Have you ever eaten something wonderful at a restaurant, determined to replicate the same dish at home? After enjoying the two course lunch special at Cecconi’s cellar bar earlier this week, I inquired about the dessert of the day, hoping that it would be something wintry and old-fashioned. Oh happy day, the dolce del giorno was a wedge of apple, walnut and cinnamon cake, comforting and grandmotherly, jazzed up with modern restaurant toppings, including cinnamon ice cream, tiny cubes of apple jelly and something crunchy, perhaps a disc of meringue. No photo was taken: greed intervened long before any thoughts of pics entered my mind. It was good.
My version is close enough to Cecconi’s torta, without the flash toppings. A little dusting of icing sugar is enough but a dollop of Frangelico infused mascarpone goes well too. The cake morphs into a simple dessert when warmed and served with custard or ice cream. Hideous winter begone with a little warm pudding.
Torta di Mele, Noce e Cannella. Apple, Walnut and Cinnamon cake.
200 gr butter
250 gr caster sugar
300 gr plain flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
100 gr chopped walnuts
500 gr apples, peeled, cored, finely diced
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 20 cm square tin. Dust with flour or line with parchment if you prefer.
Cream butter and sugar well then add eggs, one at a time, and beat until creamy.
Mix together the flour, cinnamon and baking powder then add to the batter.
Fold in the walnuts and apples. Place in the prepared baking tin, ( it will be a stiff batter), smoothing the top, then bake for 60 minutes. Rest before turning onto a wire rack.
Daisy and I decided that our cake needed a special name in case the mysterious hidden ingredient deterred her sister from eating it. Daisy loves vegetables and would rather eat a mixed salad, a pile of beetroot or a soup, than cake. She is a good eater. Meanwhile her sister, Charlotte, lives on air, apples and cans of tuna. The two sisters could not be more dissimilar.
Zucchini as a cake ingredient has never really appealed to me before. But given that I still have a plague of zucchini, and also a willing kitchen hand who was eager to do some baking, Moist Chocolate and Zucchini Cake finally got a guernsey. It will be hand written in my sepia coloured exercise book, its spattered pages dedicated solely to successful cakes. I was very pleased with the result. The cake had good flavour and texture without being overly sweet. The zucchini vanished completely, but the thing we all loved was the moist, moussy centre.
After trying one slice each, the cake was boxed and sent home with the girls, with instructions on the lid- ‘Guess the Secret Ingredient’. After five guesses, they gave up. Daisy has not yet revealed the answer. Sadly this post is about to blow her cover. I plan to make another one soon to try with cream and strawberries, and also to test it’s keeping quality. If you have an excess of zucchini this season, I urge you to try this simple recipe.
Moist Chocolate and Zucchini Cake
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup neutral oil, such as rice bran oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup plain flour/ AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 baking soda ( bi carb)
1 1/2 cups firmly packed grated zucchini
Preheat oven to 180c. Grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper.
Place the sugar, oil, vanilla, eggs, salt and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Whisk together until combined.
Sift together the cocoa powder,flour, baking powder and baking soda. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry mixture into the wet until just combined. Add the grated zucchini and stir through.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Baking with children is such a pleasurable pastime. Most children enjoy cake making as they love watching the transformation of ingredients. Simultaneously they learn maths, weight and measurement in a hands on way. Daisy is intrigued with my approach to making perfectly fitted paper rounds for the base of cake tins, learning radius and circumference without fuss or boredom. Sometimes we repeat the measurements in Italian, given that she learns Italian at her primary school. More classes should be held in kitchens.
The recipe comes from Goodfood and is attributed to Kristy Komadina.
Another day, another plum recipe. Will my pile of plums ever shrink! This classic Clafoutis recipe is based on Julia Child’s cherry Clafoutis. As the cherry season never really got into full swing this year, I found this plum version to be a wonderful substitute. When fruit other than cherry is used in a Clafoutis, such as pears, apples, plums, prunes, blackberries or other berries, it is called a flaugnarde. I can see a fig and blackberry flaugnarde coming my/your way soon. This plum version resembles that lovely winter dish from Brittany, FarBreton. Left over Clafoutis makes a wonderful breakfast.
500 gr firm, ripe plums
1¼ cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract ( or 3 teaspoons or 15 ml)*
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup flour
1/3 extra cup sugar
icing sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 180ºC. Cut plums in half and sprinkle with some sugar. Set aside.
Place all the ingredients except the last 1/3 cup sugar in a blender in the order they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute.
Butter the base and sides of a low sided 8 cup gratin dish. Pour in a shallow layer (1.2cm) of batter and put in a moderate oven for a few minutes until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish. Remove from heat. Place plums over the batter and pour on the remaining batter; smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.
Bake in the middle rack of the oven for about an hour, or until the Clafouti has puffed and browned on top. Check with a toothpick to that it comes out clean. Sprinkle the Clafouti with icing sugar before serving. Serve with runny cream or ice cream.
*About Tablespoons. As Julia child was an American chef, she would have used an American Tablespoon, naturally. But did you know that American tablespoons are smaller (15 ml) than Australian tablespoons (20 ml) ? 1 American tablespoon = 3 teaspoons, whereas 1 Australian tablespoon = 4 teaspoons.
See my earlier post on dried cherry clafoutis here, which employs a very different method.
Have you noticed that filo pastry sheets tend to deteriorate once you have opened that skinny little plastic sleeve? I often find myself carefully rolling left over sheets back into their bag and box, only to find them dry and brittle a week later. After making a large Spanokopita for our Greek themed night for the weekend beach camp, I was determined to use the remaining 6 sheets quickly. Waste really annoys me.
This simple plum and semolina tart tastes surprisingly light and not unlike a Plum Danish. The filo pastry sheets are layered into a rectangular baking dish, brushed with butter between each slice, filled with semolina cream, then perfectly ripe blood or Satsuma plums are laid on top. It can be thrown together in minutes. As the amount of sugar in the recipe is minimal, I found myself hoovering down two slices for morning tea. It is lovely served warm with cream. A little crunch, a taste of comfortable custard, and the sharp-sweet rush of juicy ripe plum, this dish is not cloying or rich.
Torta con Crema di Semolino e Prugne. Plum and Semolina Cream Tart.
The filo pastry base
Melt a small amount of butter, around 150 gr should be enough.
Choose a suitable rectangular baking dish and butter it liberally. Layer your left over filo pastry sheets into the base of the dish, brushing with melted butter between each layer. Aim for a rustic look- no need to trim the ends too carefully, though the overhanging ends should be buttered.
The Semolina Cream
1 ½ cups milk
60 gr caster sugar
50 gr semolina
3 egg yolks
Add the milk, sugar and semolina to a medium-sized saucepan. Heat over medium heat and whisk until smooth. Cook for a few more minutes until thick. This will occur quickly so don’t move away from the stove. Remove from the stove when thickened, then whisk the mixture again, then add in the yolks. Cool the cream, covered with plastic wrap on the surface to prevent it forming a skin. When cool, add to the prepared filo pastry lined baking dish, smoothing out the surface.
Choose perfectly ripe plums for this dish. Red fleshed plums such as blood plums or Japanese plums are ideal as they ooze their ruby juice into the custard. Cut the plums in half and remove the pips. Lay them on the semolina cream, cut side down, and push them down slightly into the cream.The number of plums needed depends on their size and the size of your baking dish. I used around 10 plums. Sprinkle the surface with a little caster sugar.
Bake in a pre- heated moderate oven ( 180° C ) for around 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the cream puffed and set. Cool a little before serving, though this tart is best served warm.
The idea for this recipe came from one I found here at Cook Almost Anything. Pre- cooking the plums isn’t necessary if you have juicy ripe plums. Try this dessert with other fruits in season.
One of the joys of Christmas, as far as our seasonal food calendar goes, is the arrival of fresh cherries in abundance. The season usually peaks in mid to late December but this year they are appearing more slowly, thanks to a very cold Spring. The plump, expensive boxes have hit the shelves, but I am still waiting for the big flush, when cherries appear in luscious piles on fruiterers’ tables, dark, plump and cheap, the Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailer cherries, to hang over ears or slurp out of the bag before reaching home, as well as a few kilos to preserve in Brandy, or to stud a Clafoutis.
In the meantime, this unusual recipe for Cherry Clafoutis caught my eye. It utilises dried sour cherries, reconstituted in Cognac. Or perhaps the Cognac caught my eye first, a Christmas life saver of a drink for those who feel a little stressed.
Preserved Cherry Clafoutis.
150 ml pouring cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
85 gr caster sugar
1 egg white
25 gr ( 1/3 cup) plain flour, sifter
icing sugar to serve
clotted cream, or mascarpone whipped with cream, or just cream, to serve
60 gr dried cherries
100 gr white sugar
3 ml Cognac
For preserved cherries, combine dried cherries in a saucepan with sugar, Cognac and 150 ml water and cool on low heat for 7-8 minutes until liquid is syrupy. Watch that the liquid doesn’t turn to toffee.
Preheat oven to 180C. Heat cream and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat, bring to boil, remove from heat and cool. Remove vanilla bean. Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar until light and creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk egg white until soft peaks form, then add the cream mixture and fold to combine. add the flour and fold in, then slowly beat in the egg mixture.
Spoon cherries into a lightly buttered and sugared 6 cup ovenproof baking dish. Pour batter over cherries and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Serve immediately, dusted liberally with icing sugar and with cream.
This version of clafoutis is very light and more like a souffle in texture, so it is best to eat it straight from the oven, though I must mention that it is rather nice at 6.30 am, eaten straight from the fridge, which is the quiet hour when I like to write and eat leftovers. The recipe is also handy for all other seasons, and may suit the cherry- deprived in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course you can use fresh cherries or ones you preserved from last year.
**The recipe is from a Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbookand is attributed to Peter Gilmour.
And now for a song plant/ear worm for the day. Just change the chorus from Sherry Baby to Cherry Baby when you make a classic cherry Clafoutis.
A few days ago, I made a batch of Sicilian Cherry and Chocolate Amaretti, (Amaretti di Cioccolato e Cilegie ). They disappeared too quickly: some were wrapped up and given away, others popped into our own merry mouths. Sicilian sweets taste so evocative, medieval and ancient. All the flavours of the island seem to be rolled up in these little festive biscuits- dried fruits and figs, orange and lemon peel, Marsala wine, Arabic spices, honey, almonds, pine nuts and pistachio, to name a just a few ingredients favoured by the Siciliani.
This year’s festive cooking is beginning to look like a cook’s tour around Sicily. Last week Siracusa, now today’s festive balls, Fior di Mandorle, a specialty of Agrigento. Come to Sicily with me this month as I delve into my collected recipes from each major town. Map provided, in aid of travel fantasy.
Fior di Mandorle. Almond pastrieswith honey and spice
200 g freshly ground almonds or almond meal
50 g/3 tablespoons of fragrant clear honey
100 g caster sugar
grated zest of 1 small organic orange
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 large, or two very small beaten egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
icing/confectioners sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 150c.
Mix all the ingredients together, then knead until the oils from the almonds are released into the pastry.
Shape into smooth little cakes around 3 cm in diameter. Place onto a baking paper lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack, then dust generously with icing sugar. Makes around 20.
Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno 2016.
My next Sicilian instalment will be Nucatoli, from Modica, which are similar to last year’s Cuddureddi, but come in an amazing shape.
When the young ones ask me which football team I follow, I always reply ‘The Seagulls’. They look bewildered as there is no major AFL (Australian Football League ) team with this bird as their logo. I quickly follow this with an explanation, that I barrack for real seagulls, the birds that land on the grounds during a match and annoy players, lest they think it’s time to send me off to the funny farm. I am not a football fan at all. In fact, it bores me to tears – please feel free to substitute that other very Australian colloquial phrase which refers to ‘a state of being during which one is without feces’.
On rare occasions, I allow myself to watch ‘the footy’. It is usually forced upon my consciousness during the grand final season, when all sorts of non footy followers suddenly convert. Not me. I allow myself snippets of the game to waft over me, but would rather be the tea lady – or the beer/wine/cake/biscuit gatherer- during the broadcast.
My mother, born and raised in Footscray, the original home of the Bulldogs team, was excited and anxious during the grand final this year. We had joined her to watch the big event, especially given that the last time her team won was in 1954. That’s pre- TV, a very long time to wait for a victory. She mentioned a few names of the players, the much-loved captain of the Bulldogs who retired earlier this year due to injury, my eyes were glazing over, and another one she referred to as ‘The Package’, a player who was bought for a large sum but who wasn’t living up to expectation. I kept calling him ‘The Packet’, at which point, the assembled football devotees suggested I should take a nap. I was happy to grab my smart phone and head to the backroom for a surf and a snooze.
I woke up for the last 12 minutes, and enjoyed the match thoroughly. I can recommend this approach to my fellow football- loathing friends: just watch the last 12 minutes- that’s when the real action happens. You won’t have missed a thing.
I made this lemon cake for the day. As it turned out, it was a celebratory cake – the Bulldogs won. I can recommend this cake for its excellent keeping qualities ( up to one week in the fridge) and for its simplicity. It is now my favourite lemon syrup cake and can easily be adapted to gluten- free. The recipe comes from Mix and Bake by Belinda Jeffries. I have made minor adjustments to the method.
Lemon Almond Syrup Cake
50g plain flour ( or GF flour if required)
200g almond meal
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
190g castor sugar
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature cut into large chunks
1½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ tsp almond essence
1½ large lemons, finely zested
150g of castor sugar
2 lemons zested ( or one large)
125ml of lemon juice
250ml of water
Preheat oven to 160c or lower for Fan Forced. (150c FF worked well for me). Butter a 20cm – 24 cm square cake tin and line the base with paper. Butter the paper and dust the tin lightly with flour.
Put the flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt into a food processor. Whiz them together for 20 seconds, then tip into a bowl.
Add the butter and sugar to the food processor and whiz them together until they are light and creamy. Scrape down as you go, then add in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. Stop the processor, add the vanilla, almond essence and lemon zest and blitz for another 10 seconds or so.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in the food processor and pulse until they are mixed. Do not over pulse. Scrape the sides to make sure all is well mixed.
Scoop out the mixture into the prepared tin and flatten surface. Bake for around 50-55 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Check after 30 minutes and if browning too quickly, cover the top with tin foil.
Meanwhile, prepare the lemon syrup. Place all ingredients into a pot over a high heat. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Then stop stirring and allow it to come to boil. Let it bubble for 10 – 12 minutes or until it looks thicker and like syrup. Then off heat and set aside. Keep warm.
When the cake is ready, place the cake in the tin on a wire rack for 10 mins. Invert onto the rack and remove the paper. Now brush with the lemon syrup. I used all the syrup as the cake happily absorbed it but the original recipe advises using half and serving the rest of the syrup alongside the cake. If using all the syrup, the cake will be very moist and very lemony.
The cake stores well for about 1 week in the fridge. Warm it slightly before serving if from the fridge. Other lemon and lime cakes from my blog can be found in the links below.
It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, with kids in the kitchen and mess everywhere. The girls wanted to make something sweet but both have radically different tastes. After some negotiation, a pavlova was agreed upon, after some squabbling about suitable toppings. Before we grabbed the electric beaters, a detour through history into the life of Anna Pavlova was fun, something I had never thought about much before their visit. As Tchaikovsky played in the background, we admired all the beautiful old photos of Anna Pavlova in her divine longer tutus and portraits of her with her pet swan, Jack.
We discovered other wonderful facts about Anna’s life, including her last words on her death-bed, “Get my Swan costume ready.” This is now our secret code for beating up egg whites or dying like a swan, which ever comes first.
Pavlova is an easy dessert for young cooks to whip up. It doesn’t matter if it cracks or turns out misshapen. It will still taste great. Just crack and separate the eggs for them and hand over the electric beaters. They love watching the whites whip up into a big fluffy tutu. Once the eggs are standing up, the younger child adds in the sugar until the boss (me) says they are ready. Add a little cornflour, white vinegar and vanilla and let the kids do the sculpting on a papered tray.
Basic 4 egg Pavlova Recipe ( serves 6-8 )
4 egg whites ( room temperature)
pinch of salt
250 g caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon white vinegar
few drops of pure vanilla
Preheat oven to 180°c. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Draw a 20 cm circle on the paper. Beat egg whites and salt until satiny peaks form. Beat in sugar, a third at a time, until meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and fold in lightly. Mound onto paper lined tray and flatten top and smooth the sides. Place in the oven, immediately reduce heat to 150° c and cook for 1¼ hours. Turn off the oven and leave pavlova to cool. Invert pavlova and pile with chosen topping.
From Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion
While the meringue cooks and cools, it’s time to make the topping. I usually settle for whipped cream and brandy macerated strawberries or, in season, passionfruit. Daisy was happy to settle for this mundane option but not Charlotte. After rejecting a few of my suggestions, including a lemony custard, she decided on a chocolate mousse filling!! Warning, the following photos of this chocolate mousse pavlova may make you want to utter those dying swan words sooner than expected. This is a pavlova for kids and the young at heart.
Fast Chocolate Mousse Filling.
200 gr packet of cooking chocolate, 45% solids.
a dash of rum or brandy
4 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
some whipping cream to loosen.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water. Loosen with a little brandy or rum.
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very pale and thick. Add gradually to the bowl of melted chocolate.
Beat the cream until thick, then add to the chocolate mixture. Stir in well then set in the fridge.
PS. The chocolate mousse topping was ridiculously rich. from Charlotte 🙂
It’s in the news again. A new study has just revealed that substituting artificial sweetener for sugar and fruit leads to increased weight gain, cravings for carbohydrate and insomnia as well as a possible link to diabetes.
In this latest study, fruit flies were fed artificial sweetener and afterwards, the flies consumed one-third more calories and one-third more food. They also found that artificial sweeteners promoted hyperactivity and insomnia. They concluded that if people eat sweeteners but do not actually get the equivalent amount of calories, they eat more food to make up for it. The increase in consumption of artificial sweeteners also coincided with the dramatic increase in the obesity and diabetes epidemic.
I have never used artificial sweeteners and I don’t intend to soon. Fake foods worry me but then so does the the idea of eliminating sugar altogether from my diet. I’m wondering whether those who go ‘sugar free’ also behave like the fruit flies of the Sydney University study.
Once a week I make a cake. I get a couple of slices over a few days and the rest gets distributed to the hungry fruit fly visitors and family members. This cake covers any sugar cravings I might have for the week and contains a few healthy elements as well. The other bonus is that it only contains five ingredients and, once the ingredients are chopped, it can be thrown together in minutes. The dark chocolate adds rich notes, the nuts and dates add a healthy density and the lack of flour keeps it light.
200g dates, chopped
200g dark chocolate, chopped
200g walnuts, chopped
200g castor sugar
6 egg whites
Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a 23 cm springform cake tin then line with baking paper on the bottom and sides. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff then gradually add the sugar until they become glossy and meringue-like. Gently fold in the nuts, dates and chocolate. Bake for about an hour. Cool and serve.
Tip: The nuts and chocolate can be roughly chopped ( separately) in the food processor. Pulse and stop the machine as you go. The dates need to be chopped by hand.
There are so many versions of Lemon and Ricotta cake out there that I was reticent about adding another. This one, I can assure you, will go straight into the hand written sepia toned exercise book that I reserve for very good cakes. The recipe includes 4 lemons, and the batter is lightened by 6 eggs, the whites whipped and folded through at the end. It is an expensive cake but then it serves around 10 people, or two greedy people who eat it every day for dessert and afternoon tea. When served hot, it resembles a lemon delicious pudding. When served cold, it becomes more like a lemon cheesecake. It also keeps well. In summer, store the cake in a container in the fridge. Buonissimo e Molto Siciliano.
Torta di Limone, Ricotta e Mandorle, Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake
250 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250 g caster sugar
6 free range eggs, separated
250 g almonds, ground
75 g self-raising flour
1 pinch of salt
zest of 5 organic lemons and juice of 4 organic lemons
400 g fresh ricotta
Preheat the oven to 180°C (Gas Mark 4).
Butter and paper a 25 cm round springform cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. With the motor running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, until all are incorporated.
Combine the ground almonds with the flour, salt and lemon zest. Fold into the batter.
Whisk the lemon juice with the ricotta until light and airy.
Fold into the cake batter.
Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold them carefully into the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 50 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer into the cake. It should come out clean when cooked through.
Remove the cake from the oven and turn it out onto a cake rack to cool. It will remain moist for a few days. Store in the fridge in warm weather.
From Four Seasons, Manuela Darling-Gansser, Hardie Grant Books.
And Manuela’s great food and travel blog can be found here.