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

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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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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raspberry, macadamia and white chocolate muffins

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I like muffins. They’re ridiculously simple to make, quick to cook and easy to eat. However, despite muffins being in my regular baking repertoire, I’ve never posted a recipe. Why? Well… muffins are usually my go-to ‘quick fix’ option when I need to bake and don’t have available cooking time for a cake. Within half an hour, the muffins are mixed, baked and gently packed in paper for transport.

As any food blogger would know, taking photographs for a post slows down the cooking process considerably, so muffins never really hit my blogging radar. Until now. This muffin recipe is too good not to share.

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Based on this recipe from taste.com.au, my version of the classic raspberry and white chocolate muffin is studded with macadamia nuts, white chocolate buttons and rosy fruit. The batter is moistened with toasty macadamia oil and buttermilk, both of which are absorbed and retained by the additional coconut flour.

Raw sugar balances the tartness of the raspberries, whilst a sprinkle of demerara sugar creates crunch on the golden muffin top. When eaten warm from the oven, they’re positively heavenly… warm, gooey white chocolate contrasts against tart raspberry, moist coconut and earthy macadamias in a joyous tumble of flavour and texture.

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I took all eighteen of these muffins to my workplace as a Monday sweetener. Their box was empty by morning tea time and eleven emails soon arrived in thanks (plus two door drop-in’s calling for my entry to The Great Australian Bake-Off).

So, needless to say, if you’d like to win friends and make office alliances, make these muffins. They’re quick, easy and absolutely delicious. They’ve never failed me yet.

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Raspberry, Macadamia and White Chocolate Muffins

Makes 18 medium-sized muffins

  • 1 cup (about 200g) white chocolate buds
  • 1 1/2 cups (310g) raw caster sugar
  • 3 cups (450g) self-raising flour
  • 1 cup (150g) organic coconut flour
  • 1 cup (250ml) macadamia oil
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) buttermilk
  • 1 cup (160g) raw macadamias, crushed lightly in a mortar and pestle
  • 2 cups (250g) frozen or fresh raspberries
  • 2 free-range eggs, lightly whisked
  • demerara sugar, for sprinkling (if desired)

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (360 degrees f). Line 18 (one 12-hole and one 6-hole muffin tray) muffin pans with paper cases.

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In a large bowl, combine the white chocolate, sugar, flours and macadamia nuts. Gently fold in the raspberries (don’t worry if some of them get crushed, it creates a lovely rosy hue upon baking). Make a well in the centre.

flours

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Whisk the egg, oil and buttermilk together in a jug. Pour the mixture into the well in the centre of your flour mixture, then gently stir until just combined.

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Spoon the mixture evenly into each paper case, ensuring that the chocolate, nuts and berries are evenly distributed.

filling

filled2Sprinkle each muffin top with some demarara sugar. Transfer trays into the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden and cooked through (insert a skewer into the centre of a large muffin; it should come out with only moist crumbs attached). splitaerial2Cool the muffins for 5 minutes before removing them from their trays. They’re wonderful served warm with a hot cup of coffee.

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raspberry and lemon baked cheesecake

cakefaveThose of you who are regular readers of this blog would know that I’m a very instinctual cook. I disregard both measurements and recipes, and tend to rescue my food from the oven by sight, smell and touch rather than adherence to cooking times. I used to view this ‘freestyle’ cooking ability as a strength; something born of experience and personal creativity. Last Friday, I definitively changed my mind.

Let me take you on a little trip down ‘memory lane’: it was 11:00am on a cold-but-clear Friday morning. The sun was high in the sky, casting shadows across the coffee table as I tapped out answers to emails on my laptop.  I coughed, watching steam rise from my coffee cup as my eyes flickered absently across the computer screen. In approximately 19 hours, four men would be arriving at my door to eat a pork belly roast in honour of William, a friend of ours who’s leaving Australia for good this coming Thursday. I wanted to create something delicious for dessert; something meaningful, indulgent and worthy of the occasion. For some reason I decided upon cheesecake. Specifically, lemon cheesecake, as a tribute to William’s uncanny ability to eat three of my glazed lemon muffins in two minutes (yep, true).

sccheesemontAs you can probably imagine, I’ve got my own ideas about making cheesecake. I’ve made quite a few before, all successful, but… well, as I was seeking perfection I made the unusual decision to follow a recipe.

After a few clicks through various websites, I chose this one from taste.com.au. Now, if you inspect the link you’ll see that this recipe isn’t actually for lemon cheesecake; however, I was sold by the convincing user reviews. I figured I could add in some homemade lemon curd and all would be dandy, right? So, I set to work: snap, melt, blend, press. Refrigerate crust. Check recipe. Shake, measure, blend, stir. Fill chilled crust. Looking good. Now, lemon; let’s dollop in some lemon curd. Raspberries? Yeah. Top up with vanilla filling. Check recipe. Oh no.

I stared at the beautiful, glistening cheesecake on the bench top. It looked perfect; dense and creamy, with a crisp biscuit crust and smooth vanilla filling. But… I’d forgotten the eggs. And the recipe called for three.

Darn it.

lemonrindmontI stared dismally at the cheesecake, my brain ticking over possible solutions to the ‘egg problem’. The preheated oven creaked menacingly as I mentally berated my poor ability to follow recipes. Any sane cook would have placed the cheesecake in the refrigerator to firm up overnight, as without eggs, it would have worked perfectly in its unbaked form.

Me? Hah. Well, my stubbornness kicked in. I rummaged through a drawer for a flat, wide spoon before attempting to skim off the top layer of vanilla filling. I chucked it back into the blender, cracked in an egg and… soon it resembled a vanilla milkshake. I added in a little more sour cream then poured it back over the cheesecake base. I hoped for the best.

Oven opened. Cake went in. Heart sank. I waited, hoping that my cheesecake might at least be a little bit better than my husband’s favourite packet abomination from White Wings.

raspstrawbmontFast forward three hours. The cheesecake had baked and cooled for two hours before emerging from the oven. It looked fine. Good, even. The milkshake layer had set nicely; it was glossy and crack-free with the slightest bit of wobble in the centre. The crust had a lovely golden hue.

But still… I had no idea how the egg-free layer turned out. I placed the tin in the refrigerator, covered, to set overnight. I then washed up, broke a glass, lost a hairpin in the remaining sour cream and saturated my shirt. I decided that I should just go back to bed. So I did.

The next day, the cheesecake emerged. It was decorated, served and eaten. Yes, you’ll get to see how the cake turned out… after reading the recipe. I’ve posted in full as it should have been; my modifications are mostly in italics, including the addition of lemon curd, fresh berries and dollops of frustration.

cakeRaspberry and Lemon Baked Cheesecake

Serves 12 (adapted from New York Baked Cheesecake by Katrina Woodman, at taste.com.au)

  • 250g packet plain sweet biscuits (I used Arnott’s Marie)
  • 125g butter, melted
  • 2 x 250g packets of full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup white caster sugar
  • 3/4 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
  • 3 eggs (I used one)
  • 3/4 cup lemon curd
  • 1/4 cup raspberry conserve
  • 200g (about 3/4 punnet) fresh strawberries, washed
  • 200g fresh raspberries (not frozen, or they’ll leak juice all over your cake)
  • mint, to serve (optional)

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f. If you have a fan-forced oven, use 140 degrees C/280 degrees f). Grease and line a round 22cm springform cake pan with baking paper, then set aside.

MariecookieIn a food processor, process the biscuits until they reach breadcrumb consistency. Add in the melted butter and process until just combined. Press the mixture over the base and sides of the pan, leaving a 2cm gap from the top. Use the base of a glass to press over the base and sides of the pan for a firm, smooth consistency. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

crustAdd the cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, vanilla and lemon rind to your food processor bowl. Process until smooth*.

bowlofcheeseAdd the eggs, one at a time, processing until just combined (omit this step if you are Laura). Pour half of the cheesecake mixture into the prepared pan. Top with half of the lemon curd and a few teaspoons of raspberry jam. Swirl to create an even distribution.

layer2cakePour over the rest of your cheesecake mixture (then scrape it off, blend it with an egg, add another dollop of sour cream and pour it back on – see the bubbles? Milkshakey, eggy goodness).

topBake for 60-65 minutes (40-50 minutes if you’ve made the two layers as I did; the base cheesecake layer doesn’t need baking) or until just set (the centre should still wobble slightly). Allow the cake to cool in the oven for two hours with the door ajar. When sufficiently cooled, cover and refrigerate overnight.

To serve:

Release the sides of the springform tin. Carefully lift your cake from the base and remove the baking paper. Transfer to a serving plate.

curd.likeWarm your remaining lemon curd in the microwave for about 15 seconds, or until it’s spreadable.  Carefully cover the surface of your cake with the remaining lemon curd (emphasis on carefully, as the surface of the cake may be a little delicate). Refrigerate whilst you prepare the berries.

berryjammontSlice your strawberries into quarters, then place them in a bowl. Melt the rest of the raspberry jam (until slightly warm and pourable, not hot and bubbling) then combine it with the berries, stirring until each piece of strawberry is coated and glistening. Pile the strawberries onto the centre of the cake, adding the fresh raspberries and mint, if desired.

cakebench2So. The verdict: absolute, unexpected, gloriously delicious success! The cake was creamy, smooth and perfectly set, with a gorgeous layer of fresh lemon curd and raspberry jam in the centre. The textural difference between the top and bottom layers of cheesecake filling actually worked well; the upper layer was pillowy soft and light whilst the bottom layer was dense, creamy and decadent.

cakeslicemontThe boys who tasted it said that it was reminiscent of a lemon meringue pie mixed with a cheesecake and a Victoria sponge. Strange but entirely accurate. William was altogether pleased (he laughed when we recalled the muffin story. Ah, memories).

I love it when disasters redeem themselves (but I still need to learn how to read recipes).

jamjar*If you’d like to reproduce my accidental cheesecake triumph at home, I’d suggest dividing your whipped (eggless) cheesecake filling into two halves. Pour one half over your refrigerated crust, then top with lemon curd and raspberry jam. Return the other half to the blender with one egg. Blend until just combined, then pour over the rest of the filling. Bake as instructed.

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