Wednesday, April 27, 2011

wedding watch, with scones

I have lots of stories and recipes to share from our weekend away in the country - rolling hills, log fires, giant parsnips, farmers' markets, a dog called Tuppence and so much more - but first there is the little matter of a wedding, a royally good excuse to indulge in some of my favourite things.

The idea first occurred when we were sitting with our friend Sophie in a café in Leura and they'd run out of scones. Within seconds the word 'scones' had morphed in my mind into a full-blown marriage watching menu of favourites - English muffins, Pimms, Gin and Tonics, cider, sausages, baked beans, bread and butter pudding, scones of course (a little drinks and desserts heavy but it is a celebration after all.) I knew it was naff but I was excited nonetheless. As it happens, there were a few opportunities to practice my scones and more than one afternoon tea before the big event so, of course, the minute we crossed the home threshold, I headed straight for the kitchen.

When I think about afternoon tea I seem to channel the influence of my rather distant British ancestry. At around 3pm, I feel there should be hot, strong tea, freshly baked scones with cream and some sort of jam or marmalade and possibly a slice of a nice ginger cake or something similar as well. I think we may be starting early on the big day....

Scones with Jam and Cream
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander's The Cooks Companion

500g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g butter
300ml milk, soured with a squeeze of lemon
extra plain milk to glaze
your favourite jam
1 cup cream

Heat oven to 220C then grease and flour a baking tray.

Put the flour, baking powder and chopped butter in bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Another more hands-on method is to grate the cold butter into the flour mixture and then rub into the flour with your fingertips. This is my rustic, farm kitchen approach, mainly because - are you ready for it? - we don't own a food processor. Yup, it's all good arm muscle action for me, which to be honest with you I kind of like - you feel more connected to the process of baking when you are elbow deep in flour.

After your dry mix is looking suitably crumbly, add the milk, mix together quickly to form a dough and pat into a round or rectangle about 3cm thick on a floured breadboard. It might be quite sticky at this point but don't worry, just generously coat with flour and knock it all together. Cut into rounds or squares and put close together on the prepared tray.

Brush tops with a little milk and then bake for about 12-15 minutes. Meanwhile, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Cover and store in the fridge until needed. Remove scones from the oven and allow to cool slightly on a wire rack.

Serve the scones whilst still warm with lashings of jam and cream and nice hot cup of tea, or perhaps some Pimms, depending on the occasion. I think the royal union may call for at least one or two genteel cups of Pimms, don't you?


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

rehearsal chocolate

On the weekend we went to a wonderful wedding, where we partook of some delicious morsels and lots of wine, boogied down to the most classic Rolling Stones cover band (the lead singer had him some moves!) had seconds and possibly thirds of wedding cake - a giant lamington with an American Gothic pitchfork and watched the bride and groom wack chupa chup filled piñatas of themselves with loving gusto.

The weekend also marked the slow slide into Easter carbs preparation, with sides of rehearsal chocolate (those ones you have in the many days leading up to Easter Sunday) although I'm saving the very special Easter Bilby and bunnies that my boss's wife bought me from Belle Fleur in Balmain. I think they'll be joining the swag of goodies we'll be taking along with us to stay our friend's farm in Bathurst over the weekend. Winter woollies, log fire, wine, scrabble and chocolate here we come!

Have a happy Easter everyone, whatever you have planned!


Monday, April 11, 2011

saving the day with cornbread

The weekend was a Sydney classic - sunny on Saturday, showers on Sunday - a perfect balance for breakfasting out, wandering around yard sales (where I snapped up a few cute, glass bottles), baking and then consuming baked goods on the couch with some DVDs. K was horrified to discover that I had somehow made it through my childhood without seeing Back to the Future (great scott indeed!) so all three discs were whipped out and the 80s reminiscing kicked off in earnest.

And what to eat whilst watching Michael J Fox continually save the day? Well, popcorn aside, the cooler weather on Sunday seemed like the perfect excuse to make a hearty, comforting classic - cornbread. The last and to be honest, first time I had cornbread was on New Years Eve in Japan a few years ago made by our friend's boyfriend, an American sailor. I had never had anything quite like it - essentially savoury but with an intoxicating hint of sweetness. Perfect for a mid-afternoon feast.

Cornbread Muffins
Adapted from this recipe

1/2 cup polenta
1 1/2 cup plain flour (I used half wholemeal)
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated, reserve a small amount
1 Tbs brown sugar/ treacle
1 Tbs butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 200C and line a 12 cup muffin tray with muffin cases.

Combine the polenta with sifted flour, baking powder, salt and cheese. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, melted butter, treacle and milk and then combine it all in with the dry ingredients. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and top with some of the reserved cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Best eaten warm and with your favourite childhood movie. Next stop Willow or The Princess Bride

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

on cake and hummingbirds

This week has flown by and yet I can't really remember what I've done. So, I'm choosing instead to reflect on last weekend because it was rather nice.

On Saturday we headed down to the Pyrmont Farmers' Markets, sampled the wares and bought some fun vegies to inspire myself to make something healthy. What I did end up making though was a cake for my Dad's birthday on Sunday - one of my all-time favourites from when I was a kid - Hummingbird Cake. We used to visit a cafe called Trader Nick's when we were on holidays and they would serve great, dense, delicious wedges of this cake. I had never encountered it before then and was captivated. Recently, a friend told me she'd made it for her husband and almost instantly my tastebuds ignited with long-lost memories. So, I decided for Dad's surprise cake I'd revisit an old favourite.  I'm not quite sure where the name comes from but it may have something to do with the sweetness of the pineapple and banana.

Just on the subject of Hummingbirds, I'd be curious to know if you have ever seen one and if so, where? I have a distinct memory of having seen one fluttering around a flower box out of a hotel window in Italy.  I mentioned this at an English tutorial many moons ago (we were studying scientific writings by the likes of Charles Darwin) and the Professor dismissed it as geographically impossible.

Still, regardless of the geographical inclinations of hummingbirds, the cake named after them can be enjoyed anywhere. So without further ado, let's get to it eh?

Hummingbird Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted from the reliably good Women's Weekly Classic Cakes

450g can crushed pineapple in syrup

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup desiccated coconut (I left this out due to family allergies but it does add a certain something to the mix)
1 cup mashed banana
2 eggs, beaten lightly
3/4 cup vegetable oil

For the frosting
30g butter, softened
60g cream cheese, softened
a nice big squeeze of lemon
1 1/2 cups of confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 160C fan-forced and grease and line a round cake pan.

Drain the pineapple over a small bowl and reserve 1/4 cup of the syrup.

Sift the flours, soda, spices and sugar into a large bowl and then stir in the drained pineapple, reserved syrup, coconut, banana, egg and oil, until all mixed in well.

Pour the mixture into your pan and bake for 40 minutes - 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Stand in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the frosting, beat the butter, cream cheese and icing together in a medium bowl, gradually adding in the lemon until a desired consistency is reached. Then slather frosting over the cooled cake. Slice up a decent wedge and enjoy with a cup of tea or, as we did, with some Tokay that my Dad had brought back from a recent trip to the wine country. Happy Birthday Dad!