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  • The Sound of Summer and an Economical Cinnamon Tea Cake

    Bridge ruffies, Bumble bees, Devilled kidneys and mutton broth. Pint, pound and ounces, and an introduction that reads - "Dear Homemaker, since it was first introduced, Menu Magic has received wide acclaim as being the most comprehensive and economical recipe book available to the Australian Housewife." This spiral bound book with its illustrated pages belonged to my Nanna, my Mum's mum. A recipe book can tell many a story - each splatter, torn page, and batter-encrusted blob leaves a trail of questions and guesses throughout - favourite recipes, and recipes that look as if they have not been given the light of day for the pages on which they reside are in pristine condition. In my Nanna's copy, which now holds space on my bookshelf, it is pages 114 and 95 that tell me Nanna may have put the summer and party drinks to good use - I wonder if it was the lime and strawberry float, or the mulled fruit punch that refreshed their parched throats during the summer months, perhaps it was the frosted coffee cup recipe that provided inspiration, as I do remember tall blue glasses generously filled with a marbled concoction of strong coffee, milk and a scoop of ice cream that floated on top...I can still hear the tinkling of the spoon against the glass as my Nanna and Granny sat in their respective chairs, eyes transfixed on the TV, on what is now the sound of summer for me - The Tennis. But lets get back to page 95, shall we? To a recipe that has been turned to countless times, one that now has the pen-markings of grams and cups next to the "old-fashioned" ounces. It is the very first cake I remember baking when I was younger. Its beauty is in its simplicity, a humble yet utterly delicious cinnamon tea cake that must, and I repeat must always be cut into finger slices, turned onto its side, and spread with lashings of softened butter - so much so that when bitten into, teeth marks remain. This is how my mum serves it and it is now how I serve it because I want Beau and Viviana to have these same wonderfully delicious food memories I had as a child. I may not ever prepare mutton broth nor would I dream of serving devilled kidneys, but I can guarantee that page 95 will continue to gather sticky fingerprints and many butter-encrusted blobs into the future and beyond. Cinnamon Tea Cake 55g unsalted butter, at room temperature 85g caster sugar 1 egg 170g self-raising flour a pinch of salt 2/3 cup of milk extra butter for spreading on top 1tsp cinnamon 1tbsp caster sugar Preheat your oven to 170c (fan-forced) and grease a 19cm square cake tin with butter and then line with baking paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer beat together the butter and sugar until they are light and creamy. Add in the egg and beat to combine. Sift the flour into a medium sized bowl and stir through the salt. Fold half of the flour and half of the milk into the batter, gently stirring until combined. Fold the other half in and then spoon into your prepared cake tin. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a cake tester or skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. It should spring back lightly when pressed with the tips of your fingers and be light golden in colour. Remove from the oven, allowing to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes before placing onto a cooling rack. Spread with the extra softened butter which will act as the "glue" for sticking the cinnamon and sugar on top. Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl and then sprinkle all over the top. Cut into finger slices, generously butter and serve on a large platter with cups of tea. It is a humble little cake that makes the most wonderfully delicious morning or afternoon tea treat and never lasts long.

  • Gutter apricots & a mid-summer Jam

    There is a little red raspberry patch on the upper left side cheek of the apricot I hold in my hand. A few freckle-like blemishes here and there on the outer, and on the inner, that soft perfectly ripe flesh sings the song of summer flavour. I can almost always judge when we will be gifted a box of these exquisite gems from our neighbours, for the sight of them rolling down the gutter on our street is a dead giveaway that they are indeed ready for plucking from the branches. Baked, stewed, fresh, you really cannot go wrong with these humble beauties. In fact, their flavour only becomes more intense, in that gorgeous buttery, honeyed way when roasted. And oh my, when paired with a dollop of thick Greek yoghurt, or dare I say, a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, great things happen - simply. Diana Henry writes in her wonderful book, How to eat a peach, 'even the most unpromising apricots - unripe and dull - seem to become vanilla-sweet and develop a balancing acidity when heat is applied. That's why they are so good with pastry, pastry needs fruit with a little tartness.' And yes, pastry - crostatas, galettes, tarts full of frangipane, cobblers, crumbles and the simple pleasure of spreading glistening, sticky-sweet jam onto hot buttered toast - even in the depths of winter one can be transported back to the time of summer days - salty sea air swimming upon the breeze of balmy evenings, and freckle-nosed children furiously licking at the ice cream cascading down their arms. Such is the reward for standing over a hot pot of bubbling jam in the sweltering heat of mid-summer. In a world where we are surrounded by so much uncertainty these days, it's comforting to know that hidden at the back of the preserving shelf (which is merely a couple of pigeon holes in the study) sits half a dozen jars containing pure, certain joy - all thanks to those first sightings of gutter apricots. Apricot and Rosemary Jam You will need approx. 6 jars, Mine differ in sizes. I always like to sterilise more than what I think I will need, just in case. 1.5kg apricots, stones removed and quartered. Reserve about 10 of the stones 1kg white sugar 4 large sprigs of rosemary 375ml water Place the apricots into a large stockpot, along with the reserved stones, I like to use my high sided one for this as it does have the means to spit and bubble once it gets a boil up. Pour in the water and bring to a boil, continue to cook for at least 20 minutes or until the fruit has softened. Add in the sugar, and without boiling, stir until the sugar has dissolved. Once it's all dissolved, bring it up to a boil and continue to cook for at least another 20-30 minutes, making sure to stir often as you do not want to end up with burnt jam on the bottom of your pot... I use a large wooden spoon for this, and take great care when stirring as it can spit hot sticky lava on your hands and arms. I also adjust the heat if I find it is bubbling too much. At this point, you will also want to place a small dish into the freezer so that you can test the setting point of the jam. Once the jam has reached a thickish consistency - it should fall from the spoon in thick teardrops. Place a spoonful of jam onto the plate in the freezer and pop it back into the freezer for 30 seconds. Run your index finger through the middle of the jam on the plate and if it leaves a trail down the middle then your jam is ready. If not, simply cook for a little longer and then test again. Pour into the sterilised jars, wipe the rims clean, secure the lids and place upside down for a couple of minutes before turning right side up. This helps to seal the jars. Store the jars in a cool, dark spot. Once opened store in the fridge. Sterilising jars - I simply pop my chosen jars into the sink and fill up with hot water. I then place the jars onto a baking tray and pop them into the oven, set at 150 degrees C until they are dry and remove them once the jam is ready.

  • Rhubarb, Orange, and Almond Tea Cake

    I find it difficult to call rhubarb a vegetable, just as I find it difficult to call tomatoes a fruit. The perfectly slender pink petioles, or stalks as they are more commonly known, provide a never-ending source of inspiration when it comes to being creative in the kitchen. I only have to look at a bundle of reds, greens, and pinks and I become lost in the countless possibilities that these intensely sour raw stalks provide, what with the addition of sufficient amounts of sugar, these raw stalks are transformed into many an edible delight - Pies, crostatas, crumbles and jam. MY goodness, it even marries well with fatty meat and oily fish. Roast pork with rhubarb and apple sauce anyone? However, it is the way these mouthwatering sour-fruity flavours mingle with almond, orange and vanilla that really make my tastebuds tingle. It is such a versatile gem and one that can be very easy to grow, or so I am told, I have two crowns that I've planted under our kitchen window which I check upon every morning, watching as the green fan-like leaves become larger and larger. The stalks, spindly as they may be at the moment, provide hope for what is to come. Fingers crossed! Harvesting my own rhubarb feels extremely romantic, I have visions of cradling a generous bounty in my arms, bringing them inside, and watching as the droplets of water slide down their smooth "skin", patting them dry with a paper towel and chopping each stalk into chunks, finally folding them through orange-scented, white chocolate studded sugary batter, scattered with a shower of flaked almonds and then baked to golden perfection. This rhubarb, orange and almond tea cake is best enjoyed under the dappled light of a large tree, preferably barefoot, as good conversation flows upon the warm summer breeze. Of course, if this scenario is not entirely possible, then it is equally as good served in the comfort of your home at any time of the day, slicing off mouthfuls each time you pass by the kitchen. I imagine it would make for a very simple dessert as well, perhaps served with a dollop of creme fraiche sweetened with a touch of icing sugar. Vegetable, fruit, whatever you want to call it, it is truly transformative - both in flavour and in the way it can brighten the darkest of days. Rhubarb, Orange & Almond Tea Cake 150g softened unsalted butter, chopped 150g caster sugar Zest of an orange 2 free-range eggs, at room temperature 1 tsp vanilla extract 100ml buttermilk 150g self-raising flour, sifted 150g almond meal 100g white chocolate, chopped 200g rhubarb, ends trimmed and cut into small chunks 25g flaked almonds Icing sugar, to dust Preheat your oven to 170c (fan-forced). Grease a 20cm springform cake tin with butter and line with baking paper. Beat the butter, sugar, and orange zest in the bowl of a stand mixer, (or in a large bowl using handheld beaters), until thick and pale. Add the eggs, one by one, allowing each to combine well before adding the next. Pour in the vanilla and continue to beat until combined. Fold through the flour, almond meal, and milk, followed by the chocolate and rhubarb. Spoon into the prepared tin, and then scatter the flaked almonds over the top. Pop into the oven, on the middle shelf, and bake for about 50-55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool cake in the tin for at least 10-15 minutes before removing and placing onto a cooling rack. When ready to serve, dust with icing sugar. It makes a perfect picnic cake to share with friends and can also be dressed up with a dollop of crème Fraiche sweetened with a little icing sugar for a very simple summer dessert. *If you don’t have a springform tin then you can use a regular tin, just be careful when inverting the cake as you may lose a few almonds off the top, simply pop them back into place. **Raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries also make a wonderful alternative to rhubarb

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