Monday, June 4, 2018

Calm after the storm - lemon custard shortcake

Apart from my birthday, which was entirely enjoyable and thanks to dear friends is still going on, May has brought nothing but mayhem, with an apparently never-ending sequence of things falling apart. 

The crack in a favourite plate. The lamp I knocked over, breaking the light fitting. The food processor lid and bowl that finally collapsed, costing half as much as a new machine to replace. The tooth filling that fell out. The arm of my glasses snapping off. The massive scrape on the back of the car, from hastily backing it down the drive early in the morning out of the house painters' way and banging into the one bit of scaffolding sticking out into the drive. 

The iPad mysteriously insisting I was someone else who did not have access to it (I managed to get the NZ helpdesk number and they put it all right). Spark changing their security and sending my power bill straight to Spam so it didn't get paid on time (and not being able to put it right).  The worst was saved till late last week: Microsoft's latest massive compulsory update being followed by the complete collapse of my hard disk and the permanent loss of everything on it. Had I saved it all somewhere else? No, of course not. 

The only consolations: Most of the work I'd done on the big project I'm currently engaged in is retrievable from other systems; and I didn't lose any major new work of genius (because I don't have any such thing under way). With a bit of finangling, I could afford to fix everything. And thanks to fantastic help, I now have the computer up and running again, with newly installed software and a brand new hard drive. Plus I have relearnt the old lesson I used to know by heart: BACK UP.

In these circumstances, I did something rare for me: I took to baking. In last week's DomPost Saturday magazine there was a strikingly simple recipe for lemon custard shortcake, and I had everything I needed to make it.  

Lemon custard shortcake
Slightly adapted from House and Garden recipe, 
DomPost magazine, Saturday 26 May 2018

2 c plain flour + 2 Tbsps flour for topping
1/2 c custard powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 c sugar
200g butter chopped into smallish pieces
zest of 1 large lemon
2 eggs
1 and 1/2 c lemon honey/curd, bought or home-made

Heat oven to 180C or 170C fan bake. Either grease a slice tin, approx. 27 cm x 17 cm, or line tin and sides with baking paper.
Put 2 c flour, custard powder, baking powder, sugar, butter and lemon zest into food processor bowl. Process until the mixture looks like rough crumbs.
Add eggs and process until mixture forms a ball. 
Press two-thirds of mixture evenly into tin. Spread lemon honey evenly over the top.
Put remaining third of mixture back into processor, add 2 Tbsps flour and process briefly until mixed.
Crumble this evenly over the curd. 
Bake 25-30 minutes until slice is cooked through. 
Allow to cool and set in the tin before cutting into fingers or small squares. 
(Once it's cool and set, the baking paper allows you to easily lift the whole thing out of the tin and onto a board for cutting.)

Here's a not-very-good copy of part of the photo from the magazine - doesn't do it justice, but gives an idea of what it was supposed to look like:

And here's mine. In real life it looked reassuring similar to the original, and tasted like sunshine - just what I needed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Amazing peaches, if you're quick

Hardly any posts recently because I've been planning, shopping and cooking for my long-awaited visitors from Berlin. Last week I went to Moore Wilson for the obligatory leg of lamb (theirs are beautifully trimmed, and have part of the bone removed so they're easy to carve).  In their fruit section they had one of the most wonderful but hard to catch (because of the very short season) treats I know: Black Boy peaches.
      So I thought you might like to see my post about them from 2012 - and if you're very quick you might be able to find some. Not outrageously dear, mine were $7.95 a kilo and I only needed four, which cost me less than $4 (though I did have to buy the dessert wine as well). Cooking them as a dessert is really easy - you just have to stay vigilant so as not to overcook them and not to reduce the syrup to a sticky mess. The colour is incredible and the taste is uniquely delicious.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Strawberries and rhubarb

When I was growing up, we did of course eat both strawberries and rhubarb - but never together. Strawberries were cut up and sprinkled with icing sugar. Rhubarb was stewed or cooked with apple under a crumble topping.
          So the first time I saw a recipe for cooking them together, I was a bit dubious. But I shouldn't have been. They truly are a delicious and beautifully coloured combination, with the rhubarb adding an invigorating sharpness to the familiar sweetness of the strawberries.
           Hunting online for some kind of summer cooked fruit to serve with slices of lemon cake for dessert, I found a strawberry and rhubarb compote. I had a punnet of strawberries which needed using, and my pot-grown rhubarb (yet another successful garden item I owe to my friend Ali, who brought me a superb plant) was flourishing despite the drought. I do love plants that behave as they should, despite my less-than-zealous care, and don't give me any trouble. (Well, okay, I do need to give it a handful of Nitrophoska about once a month, watered in, make sure the soil doesn't dry out, and feed it a weak Epsom salts solution if the leaves go a bit yellow - but that's all perfectly simple and straightforward, because I was told exactly what to do.)
         Experimenting with the easiest way to slice a stalk of rhubarb, I've discovered it's best to rest the stalk on the chopping board so that the side facing away from you is rounded and the one facing you is flat with the two edges, and cut across it in that position - the knife seems to cope best with its odd shape that way.

The recipe is quite flexible - it depends on how much fruit you've got. The oroginal was for a rather large quantity, 500 g of each fruit. My punnet of strawberries had about 260 g of fruit in it, so I picked enough stalks to make up roughly the same weight of rhubarb and adjusted the other ingredients to fit. This gives enough cooked fruit to serve 4 to 6 people, depending on what else you serve with it.

Strawberry and rhubarb compote
        260 g (one punnet) fresh strawberries, neatly topped
        260 g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2 cm pieces
         3 Tbsps sugar
             (depending on how tart the fruit it - taste when it's half cooked and see if it needs more)
  Pinch of salt
  Zest from 1/2 a navel orange
  3 Tbsps rosĂ© wine or port
  3-4 Tbsps triple sec or Cointreau (you can then leave out the orange peel)

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and add a scant 1/4 cup of water. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring gently to dissolve the sugar. 

Cook gently, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a very small amount of water (or a tiny bit more alcohol, but taste-test - don't overdo it) if the mixture seems too dry. You want most of the liquid to evaporate and the fruit to cook through and soften, without completely losing its shape and texture.

Put into a glass or china bowl to cool. If not serving immediately, cover and put in the fridge (the flavour does seem to deepen if you cook it a few hours before serving). Take it out of the fridge an hour before serving, so that it isn't too chilled. 

You can serve this with a piece of dessert cake, as I did, or with cream, plain yoghurt, sorbet, or plain vanilla ice cream. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

A ham sandwich

At this time of year, we usually have at least a bit of leftover ham. It gets made into a few special dishes - one favourite is Claudia Roden's Antico Risotto Sabaudo, with ham, cheese and white wine. But most of it gets eaten with salad or in sandwiches.
    My neighbour Frances recently spent some time in a retirement home, recuperating from a hip operation.  Being the Christmas season, she did get to eat ham there. Unfortunately, it was served warmed up and covered in brown gravy. So I brought her fresh little ham sandwiches, and she devoured them. It set me off thinking about other ham sandwiches in my life...

My husband always hoped to find
A plain ham sandwich to go with his coffee:
White bread, butter, ham, a dab of mustard.
But all they ever had were flat panini
And giant croissants stuffed with cheese and bacon.

The year after he died, I went to Auckland
To see my sister. At the airport Wishbone
Lined up beside the lamb with green mint jelly
And the chicken with watercress and cranberry
Was a proper old-fashioned ham sandwich
With real butter. I carried it off
To a quiet corner of the concourse
Disentangled it from its plastic armour
And bit into its long exposed soft side.

I was seven again, sitting across from my mother
On a plywood chair at a white Formica table.
Hard to say who was enjoying it more:
Her, out on the town, her string bag bulging
With small exciting unnecessary parcels
Or me, freed from school for two whole weeks
Plunging deeply into the heady pleasure
Of a soft ham sandwich and a fizzy drink
In the neon light of Farmer’s Bargain Basement.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Mastering the mysteries of potato salad

For our Christmas Day buffet, I made potato salad. It was a great success, and I was looking forward to eating the leftovers on Boxing Day - but it was so cold and wet I didn't feel like it, and bought a supermarket pouch of soup instead (because I can't be bothered making any). Still, I learnt a lot of interesting things in pursuit of potato salad mastery, so I thought I'd share the essentials with you, plus a recipe,  because today the sun is out and it feels like salad weather again.

1. Good potato salad requires potatoes that are neither under-cooked nor over-cooked. Starting the potatoes in boiling water is a bad idea, because the outside overcooks before the inside is even warm. So always start the potatoes in cold water.
2. Adding 1 tablespoon of rice or white vinegar per litre of cooking water, as well as salt, both seasons the potatoes and helps to prevent over-cooking.
3. Because potato salad is eaten cold, it needs more seasoning than potatoes served hot. Adding more some seasoning to the hot drained potatoes is much more effective than waiting until they're cold.
4. Mayonnaise needs to be added later when the potatoes are cold, and you can add a bit more vinegar at this stage too, along with pepper.

If you really want to know every detail of the science behind all this, complete with the cellular construction of potatoes and pictures using green dye to show how seasoning gets in, go here.
The Food Lab guy's final word:
Two tablespoons of vinegar in the cooking water, another to dress the hot potatoes, and a final two in the mayonnaise mixture add plenty of layered brightness. Mayonnaise—be it storebought or homemade—is a must... By stirring the salad vigorously, you can bash off the corners of the potatoes, which get mashed up and extend the amount of creamy dressing to tender potato chunks. For heat I add a few tablespoons of whole grain mustard.

Okay, so here's my NZ adaptation of the 'Classic Potato Salad' recipe provided by Serious Eats to go with the lab report:

1.5 kg smallish boiling potatoes
2 litres cold water
2 Tbsps salt
2 Tbsps sugar
2 Tbsps rice or white vinegar

Add potatoes, salt, sugar and vinegar to water in a large saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce to a slow boil and cook until done (test for doneness after about 10 minutes' slow boiling - mine took about 20 minutes to cook through). Drain, peel and cut into chunks (not too small or they'll go mushy).

2 Tbsps vinegar

Transfer warm cut up potatoes to rimmed baking sheet. Spread into an even layer, then sprinkle with vinegar. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
·      Add extras according to preference - the quantities depend on how many potatoes you're using, but the potatoes should prevail:
      Original recipe
      Finely diced celery
·           Finely diced red onion
·           Finely sliced green parts of spring onions
      1/4 cup chopped cornichons (tiny gherkins)
      Finely chopped Italian parsley
      Some NZ extras or alternatives:
      Hard-boiled eggs, chopped
      Corn kernels (cut from a cob microwaved for 3 minutes)
      Finely diced shallots (milder than the red onion)
      Capers instead of cornichons
      Finely chopped fresh chives

Mix gently into cut up potatoes, then add:
      Bought or home-made mayonnaise 
      (Not too much, it shouldn't be overwhelming. For super-easy home-made mayonnaise, go here. I made it with the finely chopped garlic, but leave that out if you don't like it.)

Taste and mix in gently, according to preference:
      Grainy mustard
      A little more vinegar or a little lemon juice

Chill for a few hours or overnight - take out of fridge an hour before serving.

Those who know my blog well will recognise that once again, I took the photo only after we'd eaten most of the potato salad!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Chocolate truffle cake

My son was born on 12 December, a bit close to Christmas, but of course he likes to have his birthday properly celebrated.  This year he planned to have friends round for afternoon tea. As it happens, I was at my friend Joan's birthday afternoon tea a few weeks ago, and she had made a remarkably delicious chocolate cake - not one of those great big high ones, but a much denser, fudgy, chocolatey creation I knew my son would love. (After extensive research, he has decided his favourite cafe chocolate cake is Aro Street Cafe's Chocolate Nemesis - another dense, fudgy number.)   
            So I asked for the recipe. In the usual fashion, it was given to Joan by Chris, who knew it as Lilly's Truffle Cake, so it's clearly been passed on to a number of eager bakers. Not that I ever really call myself a baker - what attracted me to this recipe, apart from its deliciousness, was how easy it looked to make. On Saturday, I made it for Sunday afternoon.  

Lilly’s Chocolate Truffle Cake

(Joan's comments in brackets, and mine added in italics. Easily doubled to make a larger cake. In fact I added one third of each quantity, making a cake 25% larger, to fit my 22 cm tin - my quantities in brackets.)

200 g (270g) dark chocolate (Whittaker's Dark Ghana, what else!)
180 g (240 g) sugar
180 g (240g) butter
3 (4) rounded tablespoons ground almonds (almond meal); or flour; or for a slightly lighter cake, self raising flour
(I used 3 rounded Tbsps almond meal and 1 Tbsp self-raising flour - this worked well.)
3 (4) eggs
Icing sugar to dredge

Set oven to 200 degrees (190 fan bake).
Break chocolate into squares and place in microwave suitable bowl.  Add the butter and sugar.  
Heat by pulsing in the microwave until it just melts, stirring between pulses to even the heat.  Stop as soon as it melts so it doesn’t get cooked.
Transfer to a food processor. Blend again by whirring for 30 seconds, then add almond meal, or flour, and whirr again.   
Add eggs one at a time, whirring until everything is mixed.

 Grease a 20 cm (22 cm) round cake tin and flour.  (I lazily use cooking paper.)
(I lined my loose-bottomed tin with baking paper and it worked perfectly.)  
Pour the mixture into the centre of the tin, spread towards edges, and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to 150 degrees (140 fan bake) and continue cooking a further 30 minutes.  
(Joan: In my oven I do it for only  20 minutes, as the longer time dries it out too much.)
(Anne: As I was making a larger, slightly thicker cake, I found it did take close to 30 minutes.) 
The centre shouldn’t dry out, and the top should be a little cracked and crusty. 
Undercooking is better than overcooking. An inserted skewer or thin knife should come out with a little bit of sticky inside clinging to it.
Leave in tin to cool.  

Transfer to plate by inverting onto one plate and then onto the cake plate. Dredge with icing sugar.  
(Jonathan insisted on having ganache icing, made with 150 ml cream heated just to scalding point, then poured over 150 g of broken-up chocolate pieces (more Whittaker's) in a bowl and stirred thoroughly until chocolate has melted and ganache is dark. Leave to cool in fridge for about an hour until thick enough to spread over cake.)

Joan: Raspberry coulis is great with this ... as well as, of course ... cream!  (Or yoghourt!)

Anne: Jonathan had both, and he also spread sliced strawberries over the top of the iced cake. His friends were very impressed and asked if he had bought it - but of course he pointed out that his mother had made it.  It's extremely rich, so only slender pieces were required - which was just as well, because there was some left for me later (he knew this was a condition of my making it!). Definitely worth the effort...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Very easy Dutch apple cake

Last weekend was, in case you've forgotten, election night. Harvey and I always used to select who we invited to watch the results very carefully. They not only had to share our political persuasion, they also had to be quietly devoted to watching the results. Jonathan deserted me for his own friends, so I had my neighbour over early on, then a close friend joined us.
      I planned to have soup and then finger food for later, but I also wanted to make a cake. As apples are one of the few well-priced fruits around, I thought a Dutch apple cake would be good - but I couldn't find my old recipe. No problem - one quick search online for "Dutch apple cake NZ" (local baking recipes usually work best) and I found exactly what I wanted. The use of melted butter makes it very easy to mix, and thanks to the cinnamon and sugar topping, it doesn't need icing.

Sue's Dutch Apple Cake
(I don't know who this Sue is - the site says "This apple cake is a favourite supplied by Gemma from the Tui Team.") 

2 eggs
½ cup sugar
125g melted butter
1 c self-raising flour
zested rind of 1 lemon
3 medium apples, peeled and chopped up (my apples weren't very tart, so I added a couple of tablespoons of of juice from the zested lemon)
1 Tbsps cinnamon and 1/3 c sugar, mixed together for sprinkling on top (you may not need all this, but I like it quite thick).

Prepare cake tin, greasing the sides and lining the base with bake paper. (The recipe recommends a ring tin, which gives a higher cake. I used a square tin, lined entirely with bake paper, for a shallow cake which cut into neat squares.)
Set oven to 180C bake (or 170C fanbake).
Melt the butter (a Pyrex jug works well, in the oven or the microwave) and leave it to cool.
Beat the eggs and the sugar together in a largeish bowl, then add the melted butter.
Add the self-raising flour, lemon rind and apples to the mixture, and mix to combine. 
Pour into prepared cake tin. 
Sprinkle with a generous amount of the cinnamon and sugar.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a skewer or thin knife blade inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Serve with plain whipped cream or yoghurt.

This is really good, quite light and yet very moist - a cross between cake and dessert. Once again (sigh) I didn’t get a decent photo before most of the cake got eaten, and I couldn’t copy the one that came with the original recipe.  So here are a couple of photos I found online – the first is a similar cake, and the other is exactly the recipe above, but from the Chelsea Sugar site. 

Mine looked like a cross between the two. I don't think the Chelsea one has been mixed properly, because the apple seems to be all at the bottom, but the topping looks right.