded out the times when we just used to sit and breathe. Nights when we’d talk unrestricted til the air grew cold and the sun emerged from hiding. I miss smiling til my face hurt and soaking in the relentless swell of youth.

At least it seemed relentless; perennial in the best of ways, tinged with blissful ignorance and folly. But youth finally faded, as it always does. Responsibility awakened like a lofty giant. Age brought maturity, and with that came both beauty and perpetual loss. I’m trying to appreciate both.

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Back to the issue of time, or rather, lack of it. I’m sure most (if not all) of you can relate to the burden of conflicting responsibilities, the absorbent qualities of full-time work and the joy (but occasionally overwhelming nature) of parenthood. I often experience pressing guilt or regret after choosing to do one thing over another. I also spend endless moments reflecting upon what I want to do as opposed to what I need to do. This year, I wanted it to end.

Last weekend, I spent some very deliberate time reflecting upon how I spend the majority of my waking hours. The past ten years have been largely consumed with study and work, the remainder being fragmented into time with family and friends. I’ve long been aware of a glaring imbalance between time spent with lifelong friends and that spent with ‘incidental acquaintances’, i.e. colleagues or people attached to my personal pursuits. All very nice people, mind you. But not those whom I’d call ‘sisters’ when I’m old and grey.

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I’ll spare you the rest of my weekend contemplation. Let’s skip through to some very purposeful time spent last Sunday eating muffins on the crest of a hill. Time spent chatting in the cool of the morning until hours disappeared and the afternoon arrived.

Time spent with my other best friend and heart sister, Lucy.

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We arrived around 9:00am, armed with fresh pencils, paints, snacks, one furkid (Loki) and our two favourite boys (Aaron and Lucy’s little boy, Isaac). Over the course of the morning, we etched images on paper, cracking almonds with our teeth and breathing the scent of warm eucalyptus.

Lucy was Lucy, beautifully creative, always kind and encouraging. The same strong-but-gentle woman whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for over fifteen years. She’s seen me crumble under pressure and glow with happiness on my wedding day.

I’m so, so grateful for the journey that we’ve taken together. And most of all, I look forward to the days to come.

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So, back to Sunday. Before leaving the park, we took Isaac to Synergy parkland to climb stone dinosaurs and eat rainbow ice creams. Loki nosed around in the wood chips, making friends with stray children and chasing abandoned balls.

We lay on freshly watered grass which left stains on our clothing and huge smiles on our faces. We loved every minute and, as usual, we’ve promised to ‘do it again soon’.

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And this time, we will.

I’m already baking the muffins.

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Blackberry and Coconut Muffins

Makes 18

  • 1/2 cup coconut yoghurt (I used CO YO, substitute natural yoghurt)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup organic, cold-pressed coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup almond milk (substitute oat or dairy milk)
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 1 cup organic oat flour
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tbsp coconut flour
  • 2 cups frozen or fresh blackberries
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking (bicarbonate) soda
  • Optional: coconut nectar and coconut chips/flakes, to garnish

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Whisk the yoghurt, water, eggs, milk and coconut oil together in a large bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix until just combined.

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Spoon into lined or greased muffin pans and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

If using coconut nectar, prick holes into the top of the muffins and drizzle over a little coconut nectar whilst still warm. Garnish with toasted coconut chips.

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blackberry coconut slice

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There’s something beautifully satisfying about a crumbly slice, particularly one that’s dense with buttery oats and sweet summer berries. They take me back to the hazy days of my childhood, small feet pounding on linoleum as I ran to the kitchen for afternoon tea.

When I was tiny, my mother had a knack for incorporating fruits, vegetables and wholegrains into her baking repertoire. It wasn’t just for ‘concealment’ purposes; rather, she just preferred carrot, lemon or apple spice cake over dense chocolate cake and Victoria sponge. Wise woman.

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In my own kitchen, I’ve adopted the same principles, partly for health reasons and wholly to please my own taste buds. Crunchy oats, earthy spelt and nut flours, moist fruits and ancient grains… they sing a grand chorus when mixed together into a cake, granola bar, muffin or pie.

I also habitually throw fresh leafy herbs and ground spices into my cake recipes (click here and here for some examples) for added complexity and flavour. The savoury notes both compliment and accentuate the fragrant baked fruits in the most beautiful of ways. Needless to say, it’s a habit that I’m disinclined to break.

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teacup

This slice celebrates everything that’s beautiful, sweet and unctuous about summer fruit. Plump, ripe berries picked from the last of the season’s brambles, sandwiched between buttery oats and earthy spelt flour.

As the heat of early March slowly dulls under a blanket of fallen autumn leaves, it’s getting harder to find fresh Australian berries. Admittedly, half of the blackberry fruit in this post was cooked from frozen due to low supplies at my local market. However, when sinking my teeth into a jammy oat slice with crunchy wholegrains and coconut, it no longer mattered. I was grasping summer’s bounty with floured hands and a happy heart.

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These bars make a beautifully transportable morning tea when wrapped in foil or brown paper. The fruit, cooked down to a jammy consistency, is slightly sticky but largely protected by the resilient oat crust.

They’re also lovely as a dessert, served slightly warm with a scoop of yoghurt or vanilla ice cream. Blissful, wholesome goodness (of which my mother would definitely approve).

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Blackberry Coconut Slice
Adapted from this recipe by Good Food

Makes 24 squares

  • 240g wholegrain spelt flour
  • 50g wholegrain organic oats
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 275g organic panela or rapadura sugar (substitute light brown sugar)
  • 200g cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 75g shredded coconut
  • 2 medium free-range eggs, beaten
  • 350g fresh or frozen berries (I used blackberries and raspberries)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 31 x 17cm slice tin.

Place the spelt flour and baking powder into a flour sifter or fine sieve. Sift through twice to evenly distribute the raising agent. Place the sifted flour into a large bowl with the oats, butter and panela sugar.

butter

Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs (alternately, you can chuck the dry ingredients and the butter into a food processor and pulse it until it reaches the right consistency).

Stir through the shredded coconut. Measure 1 teacupful of the mixture (about 170g) and set it aside for the crumbly topping. Add the eggs to the remaining bowl of mixture and mix thoroughly.

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Spread the mixture evenly over the base of your lined baking tin. Smooth out firmly with your fingers or the back of a spoon.

Scatter over the berries, ensuring that they’re evenly distributed across the base. Scatter over the reserved crumble topping.

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Transfer the slice to your preheated oven and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until the top is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool before slicing into 24 squares.

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lemon, coconut and cacao truffles

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It’s been a rainy Saturday here in Perth. Wet, cold and predominantly grey. Quite amusing really, as it was only three weeks ago that I posted a recipe for slow-roasted lamb as a ‘…final homage to the beautiful winter-that-was’. Upon reflection, I should change that to the winter that is, as it’s been cold and rainy all week.

Oh well. All the more time for slow food, hot soup, snuggling under blankets and drinking hot chocolate with plenty of treats like these gluten-free, dairy-free bites of lemon cacao bliss.

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These particular truffles were made two weeks ago for my beautiful friend Anna (who is an amazing singer-songwriter, check out her website here) who can’t tolerate wheat, gluten or dairy. We ate them with fruit, Medjool dates and wine after a vegan dinner at our house, and I liked them so much that I snapped a few photos in preparation for a blog post.

Due to my delay in posting, these treats are now well and truly finished. Gone. Absent and departed. Seeing their photos in memoriam makes me sad.

ingredients

They taste like moist little bundles of almond, coconut and honey with soft, fragrant lemon undertones and the crunch of cacao nibs. I rolled half in raw cacao and the other half in dessicated coconut; after a great deal of taste testing we’ve decided that the coconut are superior to their more-bitter-on-the-tongue cacao cousins.

All this talk is making me hungry. It’s time to make another batch.

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Lemon, Coconut and Cacao Truffles

Makes roughly 22 truffles. Adapted from this recipe by Eleanor Ozich at Petite Kitchen.

  • 1 1/2 cups (110g) unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup (110g) almond meal
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
  • 4 tbsp honey (to make these completely vegan, substitute with maple syrup or agave as desired)
  • zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp raw cacao nibs (or extra, to taste)
  • a pinch of crushed sea salt

For rolling the truffles:

  • 1/4 cup (18g) unsweetened dessicated coconut
  • 1/4 cup raw cacao powder

Place the dessicated coconut, almond meal, coconut oil, honey, lemon juice and zest, vanilla extract and sea salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture comes together (around 1 minute).

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Turn out into a bowl and add the cacao nibs. Mix together with a wooden spoon.

Use your hands to roll 1/2 tbsp of the mixture into a small bowl. Roll in dessicated coconut or cacao (I placed each coating in a separate bowl to roll the truffles as desired), then gently place onto a lined tray. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

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Refrigerate the truffles for at least half an hour before eating.

I prefer to eat them straight out of the refrigerator but you can store them at room temperature if desired. To keep them a little longer, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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banana, coconut and rum cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Banana Coconut and Rum Cake

Makes one 22cm cake

Topping:

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

Cake:

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

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

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

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

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

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

rumcakemontRum Glaze:

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

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

sidecakeTo finish your cake:

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

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

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

creamspoonNotes:

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

banana, strawberry and coconut bread

strawberries

Those who are regular readers of the Mess would be quite familiar with my occasional (okay, regular) complaints surrounding my lack of a digital SLR camera, tripod, light-box and everything else that’s required to take quality photographs at night. It might therefore come as a surprise to see a low light photograph as the header for this recipe post.

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Let me explain. It’s 11.30pm, Friday night. I’m sitting in my living room, watching a candle flicker on the coffee table after catching up with my beautiful friend Elissa (from Ethical is Easy) over a bottle of Taylors white, homemade tapas and salted caramel ice-cream. I’m feeling relaxed, energised in the best way possible. I start putting some leftovers away and all of a sudden, my eyes rest upon the image of a few over-ripe bananas that have been sitting, neglected, in the far corner of my fridge for the past six days. Yes. Let’s bake.

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You can probably imagine the rest. Out comes my mixing bowl, some leftover ripe strawberries, dry goods and coconut oil. I pull out our trusty camera and some spare batteries to experiment with candlelight photography, sans any of the equipment stated above. Over the next two hours, my ingredients gently fused with the speckled bananas to create a fragrant, brown-sugar-and-coconut-encrusted vision of baked happiness, whilst pictures were snapped, erased, then snapped again.

nightkitchen

Whilst the bread was baking, I sipped on a glass of leftover wine, cleaning the kitchen to the ethereal soundtrack of Emma Louise. The gentle, soaring sounds of her debut album, vs. Head vs. Heart, sweep you into an intricate, thoughtful narrative that is a perfect accompaniment to the inky blackness of the night sky. Now, whilst this is not in any way a full music review, I’d definitely recommend Emma Louise if you like London Grammar or any other band that combines gentle, thoughtful and honest acoustic guitar with elements of electronic syncopation. Check out more polished reviews of the album here and here.

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Now, back to the baking: this fruity loaf is based on my favourite banana bread recipe, stolen from my mother’s copy of Marks & SpencerGood Home Baking’ by Mary Cadogan (1983). I featured a loose variation of the recipe in one of my very first blog posts, Banana Bread: Two Ways as ‘Recipe 1’. Today’s version swaps raisins and walnuts for fresh strawberries, coconut oil and dessicated coconut. It’s topped with a crunchy, toasted coconut and brown sugar crust which, when cut, unearths a beautifully moist, fragrant interior studded with chunks of intense strawberry.

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This recipe is simple, delicious, and achievable for anyone with a mixing bowl, an oven and a loaf tin (actually, you could even bake it in a round tin if required!). It’s adaptable, even if you’re missing a few ingredients, and forgives many common errors that haunt novice cooks (eg. when to combine wet and dry ingredients, how much to beat an egg, whether to sift the flour etc). As this loaf was consumed in the daytime, there are also some natural daylight shots of the finished bread below… thank goodness! It’s so difficult to make brown look attractive by candlelight.

breadstack

Banana, Strawberry and Coconut Bread

Makes 1 x 1kg loaf

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 90g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp organic, virgin coconut oil
  • 175g soft dark brown sugar
  • 200g washed and quartered ripe strawberries
  • 1/4 cup dessicated coconut + 1 tbsp (for crust)
  • 3 large or 4 medium ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp natural vanilla essence
  • 1 tbsp natural yoghurt (optional, replace with 1 extra tbsp milk if preferred)
  • 2 tbsp milk (dairy, almond, soy etc)
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar (for crust)

Grease the bottom of a 1kg (minimum) loaf tin with butter, then line with greaseproof paper. Set aside. Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f).

Place the flour and salt into a bowl. Add in the butter, cut into small pieces, then rub in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sifted brown sugar, dessicated coconut and strawberries.

bowl

Add the vanilla, milk and yoghurt to the mashed bananas with the beaten egg. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, then mix until well combined. Turn your mixture into your lined pan then smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and your 1 tbsp extra coconut.

Place the tin into the preheated oven and bake for 90 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown, risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Cool in the tin on a wire rack. Serve sliced and buttered if desired, or (my favourite) toasted, spread with mascarpone cheese and topped with toasted almonds.

goneNotes:

  • This loaf tastes amazing with the addition of 100g coarsely chopped white chocolate (reduce your strawberries to 150g). You can also substitute the strawberries for blueberries, raspberries or another berry of your choice.
  • Don’t like coconut? Just omit it, and add in 1/4 cup of rolled oats, nuts of your choice or flaxseeds.
  • If you don’t have any (or don’t like) coconut oil, just increase your butter to 100g.
  • To substitute plain flour with raising agents for self-raising flour, the general ratio per cup of flour is 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Sift together and use as required.

hummingbird cake with cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut sugar

topA couple of nights ago, my husband arrived home from work as I was happily baking away in our matchbox-sized kitchen. “What are you making?” he inquired, peering over my shoulder as he headed towards the shower. “Hummingbird cake”, I responded, absentmindedly pouring the thick batter into my lined cake tin. He smiled slightly, re-entering the room.

“How many did you put in it?”

I looked at him quizzically, licking some batter off my finger before sliding the cake onto an oven rack. “Uh… how many what?”

“Hummingbirds!”

“Ohhhh. Right.” (my failure to identify this joke earlier in the conversation was rather abysmal, wasn’t it?)

bananaeggmontAnyway, I’ll stop the conversation there, as it took a rather non-animal-friendly turn (think: comments about fried and baked hummingbirds, minced hummingbirds, the nutritional value of hummingbirds) but ever since that night I’ve been wondering how this moist, spiced banana, pineapple and coconut cake got it’s rather interesting name.

slice2Enter Google (how I ever survived without this search engine, I’ll never know). A few clicks revealed that the printed origin of this cake dates back to February 1978, when a Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina submitted the recipe to Southern Living magazine. Since then, it’s been the most requested recipe in the magazine’s history, winning all-time favourite recipe in 1990 and collecting numerous blue ribbons at country fairs across the United States.

sugar2There’s also speculation that the cake existed long before being printed in Southern Living magazine. Variations exist around the world (with different quantities of fruit, nuts and spices) under names such as ‘Jamaica Cake‘ and ‘Granny Cake‘. Hm, I’ve just experienced an epiphany:

  1. The hummingbird is the national bird of Jamaica
  2. Hummingbirds like sweet things, especially nectar of fruits and flowers
  3. Grandmothers also like sweet things (well, at least mine did. She stole my Galaxy Minstrels on more than one occasion)

…it’s all starting to make sense! Well, uh… sort of.

insidecanAnyway, enough musing for one morning. Below you’ll find my recipe for the Jamaican Granny’s Hummingbird cake (I’m being all-inclusive here) which has been slightly altered from the original by substituting walnuts for pecans, organic coconut sugar for brown sugar and raisins for… well, an absence of raisins. I’ve also chosen to bake it as a single layer cake, cutting down the usual amount of frosting to a singular, thick layer on the top.

This version of Hummingbird cake is topped with a layer of crunchy, toasted coconut, organic coconut sugar and cinnamon. I think it adds a delicious dimension of flavour and texture that echoes those of the cake itself. If you’d like to be a traditional Southerner, I’d suggest substituting this for the more traditional topping of toasted walnuts or pecans. Yee-haw!

slicefrontHummingbird Cake

  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 270g organic coconut sugar (I use Coco’s Organic Blend from Gewürzhaus, however Loving Earth Fairtrade Organic Coconut Sugar is also fantastic… the added bonus is that they sell in bulk)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 50g dessicated coconut
  • 440g can crushed pineapple in natural juice, drained
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 200ml sunflower oil

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees f). Grease and line a 23cm cake tin, then set aside.

Sift your flour and spices into a large bowl. Add in your coconut sugar, dessicated coconut, raisins and walnuts, then stir to combine.

drywetmont

Lightly beat your eggs in a separate bowl, then add in your other liquid ingredients (mashed banana, sunflower oil, drained crushed pineapple). Add the liquid ingredients to your dry ingredients, stirring until well combined.

nutsbowlmontPour the mixture into your lined cake tin, tapping it lightly on the bench top to remove any trapped air pockets. Bake for 40 – 60 minutes, depending upon the efficiency of your oven (it takes about 65-70 minutes in my little gas cooker!). Your cake is done when the top is light golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Cool your cake in the tin on a wire rack, then refrigerate until you’re ready to top it with frosting.

ibbestCream Cheese Frosting

*the quantity of frosting below has been calculated to cover the top of the cake only. If you intend to fully cover your cake or build traditional layers, I’d suggest that you double or triple the mixture accordingly.

  • 125g cream cheese
  • 50g unsalted, organic butter
  • 150g pure icing sugar, sifted
  • lemon juice, to taste (I used about one tablespoon)

Beat the cream cheese, butter and icing sugar together until you have a smooth mixture. Add a little lemon juice, beat again, then taste. Add more lemon as desired. Refrigerate until you are ready to ice your cake.

lemonicingingTo ice: place a pile of the cream cheese frosting in the centre of your cake. Using broad strokes with a palette knife or spoon, work the icing outwards until it reaches the edge. Continue smoothing the icing in a circular pattern, rotating the cake under your knife, until you have a smooth, even layer over the top of your cake.

icingcakeRefrigerate for 20 minutes before adding your toasted coconut sugar topping (recipe below).

toastedcoconutg

Toasted Coconut Sugar Topping

  • 1/2 cup coarsely shredded coconut
  • 1 tablespoon organic coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Place the shredded coconut onto an oven tray. In a moderate oven (180 degrees C/356 degrees f), toast the shredded coconut until it turns a light shade of golden brown. Allow to cool slightly, then place in a small bowl. Add in the organic coconut sugar and ground cinnamon, stir to combine. Use to top your cake if desired.

cakeicedside

Notes:

  • Coconut sugar is a minimally processed product made from the sap of cut flower buds from the coconut palm. It’s a soft, golden, dense sugar that tastes similar to brown sugar, with soft notes of toffee and caramel.
  • Coconut sugar has a low gycaemic index (>35) for sustained energy. It’s a rich source of minerals including potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron (in comparison to brown sugar, it has 36 times the iron, four times the magnesium, and over 10 times the amount of zinc). It also contains B-vitamins and 16 essential amino acids.
  • Due to it’s minimally processed nature, coconut sugar can vary slightly in terms of sweetness. However, in general you can use it as a 1:1 substitute for brown sugar in your favourite recipes. If you’re worried, taste your product before using it and add a little extra if it seems less sweet.

sugarspoonP.S. Today is the 26th January, 2013: Australia Day for all of those from the Great Southland! I just want to say a big ‘Happy Aussie Day’ to all of my fellow citizens, wherever you are in the world… especially those whom I count as beautiful friends and family. I love our country and I consider it a privilege to celebrate the foundations of Australia as we know it today. Have fun, whatever you’re doing (e.g. eating meat pies, drinking beer, watching cricket or baking lamingtons… come to think of it, I probably should have posted a recipe for lamingtons or Anzac biscuits today. Oh well… maybe next year).

marshmallow cocoa treats

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A couple of months after we started dating, my then-boyfriend Aaron mentioned to me that he had a recipe for a particularly addictive chocolate-coated marshmallow confection. It was something that his mother used to make throughout their teen years for consumption during the Summer months, and the family would store them in the freezer for an icy cold, chocolatey treat.

At this point, my mind drifted. Frozen chocolate-coated marshmallows? Being a child of the British Empire, I’ve always associated this combination (sans freezing) with products such as the delightful Tunnock’s Tea Cake, which is eaten at room-temperature with a nice hot cup of tea. However, scattered throughout the conversation were phrases such as ‘the best thing ever’ and ‘you can’t stop at one’. His enthusiasm was infectious, so as our tastes are quite similar (uh, we’re both chocaholics) I remained rather keen to try them.

Some weeks later, Aaron turned up at my apartment bearing a slightly smudged, handwritten recipe card entitled ‘Marshmallow Treats’. I had a skim through the ingredients, quickly realising that the recipe was similar to chocolate marshmallow snowballs, a confection that I had oft sampled but never created from scratch.

recipe

Now, this is the point where my seed of doubt started to grow into a sizable seedling. Chocolate marshmallow snowballs have always fallen into the category of ‘fake’ chocolate for me, mostly because the samples I’ve tried have been dry, obviously biscuity and devoid of real chocolate flavour. However, a couple of days later Aaron brought home the ingredients and we spent a warm Saturday morning melting butter, sifting cocoa and rolling out a ginormous double-batch.

milkcookies

At this point, I need to specify that we followed Aaron’s family tradition by placing our trays of little treats directly in the freezer to set. Around an hour later, they emerged: frosty cold, deep cocoa-red and flaked with coconut.

As I earlier confessed my seedlings of doubt about this recipe, I’ll also be completely honest about my first reaction when eating a frozen marshmallow treat. They’re frosty cold, with slight resistance as your teeth penetrate the chocolate coating towards the soft marshmallow centre. As you chew, the coating melts into a sweet jumble of cocoa, crunchy biscuit and fragrant coconut… it’s an absolutely delicious, uniquely cold chocolate treat. Oh, and Aaron was also completely correct about the difficulty you’ll encounter when attempting to stop at one of these little mouthfuls. At our first sitting, we consumed… uh, about ten or so? Each. This was followed by a sudden bout of nausea, so I’d discourage you from following in our rather foolish footsteps.

mallows

So, whether you’ve experienced a dry chocolate snowball or a soft, pillowy Tunnock’s Tea Cake, I’d encourage you to set aside prior associations whilst sampling these frosty little marshmallow treats. Yes, they’re still skirting in ‘fake’ chocolate territory, but with genuine, high-quality Dutch-process cocoa they’re as chocolatey as can be.

You’ll see that we’ve made some adjustments to Aaron’s original family recipe… namely, a reduction in sugar and coconut. Admittedly, this does result in a slight textural variance from the original product (due to aspects of food science that I won’t describe here) however it allows the complexity of the cocoa to shine through.

If you’d prefer, get back-to-basics with the sugary recipe card above, an apron and a wooden spoon. Either way, try them straight from the freezer – you’ll be very glad you did.

cocoamont

Marshmallow Cocoa Treats

Makes approx. 35 golf-ball-sized treats

  • 200g unsalted organic butter
  • 400g can of condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup (firmly packed) brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa, sifted
  • 2 tsp natural vanilla essence
  • 250g plain, sweet biscuits (e.g. Arnott’s Marie or Milk Arrowroot, graham crackers or malt biscuits)
  • 250g marshmallows
  • 1 cup finely dessicated coconut

Combine the butter, sugar, condensed milk, vanilla essence and cocoa in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir regularly, without boiling, until glossy and smooth. Remove from the heat and set aside whilst you prepare your biscuits.

biscuitsmont

If you have a food processor, place all of your biscuits into the processor bowl and crush them until you have a fine consistency. If you don’t (like me), place half of the biscuits onto a clean tea towel, then fold to enclose. Bash your biscuit parcel with a heavy rolling pin or other kitchen implement until the biscuits are finely crushed. You may need to open the tea towel and give any resilient large pieces a direct hit with the rolling pin. Repeat the process until all your biscuits are of a finely crushed consistency.

Add the crushed biscuits to the chocolate mixture, then stir to combine. Set aside until the mixture thickens and reaches room temperature.

bowl

Now for the fun part: set up your ‘marshmallow treat assembly area’. You’ll need a clean tray lined with greaseproof paper, your bowl of chocolate mixture, a shallow plate or dish filled with dessicated coconut (for rolling your marshmallow treats in) and a bowl filled with clean, cool water.

Dip your hands into the water to slightly dampen them. Scoop take about one tablespoon’s worth of chocolate mixture, then form it into a flat disc with your fingers. Place a marshmallow in the centre of the disc, then fold around the edges until the marshmallow is completely enclosed. Roll the ball in the palms of your hands until it becomes smooth, spherical and shiny.

processmont2

Place the ball onto your plate of dessicated coconut, and gently roll it around until the outside is well coated. Carefully place your finished marshmallow treat onto the lined baking tray, then repeat the process as required.

processedited

When your marshmallow treats are finished, place them in the fridge or freezer to chill for at least half an hour before eating. As above mentioned, our preferred storage method is in an airtight container in the freezer, for icy-cold consumption on warm Summer days.

treatbitten3

Notes:

  • I’m not going to kid you by saying that there are amazing health benefits within these little balls of chocolate deliciousness. Yes, there are beneficial antioxidants in cocoa, but they’re definitely not enough to outweigh all the butter and sugar you’ll be consuming. Let’s just say that these are a ‘sometimes’ food, ok? Don’t start at ten serves like we did.
  • Make sure that you keep your hands moist throughout the rolling process, or you (and possibly, your kitchen) will soon be covered in a sticky, coconut-flaked chocolate mess. Keep refreshing your bowl of water if it gets dirty.
  • If you’re not fond of coconut, you can roll these balls in toasted, crushed almonds or hazelnuts, more cocoa, chocolate sprinkles or (one of my favourite things) Swedish pearl sugar. If you’re unfamiliar with this ingredient, it’s basically little crystals of sugar (a little like rock salt) that add textural crunch and sweetness to baked goods. They’re traditionally used atop kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon rolls).
  • You can also dip these delicious treats into melted milk, white or dark chocolate to completely gild the lily.
  • If the idea of marshmallows isn’t enticing, feel free to substitute a glace cherry, toasted nut or whatever else you desire as the centre filling. You can also just use the coating mixture to roll plain cocoa balls.
  • Extra note: you’ve probably identified that the hands in the initial ‘rolling’ illustration are not mine. They belong to Aaron, my much more masculine and ultra-talented counterpart. I’m the one with the peachy nail-polish doing an unintentional ‘running girl’ hand pose. Ha.

poppiestreats

For those who were wondering what happened to our little bean-birds during the prolonged stint of hot weather, I’ve included a more recent photo. Their mother successfully shielded them from the sun’s penetrating rays and they’ve quadrupled in size over the past two weeks.

Each day, their beautiful little heads pop up to be fed in a flurry of activity, translucent necks straining in the filtered sun. Their mother has also reached a new level of fierceness in her efforts to protect them. She performs air attacks on unsuspecting unit residents (a.k.a possible predators) every day.

I’ll be sad when they eventually leave the nest, as their little chirps and wobbly movements add a bit of joy to our everyday routines. I’ll keep you updated on their exceptionally fast progress… hopefully the next photo will be of little fluffy bean-birds in flight.

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