Erin’s Chocolate, Fig and Walnut cake

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Having moved southern hemisphere to northern hemisphere a few months ago, I understand the blessing of the ‘fall bounty’ more truly. Our local farmers market and grocery shops have been full of bright harvest for the last few months. Now, as both the birds and leaves migrate southwards, the abundance has begun to fade, now revolving, as it does late in the season, around squash and pumpkins. The fig trees around our new home fruited late too, we have been tripping over the fruit as it came thick and fast in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, I feel a little guilty admitting to it, but neither Asher or I love fresh figs terribly. On the other hand, I really do not like fruit going to waste and so I had been gathering it up ‘to cook’ at a later date. Perishable as tender fresh figs are, Asher began to get frustrated finding my bowls of slightly fermented figs which were good only for adding to the compost. Anyhow, with a little (negative!) encouragement from him, I started trying to cook them up. I made chilli fig jam – a very tasty accompaniment to buttered toast. Erin’s birthday seemed like a good excuse to have a go at incorporating the jam into some baking. I played around with a few recipes to come up with the one below – the almond meal makes the batter it more dense than an average butter cake. I might keep playing with the recipe – I will keep you updated with any break-throughs!

Base
½ cup butter, softened (115g)
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup yoghurt
¾ cup milk
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1 cup almond meal
½ cup coco powder
1 tsp cardamon
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
⅛ tsp salt

Crumblings
75g butter
2/3 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup walnuts (roasted)

1 cup fig jam

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 175oC.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy.
3. Add the vanilla and eggs, beat till combined.
4. Combine the milk and yoghurt, and all the dry ingredients in two separate containers.
5. Begin adding a little of the milk mixture and a little of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar and mixing till combined, continue the cycle of adding the liquid and dry ingredients and the mixing till combined till all the ingredients are added.
6. Set aside.
7. Beat the butter and sugar for the ‘crumblings’, add in the flour till the mixture clumps together when you squeeze it with your hands.
8. Grease a bundt tin (or whatever tin you have decided to use!) and begin adding the batter, the crumblings, jam and walnuts to the tin, jam works better in the batter not at the edge near the tin. Spreading all the different components around equally will mean a more uniform result!
9. Bake it for about 50-55 minutes – just keep an eye on the browning – if it looks like its getting toasty round the edges and you want to let it go a little longer for the sake of a cooked centre – I use foil to protect it from over-browning-that-is-really-burning.
10. Serve with ice-cream or a little whipped cream – perhaps dusted with icing sugar.

Gifts given

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“… What do you have that you did not receive? … ” (1 Corinthians 4:7b)

Not much really! I have been musing about the idea of sacrament, ceremony and celebration recently. Thinking about the way that God made a good world, full of good things that should remind us to turn our gaze to Him in gratitude. About formalising our thanks in ceremony. About expressing and sharing our thanks in celebration.

I have been thinking about creation and Eucharist, about feasting and joy, about thankfulness. About a good world, about bread. About cake and friends to share it with. About delight and welcome. These are the threads I am beginning to trace as I learn God’s word. I am beginning to see the story about a world made in love, about good gifts given. About a King and a feast, about coming home to dinner. About fullness of life, about joy, not fear. Oh, I want to be able to tell that story. I want to tell it with loaves of bread baked in precious new pots. I want to tell it with Funfetti cake topped with butter cream frosting and sprinkles.  I want to tell it slowly and carefully and with great joy.

The psalmist tells us that “He withholds no good thing …” Psalm 84:11 and I know it to be true. Sometimes the gifts are extra special though. This last week I was given a beautiful blue le Creuset pot, heavy with the hope of bread to break and dinners to share. Newly arrived in Vancouver, only few months ago, I had also been given an preloved Kitchenaid mixer and then, last week, the bowl finally arrived. Talk about stuff being sacred – my heart and my kitchen are full! So I baked in thanks. I baked basic-bread and a party-cake. The stuff of life and the stuff of celebration. I think we need both. We need the reminder that our earthy bodies are nourished both by the earth, and by the One who offers us Himself, the true Bread of Life. And once we have remembered, we need to gather and celebrate His Goodness and His abundant welcome.

Piece of cake, anyone?!

Lily’s Apricot Blondies (or the Flour Chronicles : 4)

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The genius behind this suprisingly scrumptious rendition of Bakarella’s recipe is a pint-sized chef with fair skin and hair to match her creation. My baking partner on Monday, Lily, was keen to have a go at making ‘Blondies’ – the sweet but cocoa-less version of Brownies. With her brother ‘off chocolate’ for a year, we had the double challenge of removing both cocoa and chocolate pieces our baking. We decided that we would keep nuts in the recipe – but because, as Lily rightly pointed out, cashews go with everything, we thought we would use them instead of pecans. We figured that perhaps frozen berries might be a pretty change from chocolate chips but, on our way to the frozen section, the dried fruit caught our eyes. After some deliberation Lily made the call; apricots. And so we concocted this sweet, tangy and chewily moorish slice. It was, hands down, a winner. Everyone wanted another slice and, oh yum, another! We thought you might like to try it too! (PS. I also had a go at using up some of my interesting ‘flours’ from earlier in the year, the barley flour made an entrance here and seemed to work well!).

Ingredients:
1 cup barley flour
1 3/4 cup wholemeal flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
150g butter, softened
450g dark brown sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
200g dried apricots
1 1/4 cups chopped cashews

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 175oC.
2. Line a deepish rectangular cake tin (9 x 13 inches or 22 x 29 cm approx.).
3. Chop butter into small pieces and then cream with brown sugar. Once combined, add the eggs in too, one at a time. Beat well after each egg is added – a silky smooth batter should be the result.
4. Add in the vanilla essence and beat again to blend.
5. Sift in the flours, baking powder and salt. Mix gently till incorporated into the butter, sugar and egg.
6. Chop the apricots and cashews roughly and add to the mixture. Use the electric mixer to distribute them evenly through the batter.
7. Move batter to the cake tin, it is very thick so you may need to wet your fingers to smooth in into the corners of the tin so that it is evenly distributed.
8. Bake for 25-30 minutes or till golden and just done when tested with a skewer. It is a brownie style slice so it is best moist rather than overcooked.
9. Allow to cool and then slice into 5 x 6 squares.
10. Try not to eat them all at once!

Cake, because …

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I believe in cake.

As someone who cares about food I do try to eat healthily, to make wise choices. I know that cake is rich in sugar and fats. I know that it is a treat, a ‘special occasion’ only food.

But it is for these reasons that I believe in it. It is rich, it is a treat and a moment marked with cake becomes a special occasion. If sharing bread makes us companions, then sharing cake allows companions to celebrate!

My lovely sister-in-law recently announced her engagement. I made her a cake. A sweet, rich, special cake because we wanted to recognise the sweetness of love and new beginnings, as well as the richness of love and commitment.

Last year I wrote an essay on cake*. After examining its British-European history I reflected on the nature of contemporary cake culture in Australia. I found the whole enterprise completely fascinating. As I reflected on the way cake is bought, baked and shared – I began to reflect on the deeper meanings of this unique social phenomenon.

We share cake at special occasions, employ it to make a little moment in our everyday sweeter, offer it to extend friendship and hospitality. The type of cake and the context within which it is served can invoke both cultural and gender identities. There is just so much that some sugar, butter, egg and flour can say, can invoke, can express.

This link will connect you to the recipe that I reinterpreted for this sweet little morsel. I used a smaller tin; three 9cm tins worked instead of two 15cm ones, I changed the chocolate cake to an almond and rosewater Torte and completely muffed the swiss meringue buttercream recipe! In the end this was reinterpreted into a more regular buttercream icing instead. My embellishment was much more understated (I didn’t have the time or the patience for the original!) – the cake was topped with almonds and rose petals. I think I’ll keep tweaking the recipe for now, maybe one day I’ll share my better-documented-and-repeat-trialed version.

Despite the changes, it was an absolute hit and my thanks goes to Linda Lomelino at Call me Cupcake for sharing. My mum is not a ‘cake person’, my husband and his father prefer savoury treats to sweet … and they all liked this cake!!! The actual recipient now wants it for her wedding cake, I think my family will be returning to this recipe for many future celebrations, big and small!

*Here is a pdf version, if you are interested! CakeResearchProjectMorrisona1641657

Swedish Tea Ring

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This final picture is a Swedish Tea Ring made by one of my students so you can see how the pink can be a pretty option!

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Book club was at our house on Sunday and we shared a cozy afternoon of tea, chatting, frustrated analysis of the book that (most of us, or perhaps I should say, them, as I was not part of the ‘us’ group!) read that month and excited evangelism regarding the books we did love. Enjoying my role as host more and more, I decided on a very simple afternoon tea spread because the week had involved quite a lot of baking for the cake stall on Saturday! I learnt this recipe in Year 9 and have since taught it to subsequent Year 9 (and other!) classes as a teacher. It is very simple and very yummy and made for delicious munching during our quiet Sunday afternoon tea. It has also been used successfully for special breakfasts and brunches to bless honoured Fathers and Mothers and I think even graced the table on Christmas morning one year (or maybe two!).

Ingredients:
2 cups self-raising flour (sifted)
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon boiling water
Lemon juice (optional)
Pink food colouring if desired (only a little bit, soft pink icing works well for this recipe)
 
Method:
1.     Sift the flour and salt into a bowl.
2.     Rub the margarine through the flour till you have achieved an even breadcrumb-like consistency.
3.     Stir the milk in with a knife till combined into a soft dough. If the mixture is still a little stiff you can add more milk.
4.     Roll onto a floured board or bench into a rectangular shape (about A4 dimensions), and about 1.5-2cm thick.
5.     Melt the butter and brush over the surface of the dough with a pastry brush.
6.     Sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon (mixed together) over the surface of the dough evenly.
7.     Roll up the dough, starting with the long side (roll from long side to long side).
8.     Cut roll at 3cm intervals, and place slices face spiral up on a lined baking tray in a circular pattern, with spiral ends in the centre.
9.     Cook for 15-20 mins at 200oC, the ring should be golden and sound hollow when tapped when it is done.
10.  While it is cooking prepare the icing by mixing the icing sugar with water, pink food colouring and lemon juice. The icing should be very runny.
11.  Drizzle the ring with icing soon after it is out of the oven (don’t wait for it to cool entirely, as the ring is really yummy served warm).
12.  The ring could also be decorated with cachous, crushed nuts or sprinkles to add a little something extra although it is delightful just as it is!

What jam and cream do to scones …

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Scones are pretty simple. Flour, raising agent, butter and milk (salt too, if you are a serious baker).On their own they aren’t much. But, with some bright jam and whipped cream … ahhh. Yum. All of a sudden afternoon tea becomes an event. Something ordinary becomes special. Something bland, delicious.

Maybe there is a deeper truth there, about life, relationships. Given a little something extra, even the ordinary can be transformed. Or maybe we are just talking about a simple dough and spread. I give you my favourite scone recipe, from the Commonsense Cookery Book.

Ingredients:
2 cups self-raising flour
60g butter
1 cup milk
(they add a touch of salt, I usually don’t, especially if the butter is salted)

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 220-230˚C.
2. Either grease a flat baking tray or line with baking paper.
3. Sift the flour into a medium mixing bowl (add salt here if you choose to).
4. Chop butter into small cubes, it needs to be room temperature or even just a little softer.
5. Add the butter to the flour and rub through till the flour looks like fine breadcrumbs. (Ideally, you pick up some of the flour and butter in your finger tips (not the palm of your hand, this will melt the butter) and roll your thumb along your other fingers, till the mixture is all back in the bowl … then start again).
6. Add the milk gradually, ‘cut’ it into the butter and flour with a butter knife, trying to combine the ingredients without over mixing the dough.
7. Gently shape the dough into either a round of about 3-4cm thick which can be scored into triangles for serving or cut out small rounds with a floured scone cutter or glass.
8. Place the scones on baking tray, if small rounds, place them close together, they help each other rise!
9. Paint with some milk and bake for 8-10 minutes or till golden and hollow when tapped gently.
10. Share some with a friend for afternoon tea with some gently whipped cream and jam.

Experimentation …
I did get a little creative with this recipe, using half the dough to make an experimental ‘pastry’.
I rolled the dough into a rectangle and divided this into thirds.
On the middle third I spread some German-styled cream cheese (quark), jam and slices of pear.
The two outer thirds were sliced so I could attempt a braided design that held in the filling.
The result was pretty yummy, if a little unconventional. Heated up, it made a very yummy breakfast!