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?!

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

How to make a birthday

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When it’s for this particular muso there must be lots of instruments, lots of friends and family and lots of good food. We celebrated another year of Asher with pizza, playing and partying last week and it seemed to come off! People seemed happy and relaxed, enjoying all the different aspects of the night. The birthday boy was pretty wrapt … it may not be last birthday we celebrate like that! Special thanks to my dad for teaching me about all things yeast, including this particular recipe. I’ve even adapted his instructions here. If you would like to make some pizzas like his/ours (or really, like Donna Hays – see Issue 8, Autumn 2003 for the original recipe) read on …

Makes 3-4 thin based pizzas or 2-3 thicker based pizzas. For a family of 5 we often doubled it. 7 batches worked well for this party and there were 20-25 people.

Ingredients:
2 teasp active dry yeast
½ teasp sugar
1 cup warm water
2 ½ C Plain Flour (approx 360g) (doesn’t need to have very high Protein)
1 teasp Salt (6g)

Toppings:
Tomato pasta sauce (or a mixture of this, tinned tomatoes and tomato paste) + Bocconcini cheese + Basil leaves
Basil Pesto + pan fried chicken thighs + shaved parmesan + rosemary leaves
Dad also likes doing garlic + olive oil + rosemary leaves + parmesan and its a bit of a winner too!

Method:
1. Put yeast, sugar and water into a small in a small bowl, mix to combine. Let sit for a few minutes. Check for bubbles – if there are none, the yeast is dead and you need to find more yeast! Otherwise continue …
2. Put the salt and flour into a bigger bowl, pour in the water mixture and then mix till a dough forms. Knead this for 5-10 minutes. Divide the dough into 3-4 (2-3) balls.
3. Preheat oven to 2200C (2100C fan forced).
4. Let this rest for 30mins-2hours (if you are that patient, 30mins is fine though!). Dad says to cover with a damp cloth, I just covered mine with glad wrap. Either will be fine.
5. Roll out each one to desired shape – round or rectangular, on a floured surface if necessary. Dad says in his instructions to get them as thin as you can. I like mine a bit thicker I think, I let them stay about 1-1.5cm thick and they were great too. Depends on which result you want! Thin and crispy or thick and doughy! At this point Dad also makes a border round the edge, pressing with his fingers … its does work, I just didn’t do it this time and it was also fine. Follow your intuition!
6. Spread with desired toppings and cook for 12-15 minutes or till golden and crispy on top and toppings are looking and smelling very tasty!
7. Cut into several slices (we do rectangle pieces – a pizza cutter and or kitchen scissors work well) and share!

The birthday season continues …

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… and she’s the birthday girl!

In my family this is the ‘go-to’ cake. Need to cook something for visitors quick? Need to cook for the cake stall? Need to make a birthday special? Gwen Francis’ chocolate cake is the cake for the moment! A friend of my grandparents, she will enjoy immortality in our family for this tasty dessert. It is very simple (it’s a ‘melt and mix’ cake) making it very quick to throw together. You can dress it up (think cream and raspberries) or dress it down (think chocolate icing and smarties!) and it will still work. This one was for Ally for her birthday and was happily enjoyed by the whole family – even grandparents in another town a week later … with the help of freezer technology! Happy Birthday Ally!

80g butter
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
3 level tbspoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 cup milk
3 eggs

Optional decorations:
Strawberries
Strawberry Jam
Whipped Cream (with a little icing sugar and vanilla)
Chocolate glaze

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Melt the butter in the microwave (covered – for the sake of not cleaning the microwave afterwards).
3. Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl (preferably attached to an electric mixer), add sugar, milk, eggs and slightly cooled butter to the bowl and beat on high for three minutes (assuming the mixer). If you are doing this by hand, stir briskly till combined.
4. Grease your chosen tin (heart shaped is pretty, circles work – a lamington tin will as well, the time of cooking may vary slightly however) and pour the batter in.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes.
6. Decorate your cake with which ever ingredients suit your taste and the occasion! We halved the cake with a serrated knife, whipped some cream, sliced some strawberries and then layered the bottom half of the cake with jam, strawberries and cream before covering with the top half. Chocolate glaze was drizzled over the top. Best served with a little more cream or ice cream!