Monday, July 27, 2020

Gingerbread with lemony apples & crème fraîche

July 25, 2020

Our Ottolenghi Cooking Club met online for dinner over the weekend. This mode of meeting is suboptimal in one important way - we can't share each other's foods and therefore try six or more dishes! It was still such a pleasure to chat to everyone, and to marvel at the chocoflan that our host spent all afternoon preparing.

For our part, we cooked our dishes a day early and ate them as reheated leftovers. For the main course, Michael revisited the over-the-top lasagne with four kinds of mushroom and five kinds of cheese. For dessert, I decided upon this Sweet recipe. It's a tall, warm gingerbread cake served with apples and crème fraîche.

The cake is simply put together, and doesn't require an electric beater. It's intended to include pieces of stem ginger, which is a new ingredient to me. I didn't have the energy to make my own, and substituted uncrystallised ginger instead - it sank to the bottom of the cake, but provided the right boost of flavour. In the apple recipe, I traded dark rum for the intended brandy to use what we had on hand. The apples ended up tasting more strongly of lemon juice than liquor anyway, so I've performed a substitute on their name too.

This recipe is just as filling and comforting as I'd hoped, and looks a little special without being excessive. The cake would also make for a fine unpretentious afternoon tea without all the trimmings.

Gingerbread with lemony apples & crème fraîche
(very slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's Sweet)

300g treacle or molasses
100g brown sugar
120g caster sugar
220g butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 eggs
zest of 1 orange
400g plain flour
1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
300mL boiling water
100g stem ginger (I used 100g uncrystallised ginger), roughly chopped into 1/2 cm pieces

lemony apples
5 golden delicious or pink lady apples
50g butter
120g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
50mL brandy or dark rum
50mL lemon juice
pinch of salt

400g crème fraîche

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Choose a cake tin - options include a 20cm square or round springform tin, or a 23cm bundt tin. Grease/flour a bundt; line a springform tin with paper, going up beyond the height of the sides, and grease it too.

In a large bowl, whisk together the treacle/molasses, brown sugar, caster sugar, and melted butter. Check that it's not too warm from the butter, then whisk in the eggs and orange zest. Sift over the flour, bicarb soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt, and stir to combine. Pour over the just-boiled water and whisk thoroughly to combine. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 50 minutes, until the cake passes the skewer test. (I think I baked mine for 60 minutes.) Allow the cake to cool for at least 10 minutes before it is transferred to a serving plate.

During the second half of the baking or while the cake is cooling, peel and core the apples and cut them into 1-1.5 cm slices. Set a large frypan over high heat and add the apples. Cook them, tossing them around every couple minutes, until they're golden. Transfer the apples to a bowl and return the frypan to the heat, turning it down to medium. Melt the butter in the frypan, then add the sugar, vanilla and lemon zest, stirring well. Add the apples back into the pan, stirring to coat them in the sugar mixture. Add the brandy/rum, lemon juice and salt, and cook until the sauce is thick.

Serve the cake in warm slices with spoonfuls of apple and crème fraîche on the side.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Sicilian fennel & parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce

July 18, 2020

We've been getting big fennel bulbs in our veggie boxes pretty regularly this winter, which has challenged us to shift away from our regular stable of meals a bit. We've made a fennel and walnut pie and a fennel-quinoa salad and this week we dived into another new dish: Ottolenghi's fennel and parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce. Even in work-from-home times, this is a weekend dish - there are quite a few different processes and the whole thing is the kind of fiddly that nobody's got the energy for on a work day.

Luckily, the result is something really, really good. The cooked down fennel is rich and almost sweet, with the parmesan cutting through with some sharpness. The sauce is a pretty simple tomato sauce, but it works perfectly with these dumplings. If you can bring yourself to deal with the faffing involved, you'll be richly rewarded.

Sicilian fennel & parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce
(slightly adapted from an Ottolenghi recipe via his Guardian column)

1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and diced finely
1/3 cup currants
1/4 cup pine nuts, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
breadcrumbs from 2 slices of bread (we used 2 crushed Weetbix and it worked fine)
50g parmesan, finely grated
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 eggs, beaten
30g dill, finely chopped
20g basil, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, diced finely
~250g tomatoes (the original recipe specifies cherry tomatoes, but we just used regular sized ones chopped up a bit)
180ml passata (we used jar sauce, the lazy option)
1 tablespoon caster sugar
10g basil leaves, finely chopped

Cook the fennel in a big pot of boiling water for fifteen minutes. Add the currants and cook for five more minutes and then drain everything into a colander or sieve. Transfer the mix to something like muslin (we use a clean Chux wipe) and squeeze out as much liquid as you can - you'll squeeze out heaps. The less moisture left in the mix, the better your chances of your dumplings staying together later on. Refrigerate your mixture until it's cold.

Stir the rest of the dumpling ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate that mixture as well.

Now you can make your sauce. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic, onion and a good sprinkle of salt. Cook for five minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion has started to go golden. Add the tomatoes and cook for another three minutes, until they've softened. Pour in the passata and stir through the caster sugar and basil, plus 3/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer and then turn the heat down, gently cooking it all for 20 minutes. 

Leave the sauce to cool for a bit and then stick-blend it all until it's smooth. Now it's dumpling time.

Combine the two sets of dumpling ingredients into one big bowl and mix everything together thoroughly. Use your hands to form it into eight equally sized dumplings - they'll be pretty big. Compress them as best you can - a couple of ours fell apart during the frying phase and the tighter you can pack them the more resilient they'll be. 

Heat your veggie oil in a frying pan and, when it's hot, gently place the dumplings in the pan. Fry for about 8 minutes, turning regularly to get it all nice and golden - you'll have to be super gentle, because they'll want to fall apart. Once they're cooked, gently combine them with your tomato sauce - try to get them all coated in it (again, be careful not to disintegrate them). Heat everything up to a light simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes and then serve! We ate our with pearl couscous, but any kind of carb-y accompaniment would do I think (they'd actually make for an amazing meatball sub filling!).

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Mum's orange cake

July 18, 2020

A month ago I made an orange cake. It was a really great cake, but it also had me feeling a bit wistful for the orange cake that my mum would occasionally make as a treat. Although it certainly felt special to us, Mum's cake wasn't anything over-the-top, simply baked in a rectangular tin and sprinkled with icing sugar. I remember it having a distinctive lightweight but rich texture.

Mum emailed me a photo of her recipe, which is actually from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook. Both oranges and eggs are turning up regularly in our Local Drop deliveries, so I was ready to bake it for myself within days. The only notable variation on your standard cake baking here is that the eggs are separated and the whites are whipped to form stiff peaks before being folded into the batter - that must be where that light texture came from!

My cake was almost as good as I remember Mum making it, although it was a bit crustier than hers. While I have a fairly regular-looking loaf pan, I recall Mum using a longer, narrower tin with a smaller cross-section. I'd guess that this allows her to bake it for less time, and this makes for a more lightly coloured and barely-crusted cake.

While all this butter and eggs clearly isn't vegan-friendly, I wonder if this cake style would lend itself well to some aquafaba adaptation. Maybe that's the direction my orange cake-baking needs to take next.

Mum's orange cake
(actually from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook,
with a small flour conversion from me)

2 eggs, separated
113g butter, at room temperature
grated rind and juice of 1 orange
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
icing sugar, for serving

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Prepare a loaf or ring cake tin with oil, butter, flour and/or baking paper.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.

In a separate medium bowl, cream together the butter, orange rind and sugar. Beat in the egg yolks. Sift in the flour, baking powder and sugar, then the orange juice, until well combined. Fold in the egg whites.

Pour the cake batter into the cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes. Allow it to cool slightly, and sift over some icing sugar to serve.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Lemon self-saucing pudding

July 12, 2020

We had quite the weekend of food preparation and sharing! On Saturday I made huge batches of sausage rolls, cauliflower salad and ginger biscuits; on Sunday I cycled half the bounty across to some friends with a new baby. Meanwhile, Michael received over a dozen lemons in what was otherwise a book exchange, and a neighbour left freshly-baked focaccia by our door.

By the time the lemons arrived I'd spent enough hours away from the kitchen to begin plotting their use. How about some cordial? And I've got some vegan lemon curd recipes tucked away. What if Michael tried preserving some? Oh, and then there's lemon delicious pudding, which I was sure that Leigh Drew had included in Veganissimo!. (She had.) I had to browse through my online recipes, and I found a lemon self-saucing pudding among them too. Funnily enough, it was an earlier version of Leigh Drew's recipe.

The Veganissimo! and online sources for Leigh Drew's lemon self-saucing pudding are not identical. I liked that the online version used custard powder (which I have and rarely use), and I noticed that the Veganissimo! version makes use of cornflour and a pinch of turmeric instead. I'm also noticing now that the Veganissimo! recipe has extra baking powder and some flaxseed meal, which I'd imagine makes for a puffier, spongier pudding.

That said, I have no complaints about the puffiness of the online recipe - it was custard yellow and cakey, with a thick sauce. Leigh mentioned online that her intention here was to recreate a family recipe, and it fits with my sense of family comfort foods too.

Lemon self-saucing pudding

1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons custard powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons margarine
1 cup soymilk

dry topping
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons custard powder

wet topping
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup boiling water

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Grease a small, high-walled casserole or baking dish.

In a medium-large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and custard powder. Stir in the sugar and lemon zest. Melt the margarine over the stove or in a microwave, and whisk in the soymilk. Pour this liquid into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the baking dish.

In a small-medium bowl, stir together the dry topping ingredients. Sprinkle them over the pudding batter.

In a heat-proof bowl, stir together the wet topping ingredients. Gently pour them over the pudding. Bake the pudding for around 35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cake is spongey. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Red velvet cookie sandwiches

June 27, 2020

Red velvet cakes don't turn up too often around here, much less red velvet cookies. I think the main appeal for me is actually the cream cheese icing that they typically come along with, and there's plenty of that in the centre of these cookie sandwiches from Crazy Vegan Kitchen. I wondered if I could enjoy a vegan version as much as a dairy-based one. The answer is yes, and better still it doesn't even require soaking and grinding my own cashews.

I don't really enjoy the flavour of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, and it's currently scarce on the local supermarket shelves anyway. Instead I tried Made With Plants for the first time and liked it more - it's made from both cashews and tofu, and the soy flavour is subtler. It has that velvety, not-completely-smooth texture that many cashew-based cheeses and sauces do. That texture had the icing looking a bit sloppy and curdled when I first whipped it up, but it settled right down after I assembled and refrigerated the cookie sandwiches overnight.

As for the cookies themselves, they're full of red food colouring so I'd recommend taking care of your clothing and cooking tools as you bake! I got a bit lazy about sifting my dry ingredients and, while it wasn't disastrous, I reckon it's worth it to avoid clumps of cocoa and bicarb soda. These cookies rise and spread a lot as they bake, and retain a light, cakey texture after they've cooled.

The first cookie sandwiches we ate, just after I'd iced them, were just fine. But as the recipe author Amrita promised, they really come into their own after some time in the fridge. Not only does the icing firm up, but it melds with the cookies, the bicarb soda mellows, and the small dose of cocoa low-key complements the cream cheese. There's more going on than just that bold splash of artificial colour.

Red velvet cookie sandwiches
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Crazy Vegan Kitchen)

125g margarine
1/4 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
1/3 cup soymilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons red food colouring (I believe Queen Pillar Box Red is vegan!)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

220g vegan cream cheese (I tried this one and liked it!)
55g margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour

In a large bowl, beat together the margarine and sugars until fluffy. Stir together the cornflour and soymilk in a mug until the cornflour is dissolved, then beat the mixture into the margarine bowl. Beat in the vanilla and red food colouring. Sift over the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda, and salt; beat until just combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, ideally overnight.

When the dough is ready, prepare a baking tray or two by lining them with paper and spraying them with oil. Preheat an oven to 175°C.

Retrieve the cookie dough from the fridge and scoop tablespoons of the dough onto the baking tray(s), leaving lots of space between them to spread. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool completely. Match them up into pairs of similar shape and size.

To make the filling, beat together the cream cheese, margarine and vanilla until fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar and cornflour and beat everything together until well combined. Spoon the filling onto one half of each cookie pair and gently sandwich the second cookie on top. These cookie sandwiches are at their best after they've had a day stored in the fridge in an airtight container.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Rachel Ama's peanut stew

June 27, 2019

This stew has been popping up on my social media a bit lately - it seems like it's kind of the recipe of the moment, replacing Alice Roman's famous (and slightly probbo) 'The Stew'. Versions of this seem to be a staple in a number of West African countries, and this vegan version is really great. It's a very simple recipe - whiz up the sauce ingredients and then cook everything in a big pot. I was a bit too trusting of the recipe - make sure your sweet potato is cooked through before you add in your greens. Ours was still way too firm when I added them, which meant that the spinach and herbs kind of cooked down to mush by the time it was actually ready. Luckily it still tasted fantastic. We served it up with quinoa, but it would go equally well with rice, couscous or even straight up.

The key is in the complex spice paste. We toned things down by using regular supermarket red chillies rather than the hotter Scotch bonnets in the recipe (if only because we couldn't easily find them). I was a bit frustrated by how I mucked up the timing, but it was great - we'll definitely make this one again.

Rachel Ama's peanut stew
(slightly adapted from this recipe by Rachel Ama)

spice paste
2 onions, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons peanut oil
500g sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
400g tin black-eyed beans (we couldn't find them easily, so just used mixed beans)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
400g tin chopped tomatoes
500ml veggie stock
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
200g spinach leaves
juice of a lemon
small bunch of coriander, stems removed, roughly chopped
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
salt and pepper

Pop all the spice paste ingredients in a food processor and whiz to a smooth paste.

Heat up the peanut oil in a big pot over medium heat and then scrape in the spice paste, cooking for 10 minutes or so. Add more oil if things dry out.

Add the sweet potato, beans and tomato paste - stir thoroughly to combine with the paste mix. Once it's all combined, add the stock, canned tomatoes and peanut butter. 

Cover the pot, reduce the heat a bit and simmer everything until the sweet potato is tender (the recipe says 25 minutes, but it took us closer to 40).

Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, kill the heat and stir in the spinach, coriander, chilli and lemon juice. Once the greens have wilted, check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. 


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Orange, yoghurt & cardamom cake

June 14, 2020

The Lab Farewell Cookbook project is over, but we're still largely at home and I have a weekly baking habit to keep up. Of course I still have abundant cookbooks and bookmarked online recipes to draw from! The orange flavouring and cream cheese icing on this cake caught my eye when I saw it on The Back Yard Lemon Tree a few years ago, although it's originally from Hetty McKinnon's Neighbourhood. (We have another one of McKinnon's excellent books, Community.)

I'm always a fan of cake batters that don't require room temperature butter and electric beaters. But between the melting butter, wet ingredients and dry ingredients here, I did manage to dirty a good number of dishes regardless. I sought a soft, moist cake and so I aimed for the lowest recommended baking time; the cake passed the skewer test then but later revealed itself to be a bit underdone in the centre, with the cake sinking as it cooled. (You'll spot the indentation in all of these photos once you start looking for it!)

That sinking centre proved a challenge with my cream cheese icing later, as the icing was runnier than other cream cheese ones I'm familiar with. I think I'll reduce the orange juice quantity to the bare minimum if I make this again, and rely on some extra orange zest for flavour.

As for the flavour more broadly, it was a lot subtler than I was anticipating from an ingredient list including oranges, orange blossom water and cardamom. I reckon a bit of extra blossom water or cardamom would be a closer match to my preferences. I'll also be tempted to sneak a bit of lemon in; this time around I got the smoothness and sweetness of the cream cheese and oranges, but not the tang I was looking forward to. The one tweak I did attempt on this first batch was a garnish of pepitas (which we have a bucket of) instead of pistachios. They were a pleasant and pragmatic substitute, but not better than pistachios.

For all these tweaks that I'm forecasting, this is a lovely cake. Its texture is quite dense by very silky, no doubt thanks to all the butter and yoghurt involved, and we ate it in large slabs in a matter of days.

Orange, yoghurt & cardamom cake
(a recipe found on The Back Yard Lemon Tree,
where it's credited to Hetty McKinnon's Neighbourhood)

2 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups raw sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
250g butter, melted and cooled
1 cup Greek yoghurt
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
zest of 1 orange
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons orange blossom water

125g cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup icing sugar
dash of vanilla
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

2 tablespoons pistachios, chopped, to decorate (I used pepitas)

Preheat an oven to 160°C. Line a springform cake tin with paper, and spray it with oil.

In a medium-large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar and cardamom. In a second large bowl, whisk together the remaining cake ingredients, from butter through to orange blossom water. Gradually add the dry ingredients, and stir everything together until just combined. Pour the cake batter into the cake tin, and bake the cake for 50-60 minutes, until it passes the skewer test. Allow the cake to cool.

In a medium bowl, beat together the icing ingredients until smooth. (My icing was quite runny, and I'll use less juice in future.) Spread the icing over the cooled cake, and sprinkle it with pistachios.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Fennel & walnut pie

June 7, 2020

For the second post running, here's a recipe that's been sitting in my bookmarks for a solid decade, waiting for the right moment to be properly appreciated. The impetus here is the multiple batches of fennel turning up in our vege deliveries, including a single bulb the size of a melon! What better way to prepare it mid-winter than in a pie?

I was introduced to this recipe via the blog Nourish Me, which always had a relaxed handful-of-this, maybe-some-of-that style. I've laid out the recipe a bit more formally below simply so that I can copy the ingredient list faster for future shopping trips. Although the ingredients list runs a little long, there is indeed a lot of flexibility here to skip or substitute herbs, spices and vegetables (and even veganise the 'custard' element). Still, it's been very helpful in its original form for guiding me through baking some fennel with subtle, complementary orange and walnut flavours, and scrunching over a contrasting crunchy filo top.

This would be lovely with a salad on the side in sunnier weather, and perhaps some other baked or steamed vegetables at this time of year. But actually, we just transferred large expanses of this pie to our plates and enjoyed it on its own.

Fennel & walnut pie
(a recipe from Nourish Me,
where it's credited to Leiths Vegetable Bible)

2 large (or 1 enormous!) bulbs fennel
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaped teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
zest of a lemon or orange
small handful fresh parsley
1 egg
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
1/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons walnuts, roughly chopped
40g butter
200g filo pastry

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

Wash and trim the fennel, and slice it as thinly as you can. (Reserve the leaves!) Pour the oil into a frypan over medium heat, and add the fennel and a pinch of salt. Gently saute until soft, and just starting to brown a little. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, paprika and citrus zest. Spread the fennel mixture across the base of a high-walled baking tray. 

Roughly chop any fennel leaves, and also the parsley. In a small-medium bowl, whisk together the egg, yoghurt and milk. Stir in the fennel and parsley leaves, then salt and pepper. Pour the yoghurt mixture evenly across the fennel in the tray, without being too fussy about it. Sprinkle over the walnuts.

Melt the butter, and get the filo pastry unrolled and protected with a lightly damp tea towel. Crumple sheets of pastry over the tray of fennel and brush in between layers with butter. Messy is good! Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and crispy on top.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Gnocchi & radicchio gratin

June 4, 2020

We've been getting veggie boxes from Theodores and The Local Drop over the past few months, which has been great for prompting us to mix up our dinners a bit. This week's box had a small radicchio and a small bunch of kale, which Cindy thought would fit well with this old Serious Eats recipe she'd bookmarked years ago. The original recipe uses a big red cabbage, but our veggies substituted perfectly.  It's a super easy, super cheap, winter meal - cook the veggies down and then bake. It's delicious as well - the bitterness of the radicchio gets milder after it's cooked down and pairs well with the rich gnocchi. We didn't have easy access to breadcrumbs so we replaced them with crumbled up crackers, which worked surprisingly well.

Gnocchi & radicchio gratin
(based on this recipe from Serious Eats)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 small bunch of kale, stemmed and sliced
1 small radicchio, sliced
salt and pepper
500g store-bought gnocchi
1 cup breadcrumbs (or in our case crushed crackers)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the caraway seeds and, after 30 seconds throw in the butter. Once it's melted, add the onion, kale and radicchio and stir everything together. 

Lower the heat, cover the pot and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally - you want everything to get really soft. Stir through a generous amount of salt.

While the veggies are softening, preheat the oven to 200°C and then cook the gnocchi as per the instructions - if anything, cook them for less time than you're supposed to. They're gonna bake for a while too.

Spread about 3/4 of the veggie mixture over the base of a 20cm x 30cm baking tray. Arrange the gnocchi on top and cover with the rest of the veggies. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and top with a few twists of ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until it's all crispy and golden on top. Serve!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Pauline's world famous smoothie

May 31, 2020

Friends, this is it: the last recipe from the Lab Farewell Cookbook! It's the last one for me to try, placed last in the book itself, contributed by the last person who'd ever cook for anyone in the Lab. Pauline is the beating heart of this workplace; always trusted to know what's going on, and how to help, with a sympathetic ear or a joyous laugh as the occasion calls for it, and the most wicked commentary subtly inserted into her group emails. Pauline does not cook, and firmly retreats when the Lab Culinary Competition rolls around each year.

Can you imagine my delight when Pauline made an exception and added a recipe to my book? It's deceptively simple and perfectly useful for everyday eating - the fruit smoothie. There are two elements here that I especially like. First, mango makes it especially sweet and juicy! ('Tisn't the season, so I bought mango in a can.) Second, a couple tablespoons of muesli give it some bulk and round it up to a full breakfast.

Unfortunately our blender is still out of action, so I was relying on our less hardy stick blender for my first few smoothies. It did an admirable job, and this made for multiple very handy breakfasts on the work-from-home winter workdays that I slept late and needed to eat at my desk.

Pauline's world famous smoothie
(a recipe from the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

Ingredients: banana, mango, berries, muesli, dairy-free yoghurt (I used coconut), almond milk.
Recipe: chuck everything in the blender and process the life out of it.
Bonus points: soak the muesli in a little almond milk ahead of time to soften its texture.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Aaron & Sophie's kombucha

May 15-30, 2020

Over the past few years, kombucha has overtaken coconut water as the non-alcoholic drink filling the fridges of veg*n restaurants. I've typically searched around both, looking for an iced tea or mineral water instead. I would never have entertained the idea of making my own kombucha if Aaron and Sophie hadn't included a recipe in the Lab Farewell Cookbook.

My friends Troy and Bec are much more dedicated kombuchers, and shared some of their excess scoby so that I could take this on. Aaron and Sophie's recipe is simple and clear, with all the extra tips that a newb like me needs, like: don't let metal touch the scoby, and: avoid oil components in your flavoured tea. The recipe also offers lots of flexibility in the tea and fizz flavours that you can add to the green tea base. (For all these reasons, I'm posting their full recipe with permission rather than paraphrasing it myself.)

I chose apple and ginger flavours for my first batch, and carefully worked through the steps over the course of a fortnight. The 10-day taste test was promising, and the final batch was thoroughly enjoyable! It had the sweetness of apple juice, a gentle tang akin to apple cider vinegar and a very subdued fizz. The ginger wasn't so distinct, so that's something to work towards perfecting.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Flourless chocolate layer cake with walnuts & rosewater cream

May 28, 2020

It's just as well Michael had a big birthday bash last year, because our options were a bit more restricted this time around. We did pretty well: there were presents and fancy crumpets in the morning, Smith & Deli in a park for lunch, followed by a bike ride and afternoon game of Wingspan. He requested black pepper tofu for dinner. In my free moments around the edges, I baked a birthday cake.

Michael picked this one out of Goh and Ottolenghi's Sweet. It looked a little intimidating, but all my lockdown baking had prepared me perfectly for the egg separating, white beating, and cake layering that's needed.

The cake component is an unusual one: it's made mostly from eggs, sugar and chocolate, forming something with the texture of a sponge cake without any of the flour. There's an anxious moment of mixing watery coffee into melted chocolate which creates a very strange, almost rubbery, texture. Unfortunately we couldn't really taste the coffee in the finished cake, so it probably wasn't worth the drama. The best trick is that this layer cake doesn't require any lengthways slicing: it's all achieved by making a huge rectangular sheet of a cake, and dividing it into three stackable rectangles.

In between sponge layers, there's rosewater whipped cream and walnuts. I was wary of the large rosewater dose, but it was balanced out well by the other flavours, and not too perfumey or soapy. The walnuts are an essential counterbalance of crunch and subtle bitterness, but they also prevented the cake-and-cream layers from sticking to each other properly.

The coffee and the construction are well worth reworking, because this is a fabulous cake! It looks fancy without being finicky. We got eight thick slices out of it; each time we'd launch into the cake's light texture with gusto, and be thoroughly satisfied by the time we finished the thick buttery top with its candied walnuts.

Flourless chocolate layer cake with walnuts & rosewater cream
(from Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh's Sweet)

120g walnuts
6 eggs, yolks and whites separated
215g caster sugar
215g dark chocolate
2 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
50mL hot water

30g caster sugar
40g walnuts

rosewater cream
380mL double cream
2 1/2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons rosewater

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a 35cm x 25cm Swiss roll tin (for me, this was just my regular baking tray) with baking paper, and spray it with oil.

In a small baking tray, spread out 120g walnuts and roast them until fragrant, about 8 minutes. Allow them to cool, roughly chop them, and then set them aside for the final assembly.

Turn the oven up to 200°C.

Gently melt the chocolate using your preferred method. Dissolve the coffee in the hot water. Very gently stir the coffee into the chocolate.

In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks and caster sugar for several minutes until very pale and fluffy; Ottolenghi and Goh reckon it should triple in volume. In three batches, gently fold the chocolate mixture into these yolks.

Using clean equipment, whisk the egg whites to form stiff peaks. Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. Spread the mixture out in the Swiss roll tin as evenly as you can. Bake for 20 minutes, until the cake is cooked through but not blackening at the edges (it was a close call with mine!). Allow the cake to cool completely.

Line a small baking tray with paper. Place the topping ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook them, stirring regularly. Gradually, the sugar will melt, coat the walnuts, and turn golden brown. Keep a close eye on the mixture to avoid burning! When all of the sugar is melted and brown, spread the nuts out across the baking tray to cool. When the nuts have cooled, roughly chop them and set them aside for the final assembly.

Whip together the rosewater cream ingredients to form soft peaks, and refrigerate until the final assembly.

To assemble the cake, slice the chocolate cake into three stout rectangles of the same size. Place one layer on a serving plate and spread it with one third of the rosewater cream. Sprinkle over half of the roasted walnuts. Repeat with a second layer each of cake, cream and roasted walnuts. Repeat with the third layer of cake, the remaining rosewater cream, and top with the candied walnuts.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Cauliflower pesto pasta

May 24, 2020

One of our fruit'n'veg deliveries included a surprise packet of pasta, and it sat on the edge of our kitchen table for several weeks before I got around to planning a meal with it. We tossed around a couple of our usual ideas (soy bomb meatballs? green veges and pesto?) and I browsed a few cookbooks. Cauliflower pesto popped out from our underused Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: I'm fond of pesto, and liked that there'd be some extra veges in this version.

Even with our big food processor on the blink, this pesto came together effectively using our less powerful stick blender attachments. None of the veges need cooking, simply picking up on the pasta's ambient heat: grate over some extra parmesan and you're done! The flavour was good but subtle; I reckon I'll double the pesto-to-cauliflower ratio in future. It's a quick weeknight-friendly meal with only one tiny downside: while serving the long, spaghetti-like pasta I found myself flicking little cauliflower specks all over the kitchen!

Cauliflower pesto pasta
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Deb Perelman's The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

1 small or 1/2 large head of cauliflower, split into florets
1 clove garlic
generous pinch chilli flakes
1/2 cup almonds or pine nuts, toasted
55g parmesan, plus extra for garnish
4 sun-dried tomatoes, preferably not packed in oil
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
500g linguine

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to the boil.

While the water is heating, prepare the pesto. In batches that fit your food processor, pulse the cauliflower until it resembles couscous, and transfer it to a large bowl. Empty out the food processor, then use it to blend together the garlic, chilli flakes, almonds/pine nuts, parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and parsley to form a coarse pesto. Add this pesto and the olive oil to the cauliflower bowl, and stir everything together well. Season with salt, pepper and the vinegar.

When the water is boiling, add the linguine and cook as instructed on the packet. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the rest. Toss together the pasta, cauliflower pesto, and 1/2 cup of the cooking water; add a little more water if the pesto feels too thick or clumpy. Serve the pasta, and grate a little more parmesan over each plate.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Quinoa & fennel salad

May 20, 2020

We've been ordering lots of veggie boxes during this weird lockdown period (can recommend both Theodore's and The Local Drop if you're in the market). Our last box came with 3 bulbs of fennel, which left us scratching our heads a bit - luckily, Ottolenghi had us covered. Plenty More had a fennel and quinoa salad that perfectly used up our three fennel bulbs as well as a bunch of herbs we had lying around.

It's a nice combo of sweetness from the fennel, zing from the lime and nuttiness from the quinoa. We ad-libbed and threw in a couple of classic Ottolenghi ingredients that we had to use up - pistachios and pomegranate - which certainly didn't hurt. It's a relatively easy weeknight meal - you can serve it with some fried haloumi or something on the side, but it works as a meal on its own too.

Quinoa and fennel salad
(adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More)

1/3 cup olive oil
3 fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon caster sugar
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 cup quinoa
300g broad beans, blanched and podded (we used frozen)
1 green chilli, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
small bunches mint, coriander and dill
1/2 cup raisins
3 limes
salt and pepper

Fry the fennel in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil on high heat for about 5 minutes - you're trying to get a bit of colour going. Lower the heat and keep cooking, stirring occasionally until it's all nice and soft - maybe another 10 minutes. Add the sugar and vinegar and a good shake of salt and cook for another couple of minutes. Kill the heat and set aside.

Cook the quinoa as per the instructions (about 10 minutes in boiling water should do it). Drain and then combine with the fennel, beans, chilli, cumin, herbs and raisins. 

Carefully skin the limes, removing the pith and extracting the fleshy segments. Slice them up a bit and add them, along with the rest of the olive oil, to the salad. Stir and serve.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Peanut butter miso cookies

May 17, 2020 

Hannah, who I follow on instagram, posted a peanut butter miso cookie from Falco Bakery. This was such an appealing combination for me: I imagined salty-sweet, nutty-chewy, with a subtle fermented complexity. Within seconds I'd tracked down a similar recipe on the New York Times website, and in a few minutes more I'd confirmed that I had all the ingredients I needed at home. Then my hand mixer broke spectacularly, spraying metal shards into butter at the very first step of preparation. It took a couple of days for me to restock on butter and start again with my big stand mixer.

This NYT recipe has been developed by a fussy optimiser. It has three kinds of sugar, instructs you to refrigerate dough balls on baking trays overnight, and then pull out the cookies mid-bake to bang them against a bench. I played my batch out much more casually, using whatever sugars I had, letting the whole dough refrigerate just long enough to roll easily, and leaving my bench the hell alone.

The cookies had a remarkable texture, crisp on the outside and soft-chewy in the middle, even though they had spread a lot and were quite thin. They were very sweet and very salty, not as nuanced as I'd been hoping for, and not all that strong on the peanut butter. I might try unsalted butter, 1/4 cup white miso and 1/3 cup peanut butter next time to see if I can pull off a flavour ratio that's more to my taste. There's a lot to love here, and I think they'll be worth a little extra effort.

Peanut butter miso cookies
(slightly adapted from the New York Times)

225g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
115g butter, at room temperature
220g brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1/3 cup white miso
1/4 cup chunky peanut butter
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup extra caster sugar, for rolling

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into a medium bowl.

Beat the butter in an electric mixer. Beat in the brown and caster sugars until very well mixed. Beat in the miso and peanut butter. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Gently mix in the flour, in three batches. Refrigerate the mixture for up to 2 hours.

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line two baking trays with paper.

Retrieve the biscuit mixture from the fridge. Roll generous tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls, roll those balls in the extra sugar, and place them on the baking trays. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until firm at the edges but still soft in the middle. Allow the cookies to cool for at least 5 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Jane's Mum's apple torte

May 9-10, 2020

I've been building a habit of baking once a week throughout this lock-down period, most often from the Lab Farewell Cookbook. Jane reminisced that this dessert was usually cooked for a crowd in her family, originally by her mum. It is intended to tower at seven cake layers, making "~20 small but adequate servings". I've kept those quantities below but in practice, for lack of a crowd, I made two-thirds the recipe quantity into a four-layer cake. 

The cake baking is a little unusual. Jane explains that it's a little more like a biscuit dough, and instead of using a regular cake tin that dough is rolled out into big flat circles, each baked separately. I couldn't fit 9-inch circles on my trays, but I stretched as large as I could and traced circles onto baking paper in an attempt to build neat, consistent layers.

Between those biscuity layers, there's stewed apples and whipped cream. I stewed 6 apples, in the assorted varieties I had to hand, with 4 cloves, a tablespoon of brown sugar and a splash of water. I only stewed them to a point where they were soft but still held their shape. They made for pretty chunky layers in the torte and didn't spread out easily. I enjoyed their texture, but stewing the apples to collapse might make for a neater, more even torte.

The final direction is to give the torte a few hours rest between assembly and serving. It's a handy approach for a spreading out any party hosting stress, and it renders the torte easier to slice and serve. Our two-thirds torte made around 10 servings and they were more that adequate: they were a treat we looked forward to all week.

Jane's Mum's apple torte
(a recipe shared by Jane in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

340g butter, at room temperature
255g sugar
3 eggs
255g self-raising flour
255g plain flour
(note: these two flours are equivalent to using 500g plain flour + 1 tablespoon baking powder)
generous pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
600mL cream, whipped with 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups stewed apple (Jane recommends 12 small tart granny smith apples with 5 cloves, a small sprinkle of sugar, and a small amount of water)

Preheat an oven to 160°C. Get out your largest baking trays, roll out a sheet of baking paper for each one, and trace a 9 inch-diameter circle on each paper. Roll out one extra sheet of baking paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar in a medium-large bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift together the flours, salt and cinnamon, and gradually mix them into the butter mixture to form a soft, sticky dough. Divide the mixture into 7 balls. Place a ball on the blank paper sheet, then one of the circled papers on top, and roll out the ball until it fits the circle. Flip it over, peel off the plain paper, and place the biscuit and its circle paper on a baking tray. Repeat for the baking trays you have, then bake the biscuit layers for 10-12 minutes, until they're only just starting to brown at the edges. Repeat until you've baked all 7 dough balls into big biscuit circles.

When the biscuit layers have cooled and you're ready to assemble the cake, whip together the cream, vanilla and sugar until it's thick and sturdy. Spread a layer of stewed apple on each biscuit and place the first one apple-down on a serving plate; spread the top with 1/7th of the cream. Repeat each layer apple/biscuit/cream until everything is used up. Give the cake several hours at rest before serving: the flavours will mingle, the biscuit layers will soften, and the cake will be easier to cut.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Kaiserschmarren mit Zwetschgenröster

March 10, 2019 & May 2, 2020

In the Lab Farewell Cookbook, Edith introduced me to a traditional Austrian treat that's found in restaurants, and that she and her mum also make at home. Kaiserschmarren is simple and appealing, a pancake that's shredded into bite-sized pieces, showered in icing sugar, and served with plum compote. Apparently you can eat it any time of the day, as a main or a dessert, and I gave it a shot for a weekend brunch with our online quiz club.

Making the pancake was a boost to my kitchen confidence! I'm often put off by the process of separating eggs, whipping whites, and gently folding everything together. But I pulled it off for a recent cake, and I was ready to go again here. Making and flipping a huge pancake is another task that gets me nervous, but this one puffed up beautifully and held together as long as I needed it to. This probably doesn't even matter, since it's all shredded up before serving, but I was mighty pleased to watch it cook so neatly. As an added bonus, the shredding stage gives you a chance to cook through any runny bits of batter that might still be hiding right in the centre of the pancake. It's almost a failproof technique!

Edith mentioned but didn't include a plum compote recipe, so I did a little searching and found this one on Cinnamon & Coriander. It's got a mulled wine style to it, and adds depth and contrast to the cloud-like pancake pieces. The leftover plums made their way onto my yoghurt-and-granola breakfasts.

(a recipe shared by Edith in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
and credited to Kronen Zeitung Koch Buch)

150g plain flour
30g sugar
generous pinch of salt
3 eggs, separated
milk, as needed
icing sugar, to serve

In a medium-large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the egg yolks, and whisk in enough milk to form a thick dough.

In a separate medium bowl, beat the egg whites until they form peaks. Fold the egg whites into the pancake batter.

Heat substantial layer of oil (Edith says a finger thick; I did maybe 5mm) in a cast-iron frypan. Pour in the batter; allow it to cook until the pancake is bubbling on top and browning underneath. Flip the pancake to cook on the other side. Don't panic if it's a messy flip! When the pancake is cooked through, it's time to rip it into little pieces with two forks.

Transfer the pancake pieces to a plate and sift over some icing sugar just before serving.

(slightly adapted from a recipe on Cinnamon & Coriander)

60g sugar
600g (about 6 large) plums
300mL red wine
juice of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon vanilla-infused white rum

Place the sugar in a medium-large saucepan over even, medium heat until the sugar is melted and turning golden brown. While the sugar is melting, wash the plums, slice them into halves and remove their stones. When the sugar is golden brown, carefully add the red wine and cinnamon stick. (For me, the red wine hissed a lot and the sugar seized up - don't worry too much about this.) After letting the mixture cook for about a minute, add the orange juice and plums. Cook the plums, stirring regularly, until they're tender and the sauce has thickened a little. I took about 20 minutes on a low bubble for mine, because I was happy for the plums to collapse. Turn off the heat and stir in the rum. Allow the compote to cool to room temperature and store it in the fridge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Fully loaded cornbread

April 30, 2020

When I was planning dinner around a Georgian kidney bean salad, I was on the look-out for something vege-filled and cheesy, with a plan for bread on the side. As I flicked through the brunch section Ottolenghi's Simple, our neighbourhood groupchat lit up with offers of corn and coriander, and this cornbread recipe appeared as the ideal dish to cover all bases. 

We claimed our neighbours' veges and I figured out we could crank up the cornbread quantity by 50%, plenty to send a small-sized loaf back to them in thanks. (I've just included the standard recipe quantity below.) It's an ostentatious recipe, with charred corn plus green flecks of spring onion, coriander and jalapeño in a dough heavy with sour cream. Then it's loaded further with toppings: red onion, two kinds of cheese, jalapeño rings and (if you can find them - I couldn't) nigella seeds.

The one hitch during preparation was that as soon as the polenta hit the sour cream, it turned cement-like and very difficult to mix. Stirring didn't get any easier as I attempted to introduce the dry ingredients, herbs and veges. In the method below, I've reordered the process as an attempt to make things easier next time.

I was thrilled with the final product, and proud to share it. The cornbread was so tender, and tasty, and varied from mouthful to mouthful, savoury and sweet with a little kick of chilli. Cornbread typically goes stale fast, so we made sure to reheat our leftovers and were just an enamoured of them as the wedges that we cut that first time out of the oven. 

Fully loaded cornbread
(very slightly adapted from a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's Simple)

the kernels from 2 cobs corn
140g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
50g brown sugar
180g polenta
salt and pepper
360g sour cream
2 eggs
120mL olive oil
4 spring onions, roughly chopped
10g coriander leaves, chopped
2 fresh jalapeño chillis, 1 finely chopped and 1 sliced into rounds
100g feta, crumbled
100g sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

Preheat an oven to 170°C. Line a high-walled baking dish (around 28cm square) with paper, and spray it with oil.

Set a dry frypan over medium-high heat. Add the corn kernels and fry them, stirring occasionally, until charred on some sides. Set them aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda, cumin and cayenne. Stir through the sugar, polenta, plus salt and pepper.

In a second medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs and olive oil. Pour it into the dry ingredients and stir everything together until combined. Fold in the spring onions, coriander leaves, finely chopped jalapeño, and toasted corn kernels.

Turn the cornbread dough into the baking dish and spread it out as evenly as you can. Scatter over the jalapeño rounds, feta, cheddar and onion. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature, and be sure to reheat any leftovers as cornbread goes stale fast.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Georgian kidney bean salad

April 30, 2020

Yung was one of my longer-serving colleagues in the Lab, and (along with Cassie) a key organiser of the annual culinary competition. We've been talking about and sharing food for over a decade, and I was confident that the unassuming kidney bean salad she submitted to the Lab Farewell Cookbook would be something special.

I'll come clean straight up and admit that I used canned and not dried kidney beans for the job. As I read through the recipe I was tempted to use ready-ground spices, too, but that would have been a mistake. The freshly toasted coriander, fennel and fenugreek brought a lot of life to this dish! There's also plenty more flavour to be had from three fresh herbs and a dousing of wine vinegar. This dish could easily be shared between two people for one meal, and I'll likely double all quantities to ensure generous leftovers in future.

We asked Yung what she likes to serve alongside her Georgian kidney bean salad, and her recommendations had my mouth watering: 
...we often have it as part of  a meal w other salad-y dishes like grilled eggplant rolls stuffed w labneh & roast capsicum or grilled zucchini topped with feta & and a drizzle of balsamic & olive oil or roast fennel topped w grated cheese. But always some good bread to accompany it.
A pattern of grilled/roasted vegetables with cheese, and bread on the side. We didn't end up researching more recipes from Georgia; instead I reinterpreted these features and made a cornbread stuffed with vegetables and herbs, and topped with cheese (recipe up next!).

Georgian kidney bean salad
(a recipe shared by Yung in the Lab Farewell Cookbook;
she adapted it from Olia Hercules' Mamushka)

200g dried red kidney beans (or 400g can kidney beans, drained and rinsed)
1 small-medium onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
salt & pepper
1-2 tablespoons dill
1-2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped
1-2 tablespoons coriander leaves and stem, chopped
2 tablespoons sunflower oil

If you're using dried kidney beans, cover them in at least 8cm of water and soak them overnight. Drain the beans, put them in a saucepan and cover them in fresh cold water. Bring the beans to a boil, then simmer them for 35-50 minutes, until they achieve your preferred texture. Drain the beans.

Place the coriander, fennel and fenugreek seeds in a dry frypan and toast them over medium heat until fragrant. Transfer them to a mortar, add 1/4 teaspoon rock salt, and crush the spices to a powder with a pestle.

Heat the sunflower oil in a frypan over medium heat. Add the onions and fry them until they're soft and caramelised, at least 15 minutes. Add the cooked beans, pepper to taste, and the ground spices, stirring everything thoroughly.

Transfer the beans and onions to a serving bowl, and add the sugar, salt and wine vinegar to taste. When you're happy with the flavour balance in the dressing, stir through the fresh dill, parsley and coriander. Serve warm or cold.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Flourless chocolate cake

April 25, 2020

Yes, it's more cake from the Lab Farewell Cookbook! And it's another classic style of recipe that's worth having in one's repertoire: a gluten-free chocolate cake shared by Bron. 

The preparation and final product both reminded me of brownies as much as cake. The batter builds up from melted butter and chocolate in a saucepan, fills out with almond meal instead of flour, and develops a distinctive elasticity when the eggs get mixed in. The egg yolks, anyway... the spot where this differs from a brownie is when you skip the baking powder, separate the eggs, and fold in puffy whipped whites at the end. It's a neat way to deal with what's otherwise a very dense batter.

I most appreciated Bron's advice on baking time: 
undercooked = creamy mousse, overcooked = cakey. Can't go wrong!
Since I like my baked goods closer to fudgy than cakey, I picked the minimum cooking time of 55 minutes. By my assessment, this generated a texture right on the boundary between fudgy and cakey. I'll be tempted to try a 45-50 minute bake next time round to see just how fudgy this can get!

Bron's other excellent parting advice was to serve this cake with thick cream or yoghurt, and some strawberries. I did, and they set it off perfectly.

Flourless chocolate cake
(a recipe shared by Bron in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
where it's credited to Sue Shepherd's Irresistibles for the Irritable)

1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup water
150g butter
150g dark chocolate
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/4 cups almond meal
4 eggs, separated

Preheat an oven to 150°C. Line a 22cm springform cake pan with baking paper, and grease it.

Set a medium saucepan over low heat, and add the cocoa, water, butter and chocolate. Continue cooking and occasionally stirring until everything is melted and smooth. Turn off the heat and whisk in the sugar, almond meal, and egg yolks. (I didn't get going with the egg separations until after I turned off the heat, which gave everything a little time to cool down.) Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large bowl. 

Place the egg whites in a small-medium bowl and beat them with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Gently fold half the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then follow up with the second half. Pour the cake batter into the cake pan.

Bake the cake for 55-65 minutes, and allow it to cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes. Serve with plain yoghurt or thick cream, and strawberries.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Dolla's (husband's) cheesecake

April 18-19, 2020

This Lab Farewell Cookbook recipe is one I was guaranteed to love: it's a classic, unbaked cheesecake. It comes from Dolla, who famously doesn't like to cook, but has shared food from other family members at the annual Lab Culinary Competition. I have fond memories of her mum's felafel and dolmades, and this cheesecake is her husband's specialty.

I'm posting the full recipe quantity below, but I actually halved it this time around. My half-quant still generated about six servings to take us through the week, and I was able to assemble them in some cute little tins I received for my birthday last year. The biscuit crumb base should be ground finer than you can see pictured above; sadly our food processor conked out while I was preparing this recipe, and I finished the job clumsily with a pestle and mixing bowl. (I reckon my usual baking paper-and-rolling pin approach would beat it.)

The filling is so simple and so effective; just cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, and lemon juice. It's creamy and tangy, and it sets firmly without being gelatinous. I couldn't get hold of fresh blueberries that I was happy with, so I had some fun trying my hand at the candied lemon topping.

Dolla's (husband's) cheesecake
(a recipe shared by Dolla in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

200g milk coffee biscuits
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
160g butter

2 x 250g blocks Philadelphia cream cheese, at room temperature
2 x 395g cans sweetened condensed milk
juice from 4 lemons

topping option 1
400g blueberries

topping option 2
finely sliced rind of 2 lemons
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup caster sugar

Line a 22cm springform cake pan with paper and spray it with oil.

Grind the biscuits and cinnamon in a food processor until they form fine crumbs (mine, photographed above, were too coarse). Melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour it into the food processor, blitzing further to thoroughly combine. Press the crumbs into the cake pan, forming a wall up the sides of the pan as well as covering the base completely. Refrigerate the base.

Use a food processor or electric beater to thoroughly combine the cream cheese, condensed milk and lemon juice, until they are completely combined and smooth. Pour the filling over the base and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, ideally overnight.

For topping option 1, place the blueberries on the top of the cheesecake when it's ready to serve.

For topping option 2, remove as much pith and pulp as you can from the lemon rind. Place the rind, water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring them to the boil, allowing the syrup to thicken. Arrange the rind and syrup over the cheesecake when it's ready to serve.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Pearl couscous salad

April 18, 2020

With this Lab Farewell Cookbook salad recipe, Cassie nailed our cooking style! It's made substantial with couscous, green and leafy with mint, studded with nuts, and shimmering with Ottolenghi's favourite ingredient, the pomegranate seed.

Still, it's not a repeat on any of our usual recipes. It's years since we bought pearl-sized couscous, and I enjoyed its bubble tea-type chewiness. I didn't realise that we're outside pomegranate season, so the fruit was a bit paler than it should be. Cassie has since advised me that you can buy pomegranate seeds frozen, so I'll be more attentive and keep that option to hand in future.

This is the kind of dish that's great as a dinner-time side, leftover on its own for lunch, or as a potluck contribution. I can imagine its flashes of green and red looking very festive as part of a Christmas spread. This time round, the two of us paced it out over a few days in tandem with a roasted cauliflower, grape and cheddar salad.

Pearl couscous salad
(a recipe shared by Cassie in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup pearl couscous
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
pinch of ground allspice
juice of 1 lemon
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup pistachios, toasted
small bunch mint, leave picked and stems discarded
seeds of 1 pomegranate

In a medium-large saucepan, bring the stock to the boil and add the couscous. Cook until couscous is soft (timing can vary a lot depending on its size; check the packet for guidance). Drain, if the water is not all absorbed. Stir half of the oil into the couscous, and set it aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

Place the remaining oil, pomegranate molasses, allspice, lemon juice and spring onions in a jar. Screw on the lid and shake the jar vigorously, until the dressing is emulsified.

In a large bowl, stir together the couscous, dressing and remaining ingredients. You may like to set a few pistachios and pomegranate seeds aside to sprinkle over the top.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Sémola con vino

April 2, 2020

I've been using these lock-down weeks to methodically work through the dessert recipes in the Lab Farewell Cookbook, and it has been a treat. This pudding from Linda is something I'd already had the good fortune to taste at a past Lab Culinary Competition. She explained that it's a typical Chilean dessert, with quantities chosen by eye and lots of flexibility as to how runny or firmly set you prepare each layer.

I proceeded with a little caution because I recalled this being a rich dessert. Since there's only two of us at home, I decided to quarter the quantity and serve it in cups rather than making an entire flan. I ended up wishing I'd made a little more. (The recipe below shows the regular quantity, and I'd estimate that it would make around 8 serves.)

The texture of this pudding is velvety smooth, and its flavour has a two-tone contrast of milky-mild semolina, steeped with cinnamon, up against a darkly fruity red wine sauce. I thought it looked pretty in individual glasses, and I think I'd choose this serving style again even if I was making enough for a larger group.

Sémola con vino
(a recipe shared by Linda in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

1 cup semolina
1 L full cream milk
500 mL red wine
3-4 tablespoons cornflour
sugar, to taste
cinnamon stick
~5 cloves
piece of orange or lemon peel

Choose your serving dish: you could use a flan dish, a baking tray or individual bowls or cups.

Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the cinnamon stick, adding a little sugar to taste. Bring the milk up to a simmer, then whisk in the semolina and stir it regularly. When the semolina has thickened, pour it into your serving dish(es) and allow it to set.

Pour the wine into a clean saucepan, leaving half a cup aside. Mix the cornflour into that half a cup, until there are no lumps left. Add the cloves, orange peel and a little sugar to the wine in the saucepan and bring it all to a simmer. Gradually stir in the cornflour, continuing to stir as the mixture thickens. Pour the wine over the semolina and allow it to set before serving. Eat within 3-4 days.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Sweet yoghurt plait bread

March 29, 2020

A lot of folks in lock-down have been baking bread, and our local supermarket has been consistently cleared of yeast. We had a couple of sachets and some bread flour in reserve at home from our irregular pizza making, so I could go right ahead with my own autumn plan for sweet yoghurt plait bread.

This is yet another recipe from the Lab Farewell Cookbook, and it comes from my long-time colleague Victoria. The bread is really a lightly sweet bun, spiced with cinnamon, studded with dried figs and smothered in a thick lemon icing. With all the proving and plaiting it's a solid afternoon's work, but I was ready for it, even pulling out the heavy old mixmaster with the dough hook. 

I'm not sure that I've ever plaited dough before, but it was easier than I expected! Any imperfections are slightly magnified during proving, then hidden again by icing and slicing. The one slight alteration I made was to use a bit less lemon juice when icing the second loaf - I love the tanginess, but the extra liquid means that most of the icing runs off the bun.

The loaves are sticky stunners, both whole and sliced. I made sure to show off a piece in my workplace's weekly morning tea skype session.

Sweet yoghurt plait bread
(a recipe shared by Victoria in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
where it's credited to Jane Lawson's Spice Market)

650g white bread flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons (9g) instant dried yeast
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g yoghurt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
60g unsalted butter, chopped and at room temperature
1/2 cup dried figs, chopped

1 egg
2 tablespoons milk

3 cups icing sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice

Set up an electric mixer with a bowl and dough hook, or a large bowl (with a wooden spoon and strong arms at the ready!). Stir together 600g of the flour with the cinnamon, yeast and salt.

Very gently heat the milk in a small saucepan to just barely more than lukewarm. Take it off the heat, then whisk in the eggs, yoghurt and honey. Pour this mixture into the flour bowl. If you're using a stand mixer, mix for 3 minutes at the lowest speed. Add the butter and figs, and mix for a further 10 minutes at medium speed, until you have a smooth and elastic dough (mine was very sticky, and I added a bit more flour). If you're mixing by hand, work through the ingredients in the same order and turn the dough onto a clean surface and knead it for 10 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl and drop the dough into it, tossing it around to coat it in the oil. Cover the bowl and leave it in a warm place to rise for 1.5-2 hours, or until it has doubled in volume. Gently punch the dough and turn the dough onto a clean, floured surface. Divide the dough into 6 equal-sized portions, and roll each one into a length of about 30cm. Plait together three lengths at a time to form two loaves, and tuck the ends underneath. Place the loaves on lightly greased baking trays, cover them with damp cloths, and allow them to rise for a further 30 minutes. Use this time to preheat an oven to 220°C.

Make the glaze by whisking together the egg and milk in a mug; brush it over the tops of the loaves. Bake the loaves for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180°C and bake for 20 minutes more. The bread should be golden on top. Allow the loaves to cool.

When the loaves are cool, whisk together the icing sugar and lemon juice to form the icing. Drizzle it over the loaves and allow it to set before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


March 28, 2020

One of the terrific little surprises in my Lab Farewell Cookbook was that the compilers tracked down my friend and mentor Louisa for a recipe. Louisa and I were officemates over a decade ago, and we're still in touch even though neither of us has been employed in that office for years.

Louisa knows my tastes well, and shared a simple cookie recipe that's gluten-free and includes a vegan option. Louisa explained that Almendrados are a traditional Jewish recipe eaten during the Passover week. They're are made mostly from almonds and sugar, bound together with an egg (or potentially tofu!) and flavoured with lemon.

My one early COVID-lockdown panic-buy was a big bag of raw almonds, so I blanched some of them myself to make these cookies. (It's easy to do, but a bit tedious to pinch the skins off 2 cups of soggy almonds.) Since they don't contain any baking powder, these cookies don't puff up or spread at all during baking: whatever shape you form the dough in is roughly how they'll look.

They're crackly with sugar on the outside, tender in the centre, with a meringue-level sweetness but an almond-based chewiness. I found that the (not so Spanish!) lemon myrtle popped up in some mouthfuls more than others. These have been just the right little treat to nibble mid-afternoon, with a cup of tea, as we've been working from home.

(a recipe shared by Louisa in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

2 cups blanched almonds, plus ~30 extra to decorate
1 cup sugar
1 egg or 1/4 cup silken tofu
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon ground lemon myrtle

In a food processor, thoroughly grind the 2 cups of blanched almonds to a coarse powder. Add 3/4 cup sugar, egg/tofu, lemon zest and lemon myrtle, and pulse until a dough is formed. Cover the dough in a bowl and refrigerate it for at least 12 hours.

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray or two with paper.

Line up the dough bowl, a smaller bowl with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and the lined trays. Take scant tablespoons of the dough, roll them into balls with your hands, and roll the balls in the sugar. Place the dough balls on the baking tray and press a whole almond into the top of each one.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to go golden and are still soft on the inside.