Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sweet New Zealand

There is a lot of sweetness to celebrate this month in New Zealand, not least a long, hot summer now stretching into autumn (with apologies to farmers).  And this weekend is Easter with its proliferation of eggs, bunnies and chickens, mostly of the chocolate variety. But what could be nicer than food bloggers dropping their delectable concoctions in my mailbox?  Come let me share with you the roundup for the month of March.

A peek into the world of raw food starts us off with this exquisite looking entry from Nicola of Homegrown KitchenNicola made this for Purple Cake Day and the poignant and inspiring story behind this can be found on her post. I am so pleased she chose to enter with this, much admired by me,  Raw Blueberry 'Cashew' Cheesecake.    I am in awe at the wonderful colour and can only imagine what it would be like to bite into the creamy berry filling and chewy chocolate base. Nicola says it is so delicious and so good for you and I am certainly not going to argue with that.  I just long for a slice.  Sigh.

Sweet New Zealand creator Alessandra Zecchini dishes up her Apple Slice Cake made with Oratia Beauty apples.  Don’t you just love their name?  Apparently it’s an incredibly simple and quick recipe that makes an amazing apple cake. 

Alessandra has several blogs (I don't know how she does it, I have difficulty with one) and this second entry comes from her Only Recipes site.  Delectable Bergamot Orange Cupcakes topped with candied Bergamot Orange peels. Sounds exotic – and I have to say I am in love with that chair.

Mairi’s curiosity was piqued by a recent raw food class she attended and this dish, Fruit Salad with Honey Nut Crumble, stood out for her.   I’m not surprised as it really took my fancy too.   It looks so tasty with fresh summer fruits and a date & orange syrup.  Do check it out as Mairi has written about the rest of the raw food dishes too.

For those moments when only chocolate will do, Julie at Domestic Executive heads to the kitchen to make this, descriptively named, Anti Chocolate Nemesis Brownie.  In her words – it packs the same, if not better, chocolatey punch as a sugar and wheat version.  Or so my friend told me.  I believe a reliable brownie recipe should always be in one’s repertoire and I willingly add this one. 

In the unlikely event that it has escaped you, this is Easter weekend and Lydia of Lydia Bakes has played Easter Bunny by giving us her take on the famous Cadbury Crème Eggs – Creme Egg Cupcakes.  Love it!  Lydia is a real creative talent in the kitchen so you know these are going to be good.  Vanilla fondant filling, topped with chocolate buttercream and a mini crème egg on top.  Come on, you know you want to and Easter is a great excuse for a chocolate gorge.

Nutella + crostata. Those two words would be enough to warrant a look at GreedyBread Michelle’s entry but if you really require persuasion let me tell you her bad boy Nutella and Crostata tart (or the mini version) is very easy, very delish and very quick and you can slip in a cup of coffee while you’re waiting for the pastry to rest. Now, who can say No to that

I love the bunny that pops up everywhere on Genie’s Bunny Eats Design blog; he (she?) is so cute. This time topiary Bunny is guarding these Banana Hakanoa Mini Cakes (so much prettier than banana muffins). If, like me, you didn’t know what Hakanoa is, well it’s a ginger syrup. Bunny, or no bunny, these cakes look very appealing and that thick cream cheese frosting does it for me.

Fragrant cardamom is one of my favourite spices and I am always keen to see how it is used in both sweet and savoury dishes.  Inspired by a plum and cardamom jam, Sue from Couscous & Cousciousness has used it here to give autumn warmth to her Plum  & Cardamom Cake.  I love that she has frozen single serves ready for breakfast on the run or a quickfire dessert.

Jess, a Californian now living in New Zealand, makes people laugh with her stand-up comedy routine as well as promoting fitness and healthy eating on her blog Jessness Required.  So don’t be fooled by the names Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Easter Eggs (top) or No-Bake Peanut Butter Cookie Balls (bottom), these are her healthy versions.  Go on, take a look and experiment a little.

Last but not least will be me and my Peach Pie with Lemon Pastry.  Well it’s not actually mine it belongs to Nigel Slater but I am so glad I baked it.  It is everything a summer pie should be: fragrant golden peaches, light, lemony pastry and crispy crust.  It leaves you wanting more.

And if you want more, don't forget Sweet New Zealand will be hosted in April by Monica from Delissimon. 

I’ve had fun hosting Sweet New Zealand for March and bringing these recipes and blogs to you.  Have a Happy Easter.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Just peachy

Ever since gifting myself Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries II at Christmas, the golden ribbon marker has been sitting at his peach pie recipe, (page 317 if you’re asking), just waiting.  The mere thought of fragrant summer peaches in a pastry would have been enough but listen to his description:

Peach pie.  Whisper the words.  Luscious fruit under a crust that must, surely, be as soft and crumbly as the most buttery shortcake.  It must sparkle with sugar and break tenderly under the fork. A crust that sighs rather than snaps.

Okay, sold, many times over.  Mr Slater has a wonderful way with words and I’m sure that if you bought this book and did nothing but read the diary entries you’d feel you’d spent your money well but you really would be missing out on all the comforting pleasures such as this pie which, I have to say, is a fine match for his words. It is all I dreamt it would be.  A sugary, crumbly pastry with a delectable, sweet peachy filling.  Oh my lord, it was good.

I am hosting Sweet New Zealand this month and this sweet peachy pie is my entry.  I'd love you to join in.  You have until the 29 March to submit your entry - rules and more details here.

Peach pie with lemon pastry 

(from Nigel Slater – Kitchen Diaries II)


150g butter
150g caster sugar
1 egg
grated zest of 1 lemon
250g flour
1 tsp baking powder


6 ripe peaches
2 tbsp caster sugar
grated zest of 1 orange
1 heaped tbsp cornflour

a little milk & extra caster sugar to dust the top


Lightly butter a 24cm tin pie plate (18cm across the base).

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and beat to incorporate.  Add the lemon zest.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and fold gently into the mixture, bringing the dough together into a ball.  Knead the dough lightly for a minute or two on a floured surface.  Cut in half, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. 

Use one half of the dough to line the base of the pie plate.  Return the pie plate and the remaining dough to the fridge.

Turn on the oven to 180°C.  Halve the peaches and remove the stones.  Cut the halves into large pieces (cut them smaller if you are using individual tins) and place in a bowl with the sugar, orange zest and cornflour. Toss together gently, and spoon into the lined pie plate.

Brush the rim of the pastry in the pie dish with a little milk.  Roll out the second half of the pastry to fit over the top of the pie and place it gently across the top of the filling.  Trim off any excess.  Press the edges of the pastry to seal.   Brush the pie lightly with milk and dust with sugar.  Pierce a small hole in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes until the pie is golden.  Leave to stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serves 6.


I used 4 mini tart tins (see photo right), 11.5cm in diameter instead of the recipe’s metal pie tin but I have given the recipe in its original form using one large tin.  If you do use individual tins, you will probably only need 2 or 3 peaches and the cooking time will be reduced to approximately 25 minutes (and you will likely have leftover pastry which you can freeze).

Keep the pastry (and your hands) cool. The pastry, as Nigel comments, is very crumbly.  I tend to always roll any sticky or crumbly pastry between two swipes of cling film to make life easier.  When it comes to topping the pie, you simply peel back the top cling film sheet, scoop up the pastry and bottom layer of cling film from underneath, cover the filling with it and then carefully peel off the cling wrap.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sweet Apple and Almond Cake

The desire for cake baking was too strong so I capitulated last week by making this appealing apple cake for book club.  Of course it would have been most impolite of me not to taste test it first so I did have a small slice. 

It’s one of those very moist cakes but light and with a good texture. Keeps for days apparently but who would know - book club members were advised I would not be taking any home so it was all consumed on the night.  I don’t know that it quite matched the plum, orange and almond cake but I’d definitely try it again.

I used the lovely, sweet apples from our tree, which is so laden with its bent boughs skirting the grass.  Look up above and there are larger apples out of reach but which we’ll shake down, hopefully before they are eaten by the birds (and the naughty possums).

The recipe comes from Gorgeous Cakes by Annie Bell and is known as Somerset Apple Cake (but being a long way from the English West Country I could hardly call it that). 

The recipe used Granny Smith apples - more tart than those from my tree - but I don’t think the cake was any the worse for the use of sweet apples.  It certainly benefited from the splosh of Malibu.  The original recipe stated an optional apple brandy or Calvados, but I once drank the latter to impress an attractive French guy on a date in London and he turned out to be a dickhead (looks are not everything) and the drink didn’t rate too highly with me either, so Malibu it was.

And the book?  Well that was the rather strange The Elephant Keepers’ Children by Peter Hoeg (famous for his Smilla's Sense of Snow).  It’s an offbeat story about the madcap adventures of three siblings whose eccentric parents have mysteriously disappeared; full of flamboyance and oddball characters. The theme of the title refers not to real elephants but the secret unseen elephants that lurk either in the room or in some people.  Some good moments and themes, but I wasn’t really sure what to make of it and at just under 400 pages, I was quite glad to put it to rest.

Sweet Apple and Almond cake

3 apples
lemon juice
175g caster sugar
175g unsalted butter, diced
3 eggs, separated
175g ground almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon Malibu (optional)

Leaving the skin on the apples, quarter and core them.  Slice three of the quarters very thinly (these are for the top of the cake so depending on apple size, you may need more or less slices) and pop in a small bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice to stop the apples from browning.  Slice the remaining apple slices more thickly and place in a separate bowl and toss with a squeeze of lemon and 1 tablespoon of the sugar.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F.  Grease and line a 20cm cake tin. 

Cream the butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until incorporated. 

Using a spatula, gently incorporate the almonds and sifted baking powder into the mixture until just combined.  Do not overmix.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff.  Gently fold half of the egg whites into the baking mix and when that is combined, fold in the second half.  Add the juice from the thickly sliced apples and Malibu (if using).  Take the thickly sliced apples and pat with paper towel to remove excess juice.  Add these to the mix, gently folding until just combined.

Transfer the baking mix into the cake tin, smoothing the top with a palette knife.

Drain the finely sliced apples and arrange on top of the cake.

Bake for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Dust with icing sugar before serving. 

A bounty of apples?  Try this recipe.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

etcetera ... summer blues and sunshine

Summer blues ... 

In a less cruel world, I'd get to eat what I like and it wouldn't matter - not. one. iota.  But I can't and it does, so I am feeling rather hopeless as I dither between avoiding the kitchen and having frequent urges to bake a cake.

At least in Edinburgh, I had six months (six whole months) to work my way from December food and wine over-indulgence to the month when I would finally be shedding clothes for summer.  Although I hasten to add that the removing any layers in Scotland was, and still is, more an optimistic view that there would be a summer rather than the actual reality.  Still, you get my point.

So here in New Zealand we roll Christmas, New Year and summer holidays (gasp - more food, less clothes!) into a couple of weeks and now I find myself back at work and everything feels a little tight.

However, I promised myself when I started this blog that I would not mention the four letter "D" word on these pages and I will remain true to my word.  So that's all I am going to say on the subject - it's only a shame you can't see my miserable face.

... and sunshine

Big day out (not to be confused with the Big Day Out) started when my daughter was very young and it really was a huge occasion for me to break away from parenthood for a few hours and enjoy a day of food, shopping or movies with a friend.  Daughter’s grown now but the tradition continues.

The absolute first thing I must do is have a coffee. If I've not satisfied this little craving before 11.30am, I start to get a little edgy.  First stop then was Raven & Cook in Epsom.  Made over from a former fish shop, the café is a pleasant addition to the shops at Greenwoods Corner with white tiled walls and chain curtains (although the main attraction seemed to be the bright blue espresso machine).  I can’t vouch for the food as I didn’t have any but my friend has been back and liked it.

Then it was into the heart of the city where it was quieter than usual with a lot of Aucklanders still on vacation. Some of the multi-storey offices such as the Vero and Lumley buildings on Shortland Street have significant pieces of art or sculpture in their foyers or elsewhere so we took a peak inside to soak up some culture.  I did try in Vero’s deserted foyer to take a photo but as soon as the iPhone was lifted, out came a security guy whose speed and dexterity would have been more suited to the American presidency instead of a wee food blogger with a camera.   More info on the public art in this area and Vero’s Wall of Words and Drummond Sculpture, can be found here and here

Across the road, and before I could say “gelato” my friend was inside the Kapiti cheese and ice cream store on Shortland Street whilst I dithered outside gazing at the many ice cream flavours wondering whether I should.  A spoon was thrust in my face. What is it? I asked.  Just try came the answer.  That girl was psychic. One spoonful of the lemongrass and ginger ice cream and I was instantly decisive.  Those flavours were so refreshing and the ice cream so creamy, I could hardly be persuaded to sample Jane’s choice in case it tainted the pleasure that was mine.

This meant lunch was a little later than usual.  Jane wondered about Depot, but knowing her preference for light and airy (and it was such a sunny day), we headed off to Soul Bar on the Viaduct where I ate their very famous (their words) scampi cocktail with whipped avocado & Moroccan ketchup, savoured a glass of wine and had another coffee. Just the ticket.

A little face pampering from the lovely team at Bobbi Brown in the Viaduct and a little more shopping and we were done.

Finally, and I am so happy to be saying this, Auckland is starting to cherish its heritage buildings.  I am so impressed that it is turning its old buildings into new spaces that breathe life and attract people - that is what a city is all about.

Happy days…