Thanks to a text from a fellow foodie, Cake Girl caught a tv programme of The Hairy Bikers eating their way around the baked treats of Austria. First stop was Sacher Torte with its chocolatey goodness that usually brings Cake Girl to a stand-still. But it was the Regner bakery’s gingerbread filled with figs, jam and rum that took the cake: soft spicy cookies encasing a moist fruity filling - simply irresistible! Not surprisingly, it’s a secret family recipe so no amount of Googling was going to reveal all the ingredients.
Not to be deterred, Cake Girl opted to get the ball rolling with an Austrian gingerbread recipe using honey, eggs, ground almonds and spices. Some translation was necessary to decipher the ingredients from German to English. However, it was easy to improvise the filling, in fact so much so that two tasty variants readily came to mind: dates, orange and brandy …
… and dried figs with cherry jam and rum …
Another circle of the spiced dough provided the lid and each parcel was then trimmed with a cookie cutter - just like on tv. These probably could have done with an egg wash before baking but Cake Girl was impatient to get to the proof of the pudding.
The baking time involved a bit of guess work but it’s not rocket science finding a happy medium between raw and burnt. Cake Girl was impressive at how the spiced dough puffed up nicely and the filling remained encased.
And the verdict? The spiced gingerbread subtly sweetened by honey was firm on the outside, soft underneath and beautifully complemented by the moist fruity filling. Darned delicious eaten warm or cold, with a cup of tea or coffee, and even with vanilla icecream. Yes, it was time-consuming to create these treats but still faster and yummier than a 24-hour plane trip to source the real McCoy.
In Cake Girl’s house, family members cunningly leave food magazines lying around in the hope that something yummy will emerge from the kitchen. The Donna Hay Christmas issue underwent this treatment and like a duck to water, Cake Girl was unable to resist the lure. It was the above photo of fig, date & pistachio cake with brandy syrup that sealed the deal. Think sticky date pudding but taken up a notch.
As you can see, Cake Girl got a bit greedy and doubled the recipe. The plan was to serve the cake with vanilla ice cream on the side and I needed to be sure there was enough for seconds if this pudding was as delicious as it promised.
All that was needed to complete the ensemble was the brandy syrup. Not wanting a sickly sweet sauce, Cake Girl opted to make a slightly different version by bravely caramelising dry sugar then added the brandy along with sour cream to provide a creamy texture and body.
The brandy sauce was served hot and not surprisingly, this puddy got rave reviews from the family. One particular person was spotted patting herself on the back for buying the Donna Hay magazine.
It’s summer time down under and that means holidays for us Antipodeans. Lazy mornings, late nights and lots of time spent pottering in the kitchen. Cake Girl has discovered a source of fresh yeast, the downside of which is it’s short shelf life. The plus is that creative solutions need to be found and such was impetus behind the invention of these sweet swirled scrolls.
The bread recipe was the basic Tassajara one. In Cake Girl’s kitchen, it evolved into dough flavoured with orange zest and wrapped around brandy-soaked sultanas. But why stop there? Ground cardamon was also added to the dough and a generous amount of dark chocolate chunks were sprinkled on with the sultanas.
This highly experimental exercise was driven by the panic of wasting fresh yeast so it was a gamble including nice ingredients like cardamon, brandy and dark chocolate. But when the scrolls emerged triumphant from the oven, it was only fitting to put the juice of the orange to good use in a glace icing.
These cardamon-scented orange-flavoured scrolls were especially delicious eaten warm while the chocolate was still molten. However, it was most definitely not a chore to enjoy them at room temperature.
Aren’t these mini xmas mince pies gorgeous? Cake Girl can assure you they tasted mighty fine and were oh-so-easy to … eat. What makes these wee tarts extra special is that mother-in-law crafts them from scratch every Christmas and she’s one of those generous souls who gets pleasure from gifting her baking to greedy tummies. Both the fruit mince and shortcrust pastry are Ruth Pretty recipes. If you really want to push the boat out, try this lemon almond pastry recipe (also from Ruth).
Bless the summer holidays. All that telly to be watched without guilt. Time to read magazines cover to cover. Meals eaten at random times. ’Tis the life indeed. Cake Girl has the telly permanently tuned into the Food TV channel. It provides a soothing background dialogue, complete with drool factor and intrigue. Such was a recipe that caught Cake Girl’s eye: chocolate ale fruit loaf. It’s an Eric Lanlard creation and because he is both French and a baker, he gets my full attention.
Eric’s recipe uses dried fruit soaked in chocolate ale, which he says is brewed with cocoa bean husks to impart a rich chocolatey-ness. He does add that any dark ale can be substituted but how this provides the chocolate dimension isn’t clear. This wasn’t the main issue for Cake Girl. Instead it was the revelation that the only beer in the house was lager and apparently lager is not ale. Not being a beer drinker, this supposedly significant difference was lost on Cake Girl and instead a good pile of cocoa powder was added to the lager and fruit. It looked the same as Eric’s mixture so that counted as success.
A cake of fresh yeast was about to expire and figuring this was a loaf recipe, Cake Girl bravely replaced the baking powder with yeast. The back-up plan was to hurriedly stir in baking powder just before baking if the doughy mass showed no signs of rising. Miraculously, this emergency measure wasn’t necessary and from the oven emerged two lager-moistened, fruit-laden chocolate-hued loaves. Eric suggests eating the loaf with aged cheddar cheese and honey but that sounded too weird for Cake Girl. Instead freshly-made raspberry jam (three cheers to mother-in-law, probably the only person in the universe still making jam at home) and squirty cream (yes, from a can - very classy!) won the day.
It would be wrong to let Christmas come and go without chowing down on trifle. Originally an English dessert, trifle has been around since at least the 1700s. Thankfully it has evolved from comprising simply of cream, sugar, rosewater and ginger. Today’s essential ingredients also include alcohol, fruit, sponge and custard. Jelly seems to be a contentious component and quite frankly, it’s another step, meaning a longer wait until the whole point of trifle - the eating. Some folk claim the purpose of trifle is to use up cake but don’t let the absence of this ingredient rob you of yummy eats. Be creative … any sort of cake will do, even those Italian sponge fingers.
Ironically, it was decomposing strawberries - not a plethora of cake - that spurred Cake Girl into action. There’s something criminal about letting seasonal fruit go to waste but in their natural state, these strawberries were testing the boundaries of edibility. Luckily, most fruit on the verge of fermentation can be brought back from the brink by a quick simmer in sugar, brandy and lemon zest. It’s produces an instant chunky jam perfect for trifling away.
The next ironic challenge was finding cake in the house. Cake Girl had to make the call to use xmas cake, xmas pudding or crushed gingernut biscuits. Fearing the first two might fight with the strawberries, the shop-bought biscuits were the preferred choice. And oh-so-easy: simply bash and sprinkle! The verdict? A truly divine and more-ish trifle, er, trifles as there was more than one.
How did Christmas get here so fast? Surely those of us responsible for ladening the table with festive delights get special powers to halt the clock? In the absence of such a Christmas miracle, Cake Girl making do with what’s in the house. Luckily, the cake gods have been offering up several yummy-sounding recipes so there is not one but four Christmas cakes to be eaten this year. Truthfully, two have already been sampled but purely in the name of testing. It seemed silly to wait until the big day to ascertain their delicious.
First into the oven (and into tummies) was this boiled pineapple fruit cake customised to include home-dried persimmons, mandarins and pears. Bless my food dehydrator of previous fame and the lashings of brandy the fruit got soaked in.
Still in love with this long-since-scoffed whisky raisin chocolate cake, Cake Girl wants an encore for Christmas. It’s deep dark chocolatey-ness will provide the compulsory hit of cacao that’s part and parcel of the festivities.
Perusing a weekly women’s magazine resulted in discovery of a Sri Lankan-style Christmas cake. In addition to jewel-coloured fruit, the recipe called for rose water, semolina and cardamon. Cake Girl has these ingredients pegged as being Arabian but the combination sounded too irresistible to quibble its heritage. The cake smelt particularly fragrant during baking so there are high hopes for its debut.
Last to be crafted was this panforte-like-but-better creation packed full of nuts, dark chocolate, marmalade, crystallised ginger, dried figs and cherries. It’s dangerously more-ish and the perfect treat for ensuring Santa brings the best ever pressie. Happy Christmas!
A recipe book written in 1970 by a self-taught cook working at a Zen retreat and still being reprinted - kitchen exotica doesn’t get much better than the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. Happily, there’s no requirement to meditate under a full moon before attempting the recipes. Nor are there lengthy lectures about the purity and pedigree of ingredients. Instead, there’s lots of good honest recipes with helpful narrative.
The book is, yes, full of bread recipes - some using yeast and some not. The latter come with advice to bring a decently-sharp bread knife and endurance for chewing but the reward (apparently) is hearty bread with substantial integrity. The book also has an extensive section on cakes and other sweet treats. And naturally, it was to these that Cake Girl gravitated.
A tart-like creation called Peach Kuchen described as fruit baked in a sour cream custard on a crisp crust sounded like a darn good place to start. Just as delightful is the accompanying note that it serves 2 to 12 people, depending on whether they’d eaten dinner first. Hmmm, that implies this sweet treat could be dinner. Excellent!
Cake Girl’s fruit filling of choice was fresh pears and bananas, plus dried dates and crystallised ginger. Fresh dates would be perfect but here down-under they cost the same as caviar and that’s not very zen. It was pleasantly relaxing to assemble the ensemble, followed by serious contemplation of good eats and a truly divine eating experience.
Lemon tarts aren’t newcomers to the baking scene but Cake Girl hadn’t come across a recipe using sour cream to add richness to the lemony tartness. This Lemon Sour Cream Tart was courtesy of NZ’s culinary monarch Dame Alison Holst and her son Simon. Alison has been baking, cooking and publishing no-nonsense kiwi recipes since 1965. So if she reckons adding sour cream to a lemon tart makes great into awesome, then it must be true.
There was just one disturbing element in this recipe: no pre-baking of the pastry before adding the filling. Cake Girl loathes pastry that is undercooked or has gone soggy from the filling so made the daunting decision to deviate from the Dame and blind bake the pastry first. Fear of eating soggy cardboard also prompted the experimental application of a layer of melted dark chocolate, in the hope it would seal the baked pastry and protect it from potential moisture damage.
Of course, this led to a technical challenge fraught with danger. Would it be possible to pour the lemon filling onto the pastry without the chocolate layer delaminating? And would the chocolate rise up through the filling as it cooked, creating something very unattractive? Where’s a cooking guru Dame when you need one? Well, someone must have been smiling down ‘cos there was a happy ending, made all the sweeter by a luscious lemon tart with a crisp bottom and hint of dark chocolate.
Hearing a colleague wax lyrical about Annabel Langbein’s whiskey raisin cake was enough to set Cake Girl off searching. It appears Annabel hasn’t shared her recipe with Google but other adventurous bakers have created their own (and possibly better) versions. This chocolately one from Time for a Little Something blogger sounded like a good place to start and features plenty of Whittakers 72% chocolate - a sure sign of deliciousness and a staple in Cake Girl’s pantry.
Things came a little undone after that. Lack of raisins in the store cupboard was easily solved by using sultanas. The only ‘whiskey’ on hand was Jack Daniels bourbon (ghastly stuff but a dutyfree freebie) and not quite enough so butterscotch schnapps was used to top up. Cake Girl figured its smooth sweetness would take the rough edges off the bourbon.
With all these substitutions and changes, you would be quite right to wonder how much like Annabel’s cake this was actually going to be. But Cake Girl was clinging to the hope that the original dark, fruity, boozey intent of the cake had been preserved. And there was only one way to know … pass the cake knife please.
The verdict? Yum, yum, yum. It’s dense, moist, chewy and delicious. Cake Girl hasn’t yet encountered a non-fan of this cake. Wanna swap recipes Annabel?