Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Smoked fish smørrebrød

Mostly for lunch I eat leftovers. But for the weeks in which I'm not doing a lot of cooking, I  rely on a loaf of sliced rye in the freezer. In Copenhagen last year, I fell in love with smørrebrød - traditional Danish open-face sandwiches on dark rye bread. Every deli or bakery, café or restaurant sold some variation of this lunch-time staple. You can make a smørrebrød out of anything, but a typically Scandinavian topping will include something pickled or smoked. Probably the favourite smørrebrød of my stay came from a deli near the Botanical Gardens (Aamanns, if anyone is visiting) which featured a thick slab of blue cheese (as long and wide as the rye it perched on) sprinkled with hazelnuts and pickled sultanas, something I've since tried to recreate at home with limited success. This smoked fish topping, however, has been much more successful. Probably because it contains only a handful of ingredients - smoked fish, red onion, dill, lemon juice and sour cream - and comes together in minutes by mashing everything together with a fork. Its cold, salty creaminess contrasts nicely with the crispness of the toasted rye, which ably supports a nice thick trowelling of topping. Any leftover topping works well as an emergency pasta sauce, as I recently discovered after coming home late from a long day. Just wind through cooked pasta on the stovetop for one minute, just long enough to heat through.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Ginger cake with lemon and pistachio icing

Ginger is a flavour I've only recently come to appreciate in baking. Perhaps because in childhood it was associated most strongly with gingerbread, which in turn was associated most strongly with Hansel and Gretel, who were punished for nibbling on a house made of it by being almost cooked alive by a witch.

This isn't a gingerbread though - it's lighter, and more light-hearted than that, containing as it does, a whacking big amount of golden syrup and a rich, buttery frosting. This is cake, make no mistake -  sticky and squidgy, sweet and indulgent... There's something quite wonderful about the fusion of adult flavours (ginger, lemon, cloves, pistachios) with those of childhood (golden syrup, icing sugar, cinnamon). A bit like having your cake and eating it too. With no fear of witches.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

The New York Times had a pretty bad week. I am not here to defend peas in guacamole, but their cooking section generally, which is right more often than it is wrong. For a few months now, I've had bookmarked Melissa Clark's recipe for St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake, for the name alone. Apparently, the original dates back to the 1930s, when a baker miscalculated the quantity of butter in a coffee cake. Rather than throw it out, he carved it up, sold it by the square and Missouri was never the same again. 

It's a mashup of two very different cakes: an elegant, yeasted bottom layer - as refined and establishment as a twinset and pearls - and an over the top, brassy, bottle blonde bombshell up above. Unlikely friends but they complement each other beautifully, coming together in a single cake that is, as advertised, gooey and buttery... oozy and sweet and utterly moreish. The edges are particularly good - chewy and crisp. Grab a corner if you can.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


Is it possible for a cookie to be seasonal? After making speculaas last weekend I'd be inclined to argue yes. When it's cold outside, you can't do much better than brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. There's something warming about all of those things, especially when baked into a sweet with an unpronouceable name (your best chance at getting it right is by trying to say it while eating one) and served with your hot beverage of choice.

The darkness comes from the brown sugar and spices (as much mixed spice as cinnamon) and is bolstered by rye flour and almond meal. This is a cookie for blissful hibernation. A winter warmer, designed for dunking.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Preserved limes

About this time last year I went to a pickling workshop. It was very Portlandia to be sure - a bunch of white middle class women in hand-sewn aprons gathered around vats of vinegar in a sunny courtyard at the back of a Scandinavian homewares store one Sunday afternoon. Almost definitely, there was a bird on something or someone. But I was more than happy to succumb to a stereotype in order to learn a skill that stands me in good stead for life. That allows me to make the most of seasonal produce and enjoy it any time I like. In addition to pickled fennel and rhubarb we also made preserved limes. 

I'd made preserved lemons before but it never occurred to me do the same with limes. You can use them in cooking in much the same way (as an acidic note in Middle-eastern tagines or stews, grain salads, in pasta or fish dishes, with roast lamb or chicken...) but where these come into their own is in Mexican food, where lime goes with everything from beer to avocado. Which brings me to my favourite way to use them - in guacamole. A little preserved lime, chopped-up roughly, gives an incredible fresh zing and an added bit of texture to a dip that can often be a bit bland. Guacamole's a perennial favourite but really, it's synonymous with summer - beer and sun, beaches and bare feet - when limes aren't as plentiful or cheap as they are now... which makes preserving them the way to go. And if you made them last winter, like me, you can conjure up summer any time you like, no matter what season you're in.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Grapefruit and olive oil cake with bittersweet chocolate

I've been away. From this blog, from my apartment. While I was gone, some interstate friends came to stay at my place. Sadly, our paths didn't cross, but I had just enough time before leaving for the airport to make them a cake so I felt like there was a little bit of me there to greet them.

Though I was headed for summer later that day, it was winter in Sydney and that means citrus. The seasonality of that food family is consistently strange to me as its bright burst of flavour seems more suited to warmer months (when you feel like quenching your thirst with orange juice, tucking into grapefuit for breakfast or squeezing lime into gin and tonics) than the colder ones but maybe in these darker parts of the year we need it more. I'm sure nature had some sort of plan. 

This cake is made with grapefruit, an underused citrus, in my opinion. It's fresh and zingy and pretty orange-pink (if you use the ruby sort, which I'm powerless to resist). The flavour comes from both its zest, and juice - which is intensified by boiling it down to half its quantity. No need to dirty a food processor or a stand mixer. Two bowls will suffice - one for the wet ingredients, one for the dry. The two come together, chopped chocolate is added and it bakes in the oven for just under an hour, enough time to pack a suitcase or have a cup of tea and read the paper (having packed well in advance), depending on what type of traveller you are. But whatever type that is, odds are you'll think about that cake all the time you're away and make it again upon your return... and eat two slices for morning tea with the heater on watching the rain, half in summer, half in winter, which through the haze of jetlag seems somehow very right.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Salted caramel ice-cream

Sometime last last year, just in time for summer, I inherited my friends' ice-cream maker. They were moving, their new kitchen didn't have as much storage space as the old one so they were shedding appliances and I was the lucky beneficiary. All through December, January, February, March and April, that ice-cream maker sat on my shelf gathering dust. How to explain this? Maybe that I recognised having ice-cream on tap all the time might not be such a good thing. Maybe it was that I needed to freeze the inner drum of the machine thoroughly first and my freezer was always jam-packed. Maybe it was because the box was out of my line of sight and I forgot about it. I'm not sure. All I know is that finally, last weekend, as the first day of winter approached, I made ice-cream while wearing a jumper with the heater on. I won't be waiting that long again.

Salted caramel is having a moment to be sure. With good reason. It's sweet, it's salty, it's sublime. This recipe, from master ice-cream maker David Leibowitz (author of The Perfect Scoop), was inspired by the caramel ice-cream of famed Parisan parlour Berthillion. The secret is in the making of the caramel - you push it to the edge of burnt, which, in combination with the salt, saves it from being too sweet, producing instead a perfectly balanced, utterly decadent yet simple dessert. All you need is a spoon.