Throes of Winter | Spiced Strawberry Ricotta Cake

The last few weekends have been pure Bri-bliss. Grey, cloudy, rainy, general miserable weather. Monday’s small talk around the coffee machine end in my gleeful recounting my weekend tales – ‘I didn’t leave the house once‘ – and then my colleagues looking at me like I’m mildly crazy and back away slowly.

You see, that is my heaven. In the throes of winter (as much of one as we get in our fair city), you bet your ass I’m going to build a nest on my couch, read books and drink more cups of tea than recommended.

I was struck with idea lightning on one of these weekends – all the tea I was drinking needed a side of cake to go with it. The idea came to me fully formed: I didn’t want to spend much time in the kitchen (it was a really good book I was reading), I wanted the lightness of ricotta, nothing too sweet, but maximum Wintry spice flavour. And so, this came to be.

This is one of those perfect cakes that you serve up for a friend who’s come over for coffee and a catch up. Then, once they’ve gone home, it just sits on the kitchen bench, and every time you walk past, you cut off a sliver to munch on as you go about your business. Sliver by delicious sliver, the cake won’t last the weekend!

Spiced Strawberry Ricotta Cake

Adapted from Bon Appetit

1½ cups plain flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1½ cups ricotta
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cardamom
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
57g unsalted butter, melted
1 cup strawberries (or any berries, fresh or frozen), halved of large
Icing sugar, to dust.

Preheat oven to 180°c. Grease a springform cake pan with butter or oil, and line the bottom with baking paper.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, spices and salt in a large bowl.

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In a medium sized bowl, beat together the eggs, ricotta, and vanilla until smooth. Gently fold in the dry ingredients until just combined. Add the butter, and again fold to combine.

Pour the batter into the cake pan, and then poke the strawberries evenly into the mixture.

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Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan, then cool completely on a wire rack. When ready to serve, dust with icing sugar.

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Double up

There are many great pairs in this world.

Mac and cheese. Romeo and Juliet. Ten and Rose. Peas and carrots. Siegfried and Roy. Peanut butter and jelly. Batman and Robin. Homer and Marge.

There are probably fewer great ‘threes’. All I could really think of was Eleven, Amy and Rory. Maybe Crosby, Stills and Nash. Destiny’s Child. Or Harry, Ron and Hermione.

But right along side them should be scones with jam and cream. Who doesn’t love them? I’m a sucker for a good Devonshire Tea, and decades of nanas, well, I’m not going to argue with them.

So when the email announcing the next Secret Cake Club meeting hit my inbox, I couldn’t resist. I love jam and cream, but knew that I wouldn’t be the only one thinking of them.

I love love love this recipe from Julia Taylor (you know, MasterChef 2012 dessert queen) for it’s simplicity, as well as its make-in-advance-ness. I had a busy few days in the lead up to Cake Club, and all the components of the tart could be made upfront, and then put together right before serving.

 

Strawberry Jam Tart with Ricotta Cream

By Julia Taylor via MasterChef Magazine

250ml thickened cream
50g icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
1 orange, zested
400g firm ricotta
1 punnet strawberries, hulled, halved if large

Dough
200g plain flour
30g almond meal
55g icing sugar
100g unsalted butter, chopped
1 egg

Strawberry Jam
500g strawberries, hulled
300g caster sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 granny smith apple, peeled and grated

To make the dough, mix together the flour, almond mean, icing sugar and butter until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add an egg and combine until it just comes together. Shape the dough into a rectangle, then wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

To make the jam, over a medium low heat, combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Cook for 50 minutes or until at setting point. Tot test for setting point, spoon a teaspoon of jam onto a cold plate, then freeze for 5 minutes. When you run your finger through the jam, it should wrinkle and the line should still be there. Then eat the jam from your finger and marvel your handiwork, because it’s delicious. Set aside to cool.

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Heat the oven to 180*c. Roll the dough out thinly, then line a loose bottomed pie tin. Freeze for 15 minutes. Line the shell with baking paper, fill with baking weights and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the weights and paper, then bake again for 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Leave to cool.

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For the cream, whisk the thickened cream until soft peaks form. Whisk in the sifted icing sugar, orange zest and vanilla. In a separate bowl, beat the ricotta until smooth, then add the cream mix and beat until smooth and combined.

Spread the jam evenly over the tart shell. Spoon the cream over the jam, and then decorate with extra strawberries and any extra jam.  Serve immediately.

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But what do you do when you accidentally buy a kilo each of ricotta and strawberries, because you forgot to write down the amount you need on your shopping list? You make this, the most foolproof and forgiving cheesecake in the world.

See what I did there? Two recipes, using similar ingredients – but with completely different results. BOOYA.

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If you can’t stand the heat…

The festive season is no longer upon us. Thank frak for that, it’s exhausting! Going places, doing things, seeing people; trying to keep track of it all? On top of all that, it had to be done in 40* heat. With all that lovely time off, I was looking forward to playing in the kitchen. Uh, no dice. I don’t know about you, but I learnt my lesson turning on the oven when it’s like that outside. Running up and down stairs to hide in the air conditioning was not as relaxing as it sounds.

The minute that it cooled down enough, I went in. Something that didn’t need a lot of oven time, but wielded delicious results. And here we are. Scones.

Now, the American scone is a funny thing. What we call scones is their ‘biscuit’. Their scones seem to have similar bones to ours, but are also wildly varying. This particular recipe uses cream and ricotta, making for a very moist and slightly dense dough, more than you’re used to if you make scones regularly. Or ever. But don’t fight it, this is what you want.

This is a sweet-but-not-overly-sweet, treat with jammy pockets of berry goodness. With the addition of wholemeal flour and ricotta, I like to pretend that they’re practically good for you. If you have evidence to the contrary… Probably keep that to yourself. I’m very selective about the reality I accept.

 

Whole Wheat Blueberry Ricotta Scones

From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman

1 cup (120 grams) wholemeal flour
1 cup (125 grams) plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
85 grams cold unsalted butter
136 grams fresh blueberries
3/4 cup ricotta
1/3 cup thickened cream

Preheat oven to 220*c. Line a tray with baking paper. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, sugar and salt.

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Cut the butter into little pieces, then rub into the flour mixture with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Roughly chop the half the berries and then add the chopped and whole berries to the mixture.

Stir the ricotta and cream into the mix with a spatula. Gently knead into an even sized ball.

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Gently lift the dough into a well floured bench top. Sprinkle flour on top of the dough, then pat it into an even slab, about an inch high.

Now, the original recipe calls for cutting it into 9 large square scones. I took to the dough with a small circle cutter like normal scones, and it didn’t seem to harm them any, so cut however you like. Just make them even!

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Place them on the making tray, and then into the oven for 15 minutes, until golden around the edge. Allow to cool on a cooling rack.

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While they are perfectly delicious on their own, there is nothing that is not made better by a smearing of butter.

Easy like Sunday… Night.

I spent the entirety of this weekend curled up in bed with a migraine.
While being in bed and sleeping for hours at a time is awesome, the drum and bass brain… Not so much.  I’m telling myself that the sensitivity to light is just one more step to me becoming Batman, though somehow I think it’s just hallucinations from the really interesting pain killers I’m taking.

Then comes Sunday night. I’m starving. I’m scarily un-caffeinated. I haven’t seen the inside of a supermarket in a week. All of these things are creating a vicious cycle of can’t-be-bothered-leaving-the-house syndrome.
I’m being forced to scrape the bottom on the culinary barrel. Or, just finish off whatever is left in my fridge.
Herbs left over from those brilliant Greek baked eggs. Cherry tomatoes. There’s chicken in the freezer…

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m creating magic. Pulling dinner (and probably tomorrow’s lunch), out of a hat. It’s pretty basic stuff. But it’s fast, cheap, simple and will get out through until you can make it to the shops come Monday.

Roasted Tomato and Herbed Ricotta Pasta

Ingredients
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes
1 chicken breast, diced
1/3 cup ricotta
120g dried pasta
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp chopped oregano
2 tsp chopped thyme

1. Preheat the oven to 200*.
Line a baking tray with foil. Halve the cherry tomatoes, peel the garlic, add herbs and toss with half the oil and season with salt and pepper in the tray. Place the tray in the oven, and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the skin starts to blister.

2. Cook pasta according to packet instructions.
In the mean time, season the chicken with salt and pepper. Pan fry the chicken in the other half of the oil.


Place the roasted tomato and garlic in a blender, blitz for a couple of seconds to chop. Mix the tomato with ricotta.

3. Drain the pasta once al dente, then return to the pan with the chicken and tomato ricotta sauce. Mix to combine until heated through.
Divide into bowls and serve with additional herbs.