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’

 

Mundane miracle

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I write with good news of great joy! Not only did ‘the season’ see us celebrate a Saviour, but it also marked my first sourdough success! Partially irreverent* comments aside, in the last few weeks I have baked four loaves of bread based on a starter a friend at college gave me (confession: a batch bakes two). Edible, toastable, very-passable bread – it kind of does seem to me a sort of mundane miracle! The starter managed to survive last semester sans close loving attention and now, having sourced my electric scales from home, it has been rendered productive! Eddie gave me the starter and a very prescriptive (gram measurement inclusive) recipe and, following every line, I can bake sourdough bread! I’m both delighted and grateful and wanted to share!

*NB: They are only partially irreverent because after a lecture on Luther the other week – I can affirm that it is right we celebrate our ‘calling’ to everyday life (bread baking included). I was delighted to be reminded again to do a way with dualistic secular/sacred thinking whenever it tries to creep into our lives, worlds and values. Christians are called, not like monks to a life away and set aside, but to serve God where they are – in their families, in their jobs, in civic life. God uses our work in these places as a means of blessing the world, which in turn dignifies our ‘ordinary’ work and gives meaning to our everyday lives. So sourdough is worth celebrating … while recognizing just how vitally good the news was in those dark fields that first Christmas night too!

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!

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.