Holiday Baking Revisited 2/3 – Cherry Cake

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 Cherries are one of my favourite things about summer – there is something very special about the short-lived summer stone fruit season. With a birthday that shortly follows Christmas, and a similar love of the tiny dark fruit, they seemed an apt addition to my mother’s birthday dessert this year. Early in the cherry season she had talked to a lady at the green grocers with restraint enough not just to eat the cherries straight from the bag on the way home from doing the shopping (admirable indeed, in our family’s books!) – instead using them in a delicious cherry cake. Mum’s ears pricked up, and I have to admit, my interest was piqued as well. We were on a beach holiday by the time her birthday rolled around and I decided to make a first attempt at creating a baked something that was cherry inspired. Without a fully equipped kitchen I relied heavily on this simple recipe that did not require the use of electric beaters – adding the cherries and changing the oil to butter à la Julie Powell (“… is there anything better than butter?”).

Ingredients:
2 large eggs
200g caster sugar
the finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice
280g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped, pitted fresh cherries
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries (optional)
250ml plain yoghurt
120g butter, melted

Cream cheese icing:
a heaped 1/3 cup of cream cheese
2 tbsp soft butter
1 cup icing sugar

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180oC.
2. Begin by whisking the egg and sugar together till they become thick and creamy, this will take about 3 or 4 minutes.
3. To this add the lemon zest and juice, beating till the whole mixture is combined.
4. Sift the flour and baking powder over the egg and sugar mixture, gently fold though before mixing in the yoghurt and (slightly cooled) melted butter.
5. Lastly, stir through the cherries and pour into a lined cake tin (mine was a circle about 25cm in diameter but I am sure other shapes and sizes would work with some adjustment of cooking time).
6. Bake for 35-45 minutes or till ‘done’ when tested with a skewer. Allow to rest in the tin a little before removing it and setting it on a cake rack to cool completely.
7. Blend the icing ingredients together till smooth, adjust the quantities to taste – the icing for the cake pictured was very (very) loosely measured (my only excuse is that I was on a beach holiday when I was baking it!) but I think that these quantities will give you something to go off!
8. Spread the cooled cake with this icing, decorate with fresh cherries and candles, sing and share!

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Carrot Cake

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This recipe was originally given to my mum by a Canadian friend of hers. The clippings of recipes from Canadian Life magazines she gave to mum all those years ago (even before us kids came along!) had a subtle but significant influence on mum and her desire to bake things, which in turn modelled baking at home for me. Anyhow, back to the recipe at hand. The recipe specified one cup of oil as the main source of liquid in the mixture – I like moist cakes but felt that this was a lot of oil. So we tried it out with buttermilk instead. It is best not to completely replace the oil with buttermilk (the texture gets a little rubbery), but a ratio of 3:1, buttermilk to oil works to produce a deliciously light and moist cake. I had been lamenting the lack of a carrot cake in my recipe repertoire – so it was especially fun to work with mum over the holidays to modify this recipe – especially when it turned out so beautifully! So far it has surfaced as a weekly treat for lunch boxes, a birthday cake and a thankyou-and-thinking-of-you everyday type present. It is versatile and yummy and we hope you enjoy this lighter version of the classic carrot cake!

Ingredients:
… these ones go straight in the food processor … 
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup light flavoured cooking oil (sunflower or light olive oil work well)
3 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar (I’ve yet to try one with brown sugar but think that next time I will see how this works!)
2 cups roughly chopped raw carrots
1/2 cup currents (or sultanas, I just like currents better!)

… dry mix … 
1 1/3 cup wholewheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans (or other nuts if you prefer them)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
125mL cream cheese (I tend to use the lower fat versions, this does however make the mixture softer I think … requiring more icing sugar!)
2 tbsp softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups icing sugar (this depends on the thickness of icing you desire!)

Method:
1. Add the buttermilk, oil, eggs, sugar, carrots and currents to the food processor bowl and blend till combined and uniform in texture.
2. Mix dry ingredients with wet ones in a large bowl till all the flour is incorporated into the mixture.
3. Line a cake tin with baking paper or grease well and flour tin – I used a square one for these photographs but a lamington tin works well too and I imagine other shapes would also work well.
4. Pour mixture into the tin and bake at 180oC for about 45 minutes or till cooked through.
5. Make the icing while the cake is cooking by placing all the ingredients in a small bowl and using a hand held electric mixer to combine them. I would start by adding 1 cup of icing sugar, then adding more to adjust the texture till it reaches the thickness desired.
6. Once the cake has cooled, icing with the frosting and enjoy!