Orange, Almond and Pecan Cake (GF, V)

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We were away this past long weekend. Not far, less than two hours drive north of where we live. Briefly, I wondered why we were going away when we already live near the beach and could do a stay-cation without spending a cent. But a few hours into the holiday I knew. It was the otherness of it all, that just demanded relaxation. The absence of the urge to clean the bathroom, do laundry or even to stick to any kind of routine. It brought with it permission to just read, to move if it felt good, to open a bottle of wine at 3pm or to eat cheese with crackers on the beach in lieu of lunch.

A walk on the beach saw us clambering over boulders, hopping over waves that momentarily filled the spaces between them. We examined deep, straight fissures in rocky plains on the shore, concluding that they were the result of some long-ago sudden impact which sent shockwaves through the otherwise impenetrable stone. Over time, the sharp edges were worn into softly rounded ones on which tiny sea life made their homes. Colonies of perfectly formed grey sea snails no bigger than peppercorns crunched beneath our feet despite our best efforts to avoid them. We returned to the sand and an hour went by with us leisurely stretched out on beach towels, reading books.

On another afternoon, we meandered around the countryside visiting wineries and distilleries, sighing with pleasure when we sampled a wine made of rose petals here, wrinkling our noses not-so-subtly at the first sip of a gin infused with camomile somewhere else. Apple strudel, its buttery pastry filled with perfectly diced stewed apples was bought and shared with sips of hot tea while we lazed in hammocks. A slice of this cake would have also done nicely.

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This is not a fluffy cloud of a cake. It is dense, mealy and quite frankly rather hideous looking. Rustic, if you will. This is not a cake that bothers itself with holding together or providing a scaffolding for decoration. The upside though, is that it’s very forgiving. If you don’t manage to get the aquafaba into soft peaks, fear not. Beat it for at least 4 or 5 minutes until it is nice and frothy, and the cake will still work, although without the soft peaks the result may be denser.  Forget to buy pecans? Nevermind, walnuts (or just pepitas) will work just as well. No cinnamon to be found? *Shrug* it’ll probably still be delicious. Try not to skip the cardamom though. It is vegan and gluten free. Most importantly, it is the crumbly, fall-aparty, syrup soaked nature of this cake that makes it utterly satisfying with a cup of tea.

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Orange, cardamom and pecan cake (GF, Vegan)

Ingredients:

6 tbsp aquafaba*
1/3 cup coconut oil
Zest of 2 oranges, finely grated
Juice of 2 oranges- 2 tbsp in cake, rest in syrup
2 cups almond meal
1 tsp baking powder
2tbsp honey for cake + 4 tbsp for syrup
1/3 cup pecans roughly chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp Vanilla paste or powder
Pinch salt
4-6 cardamom pods- grind the seeds and reserve the skins
4 tbsp honey for syrup
Small handful pepitas or a few more pecans

Thick or whipped cream to serve

Method:

Grease a small loaf tin and line it with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (340 F).

Use an electric beater (handheld or stand) to beat the aquafaba until soft peaks start to form. Add coconut oil, 2 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp orange juice, orange zest and coconut oil. Whisk briefly to combine. In a separate mixing bowl, sieve the almond meal. Add baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and ground cardamom seeds. Stir to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir gently to just combine. Add the chopped pecans and stir just a few times. The mixture will be quite a thick batter, but should still be pourable unlike a dough.

Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 25-30 min on the middle shelf. On another tray, place the pepitas or remaining pecans and toast in the oven for the last 7-10 minutes. Remove cake from oven when a skewer passed into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Press toasted whole pecans into top of cake or sprinkle with pepitas. Press the nuts or pepitas lightly into the top of the cake.

To make the syrup

While the cake is cooking, place the remaining orange juice, 4 tbsp honey and the cardamom skins in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 min or until the syrup thickens. The syrup should be about half as thick as maple syrup.

When the cake is cooked, still in the tin, and still warm, use a fork to poke holes all over the top. Pour the syrup evenly over the cake. Remove and discard the cardamom skins. Gently move the tin around to spread the syrup evenly. Leave at room temperature for at least 20 minutes for the syrup to soak into the cake.

Serve with thick cream and a cup of tea.

Notes:

*Aquafaba is the liquid from a tin of chick peas or beans. You can also use the liquid that you would normally drain away after you cook chick peas or beans.

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Making Progress

It took a tough lesson that drove home to me the importance of following recipes while baking.  That looking squint eyed at a 1 kg bag of flour and dumping in approximately a third of it before dousing it in the wet ingredients does not necessarily produce a good, or even vaguely edible, cookie.  That forgetting to sieve the flour, then quickly losing patience while working the lumps out of batter, is a sure fire way to incite the wrath of the cake gods.

My first cake was born of the oven in the small, rented apartment that my family lived in as new immigrants to Australia.  Indian kitchens, traditionally, do not have ovens.  The only home-made cake I had tasted was the one that my mum used to make in the jaffle maker, the one she had excitedly purchased after attending a demonstration at a neighbour’s place.  She would follow the eggless recipe in the instruction manual that was also a cookbook, brand new to baking herself.  That cake was soft, sweet, and in hindsight, almost pancakey.  It’s surface was ribbed from the jaffle maker cake fitting and it’s crumb was loose and yielding.  It was, from memory, a good cake.

strawberry coconut cake (2 of 3)

My mum’s jaffle maker cake was what I envisioned when I and my childhood best friend, flour dusting our faces and every surface of the tiny kitchen, slid our dubious batter into the hastily preheated oven.  What emerged some forty nail-biting minutes later was more weapon than cake.  More desert than dessert.

The Rock Cake haunts me to this day.  It’s harsh surface hiding a dry, uncompromising crumb.  The raisins that studded it a humiliated version of themselves.  It’s alarming power to strain any knife that dared to challenge it.

It was a tough lesson but an effective one.

Thankfully these days I (mostly) follow recipes when it comes to baking, and I choose my sources wisely.  Deb Perelman’s blog Smitten Kitchen is one of my go to sources for fail-proof recipes, especially when it comes to baking.  I came across this strawberry summer cake while browsing through her archives in search of a way to use the 2 half punnets of strawberries that had taken up residence in my fridge.  What I pulled out of the oven was delectable, a far cry from my first cake as an eight year old.  It was moist, dense and chewy with coconut (my only tweak), yet still somehow light and summery.  The strawberries took on the jammy character that berries will in the oven, adding tartness to sweetness, red stains to fluffy pale yellow.

It’s a cake to celebrate the dregs of summer, and perhaps more importantly, my birthday.

strawberry coconut cake (3 of 3)

Strawberry and Coconut Cake

Slightly modified from ‘Strawberry Summer Cake‘, Smitten Kitchen

Get:

85gm unsalted butter at room temperature, extra for greasing
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus extra granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup shredded coconut
6-8 strawberries, washed, hulled and halved

Make:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease and flour a standard medium sized cake tin (I used a bundt tin).

Fold the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.

In another bowl, use electric beaters to beat butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. On low speed, mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined

Add dry ingredients gradually, using a spatula to fold in until just combined.  Fold in the coconut gently.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and scatter the strawberry halves, cut end down, over the top.  Sprinkle over with 1-2 tbsp sugar.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 mins, then reduce temperature to 170 degrees C and bake for 40-50 mins, or until a cake tester or knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

strawberry coconut cake (1 of 3)

Click the Month: August 2014

I have cake!! Well, pictures of cake, anyway.  Some time ago I attended a cake decorating workshop with Celebrations Cooking in Sydney, where Andrew taught a small group of us how to work with chocolate to cover and decorate cakes.  I found the course so fulfilling and such great value that I recently attended another workshop, this time working with RTR, or fondant icing.  I think I’m hooked and will be attending more classes, of which they have many including more advanced cake decorating, pastry and cooking classes.

The best part?  At the end of each class, we all skipped home happily with the cakes that we had decorated, to eat or gift as we pleased.  And yes, those are sheep on my chocolate cake.

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Cakes 2Cakes 3Cakes 4

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This is not a sponsored post, and the class was paid for by Deepa.

Crumbly Olive oil, Rosemary and Pear Cake

I don’t have many words for you today. What I do have though, is a cake.  A simple offering that is so thoroughly unattractive that you just know it’ll be divine.

Last weekend, this cake was my plus one to lunch at the home of my sparkly friend Julia.  Lunch was followed by a dessert buffet of sorts.  Some stunning cupcakes, a decadent chocolate mousse, giant scoops of ice cream and of course, this cake.

I intended to take more photos of my offering……some action shots of it being devoured perhaps.  Or more of it’s slices, so that you can gain a better visual appreciation of the robust exterior surrounding the moist crumb, studded generously with perfectly baked chunks of pear.

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Suffice it to say that when a dish disappears so fast that you don’t get a chance to photograph it as you intended, that can only really be a good thing.

The recipe is from Valli Little’s delicious. Love to Cook, and for once I followed the recipe fairly closely.  The only exception is the addition of cinnamon, which was politely requested by the pears themselves.

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Crumbly Olive Oil, Rosemary & Pear Cake

Modified slightly from delicious. Love to Cook, Valli Little (ABC Books, Harper Collins)

Get:

1 1/2 cups (225g) plain flour
3/4 cup (120g) wholemeal flour
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil (fruity or light variety)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups peeled and diced pears (about 3-4 pears)
2 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
1/4 cup dried cranberries, currants or sultanas
mascarpone, creme fraiche or whipped cream to serve

Make:

Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Grease and flour a cake tin- mine was 18 cm, Valli Little uses a 26cm tin.

Sift together flours, baking powder and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl.  Add sugar and mix.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, olive oil and vanilla, then add to the flour mixture and stir to combine.  Gently fold through pear, rosemary and currants

Spoon mixture into cake tin and level out with a spatula.  Bake on the middle shelf for 45-55 mins or until a skewer that is inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Best served warm with a dollop of mascarpone or cream.

Olive Oil Pear Rosemary cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake

A few weekends ago, my friend lovely Maureen came to visit from interstate for a mere 32 hours, a whirlwind trip that began perfectly with some hard core and highly productive factory outlet shopping.  You see, despite being a very intelligent individual in all other aspects of life, this poor misguided soul detests shopping and for some unfathomable reason comes to me for fashion advice.

Luckily, despite her lack of interest for retail therapy which I will never understand, we have other common interests on which we have built our friendship, one of these being our mutual love of all things edible.

I had been meaning to try a local Mexican restaurant for months so we decided to reward ourselves for our hard work (all that credit card swiping is exhausting) by doing just that.  It was pretty good Mexican that really hit the spot…….but to my dismay, it turned out it was the meal that kept on giving.
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The following morning we made grand plans to hit the beach.  We packed Cookie into the car and drove across Sydney only to find that nature had other plans.  Over a divine beachside breakfast,  a pesky bout of gastroenteritis crept up on me like the sneaky rascal it is, and I realised that a walk on the beach was a mere dream.

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After depositing my friend at the airport with profuse apologies (among other things that were profusely taking place), I came home to crawl under the covers and rest my slightly dehydrated self.

I awoke to puppy dog eyes gazing at me and a strange sense of invigoration.  A strong urge to bake resulted in this flourless chocolate cake for my gluten-free colleague whose birthday was the next day.

I tried out my recently acquired, albeit basic, cake decorating skills (thanks to my friend Subo in the UK and a more recent cake decorating class- more about that later) and Ta Dah! One little birdy cake that was devoured in barely half an hour by the hospital crew.

Make this cake.  Even if you don’t need to be gluten free.  Hell, even if you want to marry gluten and have its babies, ditch it for one day and MAKE THIS CAKE.

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Flourless Chocolate Cake (GF)

Barely adapted from Gourmet November 1997 on Epicurious

Get:

100g fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)

110g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/3 cup almond meal
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling

Make:

Preheat oven to 190°C and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper greased on both sides.  Alternatively, you can butter the pan and dust the inside with cocoa powder.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder and almond meal over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Test by passing a clean knife into the centre of the cake all the way to the bottom- the knife should come out clean.  Cool cake in pan on a rack and invert onto a serving plate.

Dust cake with additional cocoa powder or cover with white chocolate ganache.

Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container for 1 week (this is sort of a guess as I’ve never actually managed to keep it that long).

White Chocolate Ganache

Get:

250g white cooking chocolate
125ml double cream or pure cream

Make:

Melt chocolate in a double boiler, stirring constantly.  Add cream and stir until blended.  Allow to cool slightly and pour over cake, spread with a spatula.

* A double boiler consists of a pot or saucepan containing boiling water on simmer and a second pot or saucepan sitting in the rim of the first one.  The second pot should contain the chocolate and other ingredients to be melted.  It is important that the water is not touching the bottom of the pot containing the chocolate and that you do not let any water in with the chocolate as chocolate and water don’t seem to like each other very much.

Also be careful as burnt fingers do not a good cook make.

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