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.