Thursday, 14 May 2015

Cardamom cake

For me, the perfect cake to have with coffee is a simple one and this might just be the best. Cardamom's flavour suggests a market in south Asia but the origins of this recipe are further north in Scandinavia, where the ritual of coffee and cake has a name (fika) and a place in the culture. This butter cake is simple and sweet, lightly tangy with lemon and fragrant with cardamom. Though you can absolutely use the spice ready ground (if you do, maybe use half the amount) the seeds, crushed lightly in a mortar and pestle, look beautiful flecked through the crumb of the cake. Its burnished gold exterior and brown sugar warmth make it extra lovely at this time of year, eaten in the (almost) winter sun.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Parsi tomato chutney

Here are two undisputed facts about my mother:

1. She makes amazing chutney.

2. She is utterly unsentimental. 

Whenever I go home to visit she is always offering to teach me how to make her signature chutneys (green papaya, mango) as "one day she will die and there won't be any more". Unlike my mother, I am sentimental and in deep and comfortable denial about anything ever happening to her, so I refuse to learn. Instead, I've taught myself to make my own. It's different enough to mum's to perpetuate the myth that she will always be around to make the others for me, and so good it passes muster with the great chutney-maker herself. So this year, I made her some. For Mother's Day. Even though she doesn't believe in it.

My friend Elizabeth put me on to this recipe, originally from Niloufer Ichaporia King's book My Bombay Kitchen.  As the name suggests, it's made primarily with tomatoes (easy to chop in large quantities), has a relatively short list of other supermarket-available ingredients, and really requires nothing more than throwing everything into one pot and letting it bubble away for a couple of hours. It's brilliant on a sandwich or served alongside a curry, particularly a hot one as the sweetness of the tomatoes balances it beautifully. It's so good slathered on cornbread, delicious dolloped on a cracker with cheese, and jarred up, makes a lovely present... for mothers who are mortal, and their daughters in denial.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


My friend Tammy makes the best tiramisu. So when she became a vegan, a few years ago, I took it hard. As much as I admired her principles, I selfishly lamented the loss of my favourite dairy-laden dessert. I could have made it myself, it's true, but it just wouldn't have been the same. Luckily for me, her stance softened (she's still a very committed vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy as responsibly as possible) and tiramisu is back in my life. 

Tiramisu was big in the 80s. So much so it seems like the dessert equivalent of shoulder pads and big hair. Tammy would say it's timeless though, and she's right. There's so much to love about a dinner party dish that tastes incredible, requires only a few ingredients and can be made (and in fact must be made) ahead of time. Simple flavours that in combination pack a punch: coffee, chocolate, creamy mascarpone and booze. 

The booze is optional really - the original recipe, which can be traced back to the Veneto region of Italy in the 1960s, doesn't include it. I don't normally like alcohol-flavoured things but somehow it works for me here. Maybe because it doesn't overwhelm but melds beautifully with the other ingredients. In translation, tiramisu means "pick me up", which makes it ideal for the end of a long night... or the beginning of a new day. 

Be warned: this is not a quick fix sweet treat: tiramisu needs to be refrigerated for several hours or overnight so that the sponge fingers soften and the flavours have time to develop. Trust me, your patience will be rewarded. It's like eating a cloud. A sweet, caffeinated, slightly drunken cloud.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Walnut and halva cake

I set a dangerous precedent. A few years ago, when flying down to see friends in Victoria, I brought a cake in my carry-on luggage. Now, it's not possible to visit without one. The rules of carry-on cake are as follows: no delicate sponges, or sticky icing, no layers or fancy shapes. And by fancy, even round counts here. Loaf cakes only need apply, and sturdy ones at that - the sort I can wrap tightly in tinfoil, stow in a tote bag and slide under the seat in front of me. The sort that will survive take-off, landing and turbulence. The original carry-on cake, lemon yoghurt, fits this brief beautifully, as does the superlative pear, pistachio and chocolate. And now another one to add to my repertoire courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi: walnut and halva cake.

Halva is a dense yet crumbly confection made with tahini, a mainstay of many cultures from the Middle-east to eastern Europe. My mother used to buy it for us when we were kids to satisfy our craving for something sweet after school. I don't remember having much of an opinion on it then. I'm sure I liked it fine but it was never coveted, more something that would do when we couldn't have what we actually wanted (chocolate! ice-cream! chips!). As an adult, I like it rather a lot. So much in fact that I will only buy small amounts at a time as if it is in my fridge, I will eat it: with coffee, crumbled over vanilla ice-cream, and now, in cake...

This is a beautifully light sour cream cake, embellished with caramelised walnuts and a layer of smooth, sweet halva. It's simple but a little bit special. Easy to carry on, and to carry off.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Swedish coconut cookies

My work/life balance has been seriously out of whack these last weeks which is no doubt why I'm on my second cold of the year and it's only halfway through April. So Anna Brones' and Johanna Kindvall's lovely new book Fika arrived in my mailbox at the perfect time.

Fika (pronounced fee-ka) is the Swedish expression for coffee break. It's not just about the coffee but the little something you have with it. And respect for the ritual. The idea is to stop, to savour, sit still. And so, on Sunday, I did. There are so many recipes from the book I'm looking forward to making, but I just happened to have everything for this one on hand. Chewy, sweet and fragrant with toasted coconut, these are the Scandinavian version of the classic coconut macaroon. They're gluten-free, made only with coconut, butter, sugar, eggs and a pinch of salt. Everyday ingredients for an everyday ritual. I'm going to make it one.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Raspberry rhubarb pie

I've long aspired to be one of those people who can just whip up a pie. But to do that you have to either have grown up in small town America, or practice, and much as I'd like to, I just can't make a pie every day, or even every week. My freezer (and stomach) is only so big. This means that every time I make a pie, I will fret about rolling it out, either tackle the dough too soon, or apply pressure in the wrong places and end up with pastry that needs to be pieced together. The problem with pie, is that whatever triage you have to do to get the thing in the oven, however wonky it seems when it goes in, it always comes out looking pretty impressive. Especially this one. If ever was the time to try a lattice top, this is it - the pink/red pop of the fruit spectacular against the lightly golden pastry. And it tastes even better. The rich, buttery crust balances the sweet/tart of the rhubarb and raspberry beautifully. With a dollop of cream or a puddle of ice cream it's enough to make you forget the trauma of its making. Pie will never be effortless (for me, anyway), but it's always worth making the effort.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Lightly-cured salmon

This time last year I was in Copenhagen. Freezing in spring, eating my weight in kanelsnurre and trying not to get run over by bicycles. I loved it. One of my favourite memories is of the cooking class I did, where I learned to make many of the things I'd become so infatuated with during my time in Denmark. Scandinavian food is having a moment and it's easy to see why. It's about eating seasonally, sensibly and simply, with a respect for tradition. This lightly-cured salmon is a perfect example. During the Middle Ages, Nordic fishermen would preserve their summer catch by salting and burying fish in the sand above the high tide line. Since then, generations of Scandinavian home cooks have adapted this technique by "burying" salmon in a dry rub of salt, sugar and dill. Some add a splash of alcohol too - acquavit, vodka, even gin. After a couple of days in the fridge, you simply rinse off the rub, slice the fish thinly into orangey-pink ribbons and enjoy. I like it Smørrebrød-style on rye bread spread thickly with labneh and sprinkled with capers and red onion. You could also serve it - as the Scandis do - with boiled potatoes, mayonnaise and some kind of crunchy slaw or pickle. It's slow food that's fast to prepare. The best of both worlds.