Baking and blooms

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I have had a growing sense over the past few years that I needed to pay more attention to herbs and spices – particularly to the use of flowers – in cooking. I am always drawn to the variegated dunes of spices in the markets, find myself picking rosemary leaves from the bushes by the gate at my grandparents on my way to the door just to smell them and, this past summer, fell in love with culinary bouquets at the farmer’s markets (posies of edible flowers and herbs, yes please!). I think that it may have something to do with my romantic invocation of old English kitchen gardens, medieval spice caravans and poems about herbs for healing. Scents have stories it seems. Not that long ago I did find a little illustrated cookbook of recipes (the best kind) that revolved around incorporating the diverse flavours of ‘herbs de Provence’ into sweet and savoury dishes. I have also used rose petals to dress cakes a few times this last year – but I have had this sense that there was more than could be done. Even though school work takes up most of my creative energy, these ideas have been simmering away, so to speak, on the back burner in my brain.

All that to say, when my friend Lauren presented ‘Lavender’ as a plant and product in our community group a few weeks ago (presentation complete with lavender scones to sample!), I finally made my first move. After a Wholefoods excursion I was ready to start – I experimented with a butter cake recipe from the Vintage Cakes cookbook – a birthday present from my grandmother. The cake book is a delight and the cakes (one loaf and several-many cup cakes) turned out so well for a first try. I added 3 tablespoons to the classic birthday cake recipe and made vanilla butter cream as the frosting. It was very decadent – but such a treat. All in all, I feel my lavender explorations have only just begun – the cake called for ‘cake flour’ which incorporates some corn starch into the mix – something that I am quite unfamiliar with. I think it makes the grain of the cake quite fine – not necessarily my favourite texture. For now I will count this as an excellent first attempt and will keep exploring the exciting world of herbs, spices and flowers in food. I will keep you posted!

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

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!

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!