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!

On Apple Tea Cake, art making and embodiment

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I made this pretty cake a week or so ago for the lovely couple who couriered my electric scales from Sydney to Vancouver. It is an old recipe from a church community cookbook that my mum has had in our family collection since I was tiny. Simple but pretty with the cinnamon crusted apple slice topping, it has graced many an Election Day school cake stall. I doubled it – the original recipe fits one of those tiny 50s style cake tins you may recall from older Home Economics classrooms – and added the alternative apple stripe pattern. I also swapped milk for milk powder – otherwise it remains true to the version Margaret Lack shared with the St Mattew’s Anglican church community in my childhood. I was glad mum could find the recipe for me and imagine that it will be making a few more appearances in the next little while.

One of my classes at the moment is called ‘Christian Imagination’ – it is the first of the Arts courses at Regent. We have been reflecting on the Ash Wednesday call to ‘Remember that you are dust’ – considering the nature of our dusty-‘flesh’-clothed humanity. We are makers of art, collectors of ideas, broadcasters of beauty, fixers and joiners of ‘stuff’ – because first and foremost we ourselves are ‘stuff’. Embodied, we ‘do life’ in this world, interacting and engaging with other bodies, other things, other stuff. Food is just one aspect of our everyday-walking-around-lives, and this recipe is just one example of gratuitous* human creation … but I hope that you’ll try it and that it will bring you (and those you share it with!) nourishment and delight in all senses of the words! .

Ingredients:
2 cups plain or all-purpose flour (300g)
4 tsp baking powder
1 cup castor or fine granulated sugar (240g)
4 tablespoons of milk (80ml)
50g butter
2/3 cup water (170ml)
2 eggs
1 green apple (granny smith)
1 red apple (try and choose a variety similar in size to the green)

For Finishing:
20g butter
1 1/2 tbs castor or fine granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbs cinnamon

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180oC (350F).
2. Combine the flour, baking powder and sugar.
3. Melt the butter, and once cooled slightly, combine with milk, water and egg. Whisk to combine.
4. Gently mix the wet ingredients though the dry.
5. Grease (and line if that is your preference) a 23cm (9 inch) round cake tin. Pour the batter in.
6. Slice the apple very thinly (I quartered mine then sliced the quarters so they were still fine wedges but each slice was of a similar width). Arrange the slices on top of the cake alternating red and green slices.
7. Bake for 50-60 minutes or till golden and ‘done’ when tested.
8. Melt extra butter and paint over the surface of the cooked cake while it is still warm.
9. Combine the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the cake.

*things that are non-necessary, we do them ‘just because’

 

Quilt-Maker

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I am almost, almost finished a quilt that I have been working on for the last few years. I began mostly to keep my hands busy while I listened to university lectures and tutorials online. I collected up a number of used business shirts from opportunity shops in different blues and cut squares till I had enough to cover a bed for two. As I snipped and stitched life continued; lectures and lessons passed, our wedding came and went. We moved. We moved again. Slowly it took shape and, motivated by a third move, I am trying to get it finished. Pieced together as we were, it seems right that it comes with us to our new country as a piece of our history, our story. We may just need to cuddle up in something familiar and warm when we are far away.

My stitching reminded me of the Luci Shaw poem called Quilt-maker based on “a prairie woman in [who made quilts] ‘… warm to keep my family from freezing; … [and] beautiful to keep my heart from breaking’” (Shaw 2002, 88). Warmth and beauty, woven, stitched together. Mine is simple, mundane even, but carefully and lovingly put together, kind of like a family.

Quilt-Maker

To keep a husband and five children warm,
she quilts them covers thick as drifts against
the door. Through every fleshy square white threads
needle their almost invisible tracks; her hours
count each small suture that hold together
the raw-cut, uncolored edges of her life.

She pieces each one beautiful and summer bright
to thaw her frozen soul. Under her fingers
the scraps grow to green birds and purple
improbalble leaves; deeper than calico, her mid-winter
mind bursts into flowers. She watches them unfold
between the double stars, the wedding rings.

Shaw, Luci. 2002. “Beauty and the Creative Impulse”. In The Christian Imagination, edited by Leland Ryken. Colorado Springs, CO: Shaw Books.

Shaw, Luci. 1990. Polishing the Petoskey Stone. Shaw Books, 33.

Streusel cake (gluten and dairy free)

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I thought I would share this rather successful experiment with you. With increasing numbers of friends who avoid/are allergic to gluten and/or dairy, this was my attempt at making a dessert that everyone could enjoy. I began with a blueberry muffin recipe which I joyfully chopped and changed till I had something I thought might work – both in terms of universal-friendliness-of-ingredients and deliciousness. I am sure it could do with a little refining, however, even this ‘first draft’ was a very acceptable dessert contribution. Fingers were licked. I imagine that you could continue to mess around with the different flours used to suit your preferences, I think I was particularly limited by the amount of almond meal I had at home that day! Anyhow, perhaps it will inspire you to do something new with a recipe (I find muffin ones quite forgiving if you don’t change the fat or sugar content too much) – or do some baking for a friend!

Ingredients:
1/2 cup light olive oil (or another light flavoured cooking oil of your choice)
1/2 cup brown sugar – loosely packed
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup almond milk
1 2/3 cup self-raising gluten free flour
1/3 cup desiccated coconut
1/4 cup almond meal
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup frozen blueberries
3/4 cup frozen blackberries

Streusel topping:
1/3-1/2 cup quiona flakes
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/3 cup buckwheat groats

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180oC, line a square cake tin with baking paper.
2. Whisk the oil, sugar, eggs and milk to combine.
3. Stir the dry ingredients through wet mix gently.
4. Pour most of the cake batter into the cake tin, reserving perhaps 1/2 a cup.
5. Stir the frozen berries through the remainder of the batter.
6. Dot the berries over the top of the rest of the cake batter – try to achieve even coverage!
7. Lastly, blend the remaining streusel topping ingredients and sprinkle these over the surface of the cake.
8. Bake for about 40 minutes – check on it to ensure it doesn’t brown too quickly around the edges and protect the top with foil if the centre needs further cooking.
9. Enjoy warm with greek yogurt or a dollop of mascarpone cheese.

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

The Flour Chronicles : 1

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There is a delightful scene in the movie Stranger than Fiction where Will Ferrell’s character, Harold Crick, woos the lovely cook Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) by bringing her flowers, flours that is. Flowers, flour, baking, sharing, giving – love in brown paper packages. This my friends, is the way to a baker’s heart, or perhaps at least this hopelessly romantic baker’s heart! Asher took the cue, my gushing over this particular moment in the movie, and gave me basket of flours this year on the 14th of February. Now it appears imperative that I run a series of baking experiments to try out all the different flours! The flour kitty includes;
– besan (chickpea)
– rye
– gluten
– coconut
– barley and
– millet flour.

To start with I thought I would use the rye flour to resume my long neglected attempts at making sourdough. About a year ago Asher and I visited a very out of the way second-hand bookshop with a surprisingly extensive cookbook range. I found and bought Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef particularly for its bread recipes. The sourdough recipe looked straightforward enough and I was keen to graduate from yeasted breads. In the end, after baking a loaf that could have substituted for a doorstop and throwing away the rest of the mouldy starter, I gave up and returned to the Basic Bread Recipe a few pages earlier. Simple and more predictable than sourdough, I baked nearly all our toast-and-sandwich-bread for the rest of the year with this recipe as my guide. The consistent warmth that had upset the finely tuned balance of sourdough starter microorganisms made proving the yeasted dough a dream. It seemed our hot little shed in Geraldton was just not the place to raise a sourdough starter. Now we are living somewhere cooler and more effectively insulated I thought I would try again!

Yesterday was Monday and so, following Jamie’s Sourdough Bread recipe (p256), I began my week long experiment by mixing 500g of rye flour with enough water to make a soft dough. You then let it sit outside for about an hour – presumably to pick up some interesting yeast spores – before coving it with cling wrap and bringing it back inside.

So far, so good. Stay tuned; maybe this time we’ll be lucky!

Holiday Baking Revisited 3/3 – Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolat

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A few months ago Asher took me out on a date. Apart from the treat of having time together, he wanted to show me a newly released Wes Anderson movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Having already enjoyed his version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, we were again delighted by his quirky storytelling style. For me especially it was the dessert-like visuals that were a significant part of the attraction. In it’s early 20th Century heyday the hotel itself was styled like a chocolate box and the pastries produced by the lovely Agatha at Mendl’s patisserie almost claim a staring role. We bought a copy of the dvd later and, on watching it again with family, were treated to an ‘extras’ video clip to warm the heart of any baker. Agatha herself demonstrates how to make the signature pastry of the movie – the Courtesan au Chocolat! After receiving some very inspirational baking cookbooks for Christmas and my birthday I was very keen to have a go at baking something beautiful and my brother Jonno obliged by having a birthday, providing me with the perfect excuse to try the recipe out. He isn’t much of a fan of super rich chocolate desserts but loves crème pâtissière so I substituted this SBS crème pâtissière recipe as the filling. I also did a little bit of chocolate piping instead of just using buttercream for the swirls on each puff and used icing flowers rather than the coco beans I did not have at home. Although they took a concerted effort for most of the morning and a few extra hands to make, I loved creating this dainty dessert. It was also lovely that they were very well received by family and friends alike! Thanks to Rachel Sanders from BuzzFeed who wrote out the instructions from the video clip to make it easier to write this method … which I changed a little.

Pastry Ingredients (Choux pastry):
1 cup plain flour
1 cup fresh water
113g butter
4 eggs beaten in a bowl
A pinch of salt
A larger pinch of sugar

Pastry Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180oC.
2. Bring the water, butter salt and sugar to a boil.
3. Remove from the fire (stove top) and quickly mix in the sifted flour.
4. Return to heat for a few minutes, stirring, and cook until the dough forms a single lump.
5. Allow to cool just enough to keep the eggs from cooking and stir in very gradually with a strong wooden spoon.
6. Cover your tray in parchment and pipe the dough into spoon size dollops. You will need small, medium, and large size pastry balls (large tablespoon, teaspoon and hazelnut size dollops) to make a courtesan.
7. Bake in the oven at (180oC) for about 25-35 minutes. The smaller pastries are best put on a separate tray as they will cook more quickly.
8. Remove from the oven and discreetly make a small piercing in the choux to allow the steam to escape.

Alternate Vanilla Filling (Crème pâtissière):
1 litre milk
250 g white sugar (65g and then 185g)
2 tsp of vanilla been paste (or to taste)
50 g unsalted butter
2 eggs plus 4 egg yolks
120 g cornflour

Filling Method:
1. Combine the milk, 65g of the sugar, the vanilla been paste and butter in a large saucepan. The mixture needs to be heated gently till quite hot and then removed from the heat.
2. While the milk mixture is heating, the rest of the sugar needs to be whisked (or beaten with lovely old fashioned eggbeaters like I got for my birthday, another post to come soon!) through the both the eggs and egg yolks. The mixture will become thicker and pale as it is whisked.
3. A little of the cornflour is added to the egg mixture, which is then beaten again to combine, along with some of the hot milk (the cornflour is more easily incorporated into a cold mixture).
4. The hot milk needs to be returned to the stove top at a medium heat once the egg mixture has been added and whisked through it.
5. The whole custard now needs to be stirred constantly till the whole custard thickens. It will probably take about three minutes for the cornflour and eggs to work their magic on the milk after which you will have a beautiful thick, glossy custard.
6. The custard needs to be cooled in a clean bowl before it can be used in the pastry.

Pastel Icing:
This needs to be made in three different colours and is a simple mixture of icing sugar and milk made up to a ratio of your own choosing – it does however, need to be thick enough to stick to the pastry puffs but runny enough to drizzle artistically down the sides of each puff pleasingly. One day I will meticulously develop a recipe for the perfect ratio of milk to icing sugar and until then I will continue to guess and inevitably make a runny mess up every so often! In the movie the bottom layer is iced with purple, the middle is green and the top is pink – with the smaller balls requiring less icing.

Buttercream Icing:
I chose to make this in a soft yellow, in the movie they seem to use a cream coloured buttercream icing and a pastel blue. Made of icing sugar, butter and a touch of milk I have provided a recipe that the Women’s Weekly use in their cake decorating books but feel free to use this as a start and play with the consistency to suit your needs. The ingredients need to be beaten together before being piped onto the cake.

125g butter
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons of milk
yellow and/or blue colouring

To Assemble:
1. Firstly, the puffs of pastry need to be filled with crème pâtissière using a piping bag and smallish (0.5-1cm wide) nozzle poked into the ‘cooling vent’ – the hole you cut earlier.
2. Ice the pastry puffs with colours that correspond to the picture and instructions above (… or come up with your own colour scheme).
3. Allow the pastry to set before piping decorations with the yellow butter cream (I also did some chocolate piping – although managing the temperature and runny-ness of the chocolate made this more difficult) … this could also be done after layering with less risk to the pretty filigree piping but more difficulty in maouvering around a constructed pastry.
4. Use the blue buttercream (if desired) to ‘glue’ the pastry puffs on top of each other, largest ball first, followed by the medium and the smallest (we also used kebab stick cut to size to prevent collapsing).
5. Top with a small rosette of buttercream (or chocolate in my case) and either a cocobean (as per the movie) or pretty icing flower.