Archive for category: baking

Garlic and paprika shortbread

My sister is a devout hater of cheese. I’ve tried to persuade her. I’ve tried to trick her. But she can smell vacuum-sealed parmesan even when it’s in the next building. I developed these savoury no-cheese biscuits for her hen’s party last week.

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Currant tea biscuits

These little tea biscuits are based on my basic sugar cookie recipe. Ila and I whipped them up one afternoon last week and have been singing about bakers’ shops  and sugar on the top ever since.

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Whenever I’m in charity shops or second-hand bookstores, I always take a look at the cooking section. The usual selection goes something like this: The Low GI Cookbook, The South Beach Diet, 101 Ways with Mince, Microwave Chinese Cooking. It’s these appliance-specific cookbooks that I find really entertaining. Ever wanted to try roasting a suckling pig in the microwave? Me neither. Read more →

Seed and carrot muffins

Tuesdays are the longest day of the week by far. The glow of the past weekend has faded. The satisfaction of being halfway through the work-week grind is still a day away. There is only the slow counting of hours until 5.30 and the commute home.  However, I’ve decided that muffins are the perfect panacea to the Tuesday blues. Read more →

Apricot, oat and cardamom cookies

Some weekends, when I don’t have anything on, I send out a barrage of text invitations to friends I’ve not seen in a while to pop by for tea. Usually, I haven’t seen these people for a reason: they are more organised than I am and will already have an action-packed weekend planned. Clearly, this weekend, everyone was at a similar loose end. On Friday night, I suddenly found myself booked in for an entire weekend of morning, afternoon and evening tea and coffee.

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Pavlova is my secret weapon. No, honestly. For anyone who has never made it, it might look really difficult. In actual fact, it’s about seven minutes of prep, into the oven, and then two minutes slapping on whipped cream and fruit before it’s served. Pavlova can make a pretty average dinner look like you’ve ‘really tried’.

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Plain scones

I based this recipe on one that my mother copied out of a catering magazine several decades ago. (She was waiting for a Chinese take-away order at the time.) The magazine called them Park Hyatt Scones. We assume that it was from one of the Australian Park Hyatt hotels, but have never known for sure.

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Banana sponge

A few years ago, my mother inherited my grandmother’s 9-inch sandwich cake tins. My grandmother had in-turn inherited the tins from her mother-in-law.  These cake pans have been making family birthday cakes for probably close to 100 years. They’re thin steel, not fancy, but there is something very special about them. In fact, the banana sponge that I invented yesterday turned out so amazingly well that I suspect that four generations of baking experience must have mystically infused the metal.  I’ll be intrigued to know if this recipe turns out equally beautiful cakes without the Hudson cake tins.

The recipe was something of an accident – which I suspect is often the case with many banana cake recipes.  My dad – the prime banana eater in my parent’s house – was flying to a conference in New Zealand. On heading out the door he called: “You’ll have to bake a banana bread as I won’t be around to eat all these.”  With morning and then afternoon tea visitors expected and only a scraping of thick cream in the fridge, we had every excuse to take his advice. The recipe is mostly Joy of Cooking – but uses different flour, sugar, yogurt and filling – which I say makes this a different cake.

Banana sponge

  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup soft brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed ripe banana
  • a scraping of vanilla pod
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt

To serve:

  • 1/2 cup extra thick double cream (or whipped cream)
  • 1 ripe banana sliced
  • icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line the base with baking paper and grease two 9-inch round cake pans.

Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside. Cream the butter and slowly add the caster sugar, followed by the brown sugar.  Beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at at time and beat to combine.  In a separate bowl, mix the banana, vanilla and yogurt  Gently fold the flour into the butter mixture in about three parts, alternating with the banana mixture.  Divide the mix between the two pans and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.  Once cool, turn the base cake upside down and spread the facing side with thick cream, followed by the sliced banana. Invert the second cake and place this on top of the banana. Dust the top with icing sugar.

Banana cream sponge

Chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies

This is my favourite cookie recipe. It’s a real cookie, never a biscuit, no matter what country you’re in. Chunks of chocolate, nugets of walnut, chewey porridge oats. If I was the sort that liked to eat raw cookie dough – and surprisingly I’m not – I suspect that I could put Ben and Jerry’s out of business.

I adapted this cookie from a recipe in a book called Boston Tea Parties: Recipes from the Museum of Fine Arts.  My mother bought this book at the MFA on the same day that we visited Boston Harbor when I was about twelve. Even now, whenever I think of the Boston Tea Party, I imagine colonists dressed as Mohawk warriors, nibbling on dainty cakes and cookies as they throw fine china cups and saucers of tea into the harbour.

Well, I never promised a history lesson. But I do promise some seriously large cookies. Consuming one of these ugly giants may seem daunting at first, but I’m betting that you’ll manage two or three with a good pot of tea, I mean coffee.

Boston Tea-Party Choc-Chip Oatmeal Cookies

  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 3/4 cup soft brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 & 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups porridge oats
  • 350 grams milk or plain bar chocolate 
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Cream together sugars and butter. Beat in the eggs and hot water. Sift together the flours, soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and stir to combine.

Chop the chocolate into medium chunks. Add the chocolate, oats, walnuts and vanilla to the mixture and stir. Drop large tablespoonfuls of the dough onto a baking sheet, spaced 5 centimetres apart. Bake in a preheated 190 oven for 10 minutes. Leave to cool on the tray for 10 minutes before removing to a rack.

Choc-chip oatmeal cookies

Shortcrust pastry

I’ve always had cold hands, but since having my daughter I’ve regularly experienced Raynaud’s phenomenon, which leaves my hands white and bloodless. The only good thing about this is that I am now the perfect pastry making machine.

This week I made a spinach quiche and a peach pie, both using the same pastry recipe. I don’t like sweet pastry much and prefer to make a version of this shortcrust for almost every pie or tart, no matter the filling. I’ve used this pastry for everything from chocolate tart to quorn mince pie.

The quantities here are based on the standard size pack of butter in both the UK and Australia, so no measuring or weighing of butter is required. For me, the most annoying recipes are those that measure butter in cups. I takes so long to squish butter into a cup measure and then scrape it out again. I always envy American cooks who only need to count out sticks of butter in order to follow a recipe.  Here, 250 grams of butter will make enough pastry for two pie crusts or two big tart cases.

Shortcrust pastry

  • 340 g flour
  • 250 g butter
  • big pinch of salt
  • up to 60 mls or 4 tablespoons water (chilled for at least 30m minutes)

Sift the flour and salt into the centre of a clean work bench or marble slab. Remove the butter from the fridge and chop into small squares. Toss these in the flour and rub lightly between your fingers until the flour and butter come together and look almost like breadcrumbs. (Don’t try to get rid of every piece of butter; a few larger flakes of fat won’t hurt the pastry. Leaving them in will ensure that you don’t overmix and end up with a tough crust.)

Take the water from the fridge or, if you’re forgetful like me, put a couple of ice cubes in a small bowl of water for a minute or two and measure your fluid from that. Sprinkle the water a tablespoonful at a time into the flour and use the tips of your fingers to work the water into the flour and butter.  This step is more about bringing the dough together than it is about mixing or kneading. The dough should be soft, not sticky, and hold its shape. Once the dough holds together, cut and shape it into two balls, wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for an hour. (These balls can be frozen and then defrosted in the fridge for later use.)

Remove the dough from the fridge, and roll out with a rolling-pin on a floured work surface to about 1/2 centimetre. Flip the dough over two or three times during the rolling. Lift the dough, by folding it over the rolling-pin, and lay it over the pie dish or tart tin. Press down gently into the corners and trim the edges with a sharp knife.

Return the pastry case to the fridge for 30 minutes. Before baking, line the pastry with baking paper and fill with pastry weights. (I use a mix of lentils, rice and black-eyed beans that are very hard and small from being cooked so many times.) Bake blind in a preheated 200°C oven for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and weights and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.

You’re now halfway to a tart.