When it rains, it pours

Does anyone else get that thing where you’ll have no birthdays/events/work/whatever for weeks at a time, and then everything at once?

August and September are a flood of birthdays in my world. There’s a week in August where I have 10 birthdays in 7 days – that’s a lot of birthday cake for one person to eat! Thankfully, I consider myself a cake eating ninja and am completely up to the task!

My most recent birthday belonged to my beloved boss from my Day Job. When you have a job that’s as stressful as mine can be, you always take the opportunity to celebrate/eat your feelings when it presents itself. It’s the right thing to do!

So, I asked her what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday. She professed a weakness for a cupcake from a nearby shop; lemony with a crunchy coconut topping. I’d never tried it, and sadly the shop no longer sells it, so it was up to my imagination to come up with the goods.

As fate would have it, Julia Taylor posted her recipe for lemon syrup cake while I was madly trawling the internets for inspiration. Salvation! Julia’s recipes are always reliable, and always delicious. It’s a great cake for someone without a sweet tooth, when you just don’t feel like chocolate (It happens sometimes. I don’t judge) or perhaps just want to feel like you’re not celebrating your birthday in the office.

Lucy’s Sunshine Cake

Adapted from Julia Taylor and Tracey’s Culinary Adventure

Lemon Syrup Cake
250g softened unsalted butter
325g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
Zest of three lemons
80ml milk
80ml lemon juice
350g self-raising flour

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C. Grease a cake tin, then line with baking paper.

Cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high until pale and fluffy; this will take a few minutes. Add the lemon zest and vanilla extract, then the eggs one at a time.

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Turn the speed to low, then alternate the flour and milk/lemon juice until combined. Pour the mixture into the cake tin, then bake for 35 – 40 minutes. A skewer will come out sticky but clean when the cake is ready.

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I squeezed the juice on one of the lemons over the cake while it was still hot for extra lemony goodness. Cool in the tin, then gently run a knife around the edge of the tin to help get it out cleanly.

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Coconut Swiss Meringue Buttercream
300g sugar
6 large egg whites
340g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup coconut milk

Place a with the sugar and egg whites in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whisk them together constantly until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot to the touch.

Pour the mixture into a stand mixture fitted with a whisk attachment (or keep mixing with an electric, but it will take longer). Beat on medium high until it cools and resembles a fluffy meringue. Dice the butter into small pieces and add to the mixture a couple at a time until incorporated. Continue to beat on high for a few minutes until fluffy and glossy.

Add the vanilla extract, coconut milk and salt to the mixture, and beat again on medium until incorporated and smooth.

Once the cake is completely cool, cover the cake with a thin layer of icing (a crumb coat) and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes to firm up. This stops you from getting cake crumbs in your lovely icing, and helps give you a smooth finish. After that, ice as you wish!

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I decorated the outside of the cake with toasted coconut flakes just to give it a bit of crunch and interest.

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Learning is fun.

Food, for me, is always an adventure.
Rather strangely, my friends ask me for advice, my opinion on things, recommendations. I get phone calls from super market aisles and in the middle of kitchen panics. This perplexes me, simply because I know nothing.
At least, I feel that I know nothing. I’m a food n00b. Though I guess I must know a thing or two by now, right?
However, the fun thing about food is, unlike say, engineering or rocket surgery; when there’s something you don’t know, it’s easily rectified.
You look it up, buy whatever you need, and try. If you follow the instructions, you’ve got a more than fair chance of success. If you fail… Well, be glad it was only food and not neuroscience.

So when the boss slides up to me late one afternoon and asks if I’m bringing morning tea the next day (Uh… I can?), I hit the internet. Madeleines. Right. I have no real idea as to what they are, but I’m about to learn.
A cafe staple, madelines are essentially teenie tiny little sponge cakes (not cookies!). They look like little shells. Winner.
Uh, they have a special pan. You need this.

 

Lemon and Cardamom Madelines

From The Colours of Indian Cooking 

Ingredients:

2 eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/4 tsp of salt
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of flour (sift it first then measure)
1 tsp of grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp cardamom
55g unsalted butter, melted
A bit of extra melted butter to grease the tin
A bit of extra flour of dust the tin
Icing sugar for decoration

1) Preheat the oven to 190*c.
Coat the tin with melted butter, then dust lightly with flour to stop the cakes from sticking.

2) In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and salt until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.
Carefully beat in the flour. Fold in half the melted butter and lemon zest. Mix well. Add the rest of the butter and cardamom, and taste. Add more cardamom if you think it needs more.

3) Drop about a tablespoon of batter into each mold. Bake for about 8 minutes, they will spring back when touched when they are ready.
Allow them to cool on a wire rack. When they are cold, dust with icing sugar.

The difference in colour is down to me leaving the first batch in the oven for the full 12 minutes (multitask fail). You should aim for the gold colour.And be warned, cardamom is a strong spice, thus the request that you taste test first. Some may like a little more, some a little less.  It’s delicious though, trust me.

Womaning. I’m doing it wrong.

According to social research, 49% of women under the age of 30 can’t roast a chicken. Apparently, this makes us bad women. Also, only 20% of women can bake a lamington, but we’ll tackle that another day.

Every Christmas, I throw my friends a pre-Christmas dinner catch up. We do presents, wine, dinner, wine, ridiculous desserts, more wine. It’s fabulous and delicious. It’s also a great excuse for me to buy many, many cookbooks in the name of ‘research’. Winning!

This year, I wanted to do something I’d never tried before.
So, in the name of impressing my friends and being a ‘better’ woman, I learnt how to spatchcock and roast a chicken.
Want to know what’s brilliant about this technique? It’s stupidly easy. It looks really impressive. And once you’ve prepped the chook, it just needs to go into the oven. That’s it!

Spatchcock, or butterflying, a chicken is very simple. It’s just a matter of cutting out the backbone, flipping it over, and pressing the chicken until the breast bone breaks. I followed this video from Food Wishes (Chef John sounds the way I imagine one of those jolly fat chefs you see would, he’s fantastic), all you need is a pair of sharp kitchen scissors, and away you go.

Preserved Lemon & Rosemary Chicken

1 whole fresh free range chicken
1 wedge of preserved lemon
2 small/medium whole lemons
7 cloves of garlic, 2 roughly chopped, the rest whole and in their paper skins
Bunch of rosemary
Olive Oil
Butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oven to 200* c. Place spatchcocked chicken into a baking dish. In the cavity under the chicken, place half a lemon, and a couple of whole garlic cloves.

2. Make up some garlic butter, combining the two chopped cloves of garlic with some slightly softened butter (roughly 30 grams, depending on the size of your chicken). Insert garlic butter under the skin of the chicken, massaging the skin to spread it evenly.

2. In a small bowl, pour enough oil to cover chicken, and season with salt and pepper. Zest the rind of half a lemon into the oil. Discard the flesh and pith of the preserved lemon, and finely chop the rind. Combine into the oil mix, and give a quick stir to mix evenly. Pour the oil mix over the skin of the chicken, massaging the skin to make sure its evenly spread.

3. Place remaining lemon wedges, garlic cloves, and a couple of sprigs of rosemary into the baking dish. Roast for around an hour. You can, if you like, squeeze the juice from the roasting lemons over the chicken half way through. The internal temperature of a properly roasted chicken should be 165*c (check this with a meat thermometer) or when the juices run clear when the meat is cut.

4. When the chicken is done, remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The chicken wasn’t dry at all (the garlic butter takes care of that), and makes for awesome leftovers in a sammich the next day.
Wham, bam, thank you mam’. Easiest Christmas dinner ever.
Best woman ever? Well, not yet. I still need to learn lamingtons.

How to get ahead in business. Hint: It’s with snacks!

Turns out, office morning teas are absolutely nothing like high tea with Queen Victoria.

When I first started out in the working world and received an invitation to my first morning tea, I was delighted. I had images of little sandwiches, petite fours and quiche, with witty conversation over cups of tea.

Erm… That was not the case. At all.

The reality was very different. People were snatching tidbits from platters before I’d had the chance to put them down, spilling coffee, and quickly retreating back to their desks. Don’t even get me started on the absence of quiche…

My current workplace however, is much better, and we love any excuse to get together and have a chat over snacks.

Its also a great test environment for whatever baking challenge I’ve set for myself, because as far as the work crew are concerned, hey, free treats! Everybody wins, huzzah!

These are perfect for morning teas or bake sales, as it’s not too tricky, doesn’t need complicated ingredients and appeals to just about everyone.
The original recipe calls for blackberries, however they are sometimes hard to come by in Perth, so I swapped them for blueberries.
The end result was a gorgeous crumble on top, and the filling was almost like custard, and with a lemony tang that wasn’t overpowering.

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Blueberry & Lemon Pie Bars

adapted from Pink Parsley

Crust and Topping

  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (around 340g) unsalted butter, chilled

Fruit Filling

  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • pinch salt
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 400g frozen blueberries, thawed and drained

To make the crust and topping, preheat the oven to 180 degrees.  Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a few times to mix.  Cut the butter into little bits, and add to the flour mixture.  Process until the butter is evenly distributed but the mixture is still crumbly, 30-60 seconds. You can also smush it with your hands, which I did, just make sure it’s well combined.

Base & Crumble

Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to use as the topping.  Press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the pan, and bake 12-15 minutes.  Cool for at least 10 minutes.

To make the filling, whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then add the sugar, sour cream, flour, salt, lemon zest, and vanilla extract.  Gently fold in the berries and spoon the mixture over the crust.  Sprinkle the remaining flour mixture evenly over the filling, and bake 45 to 55 minutes.

In stupid tiny pan

Cool for at least 1 hour before cutting into bars.

Delicious.

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At the moment, I’ve only got one baking pan (note to self: buy another), and it’s smaller than the one used in the recipe. When mine all came together, the pan was very, very full. Ooopsies. I put it in the oven, and hoped for the best. It needed more cooking than called for, but I think that was just me and my stupid tiny pan.
My guinea pigs housemates, weren’t home while I was cutting it up, so it went into the office un-pre-taste tested, which made me really nervous. Luckily, it was a winner (thanks Kate and Tracey for the love), so as spring rolls on, I’ll certainly make it again. Possibly with mixed berries. Definitely with a bigger pan.