I love baking at this time of the year. With the scent of cakes and bakes heady with cinnamon and ginger wafting from the kitchen, you can really start to feel Christmas in the air. And what better way to kick off the festive season than with a batch of homemade gingerbread cookies?
Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and a great start already to 2014. We often celebrate the New Year in Zurich and so it seems fitting to start 2014 on ELB with a classic recipe from my adopted hometown.
In Switzerland, the Pasta Plausch is a favourite menu item for many. In my last job, Thursdays in the canteen was (and still is) known simply as Pasta Plausch, a day where the lunchtime menu would feature a large pasta buffet to the delight of the employees. On offer were usually a few different types of pasta with a selection of sauces including bolognese, carbonara, Napolitana and pesto.
It has been roughly seven years since I made the bold decision to quit my job in Australia, electing to become unemployed and to take a chance at life on the other side of the world. At the time, it was one of the toughest decisions I had to make, not least because I couldn’t imagine how I could move for all of the personal possessions my twenty-something self had acquired.
I have never been one to travel lightly, so the idea of packing my life into one suitcase with a limit of 20 kg was going to be unlikely. I made my move from the land Down Under to the land of milk and honey with a half container full of cookbooks and treasured kitchen paraphernalia, all amassed during my years as a poor student and, later, a poor graduate with a ridiculously high student loan. What little spare income I had was inevitably spent at Wheel & Barrow on high-priced tableware, The Essential Ingredient for French-imported pots and pans, or even Country Road for their classy teatowels. I couldn’t imagine a future without my kitchenalia and I was prepared to pay whatever the cost to have them accompany me to my new homeland.
With Australia Day approaching, my thoughts have been turning to traditional Aussie cakes and pastries, and these Chocolate Coconut Bars are hard to go past. Perhaps these slices are not what one would think of eating on Australia Day (lamingtons are more common), but this classic recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly is one which I have grown up with and I was only too happy to be reminded of it recently when the recipe was posted on the AWW’s Facebook page.
True to the style of the Australian Women’s Weekly, this recipe is a doddle to make and uses ingredients which you are likely to have in your fridge and pantry. There are no fancy ingredients required here – the chocolate component is derived from cocoa powder. But, as always, some good quality cocoa powder would be recommended to make these slices extra special.
I have a terrible weakness for cooking magazines. Even when I left Australia and moved to Switzerland, I couldn’t bear to give up my monthly fix of Donna Hay, Delicious and Gourmet Traveller magazines that I was prepared to sacrifice a portion of my salary to fund an overseas subscription to all three magazines (at a cost of double to triple the local price), and consequently buy a new bookshelf just to house my burgeoning collection.
On top of that, my French and German teachers have been perpetually reminding me that the best way to expand my vocabulary is to read the local newspapers. Except that reading the news in French and German is not a very exciting task for me, especially since I am not even in the habit of reading the news in English. But as I do enjoy very much learning French and German and am ever struggling to one day reach that point where I can declare myself fluent, I have been fuelling my magazine indulgence by also resorting to publications in French and German. The consequence is that I have an almost expert breadth of vocabulary when wanting to discuss recipes and cooking techniques in a foreign language, especially in German when I am perhaps using words which even a local would not be familiar with, but such a vocabulary is unfortunately not very useful for other daily chit-chat.
My parents used to sell a cake in their bakery which was made of two brioche-like sponges, sandwiched together with a thick, bright yellow custard and sprinkled on top with flaked almonds. This vanilla-rich cake was called a Bee-Sting, a funny name for a cake which I didn’t think much about as a child, preferring to concentrate my efforts on how many slices I could eat before my mum would put the remaining slices out on the counter to sell. Thinking now about the name, I can only laugh out loud at what it might imply!
I can’t say that I have always been a fan of carrot cake. Growing up, the idea of a cake with a vegetable component didn’t sound very appealing to me. And coupled with the fact that most carrot cakes I had tried were on the dry, dense and healthy-tasting side, I couldn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. But in recent years, fellow foodie friends have steered me onto the path to carrot cake heaven with their favourite recipes, and now I am a true believer.
I gladly present to you three tried-and-tested recipes …
This recipe comes from Donna Hay magazine and, like most of her recipes, it is super quick and super easy to make. I make it so regularly that I doubt I will ever try any other tomato chutney recipe, lest it disappoint me. I love this cherry tomato relish served with anything from meat pies, sausage rolls and hamburgers, to something a bit more upmarket like a proper roast beef dinner.
I have never really been a big fan of Swiss biscuits, Christmas or otherwise. In all fairness, I haven’t really sampled too many because, quite frankly, they are not always the most appealing when lined up next to the fancy American cookies or British biscuits. When presented with the choice between a cookie oozing with morsels of chocolate and a Läckerli, the latter doesn’t stand a chance, despite the fact that Läckerli is derived from the German word lecker which means delicious. Indeed, Läckerli – a hard, spiced biscuit made from hazelnuts and honey – is delicious, but just not my everyday biscuit of choice.
With Christmas looming around the corner, my thoughts have been turning to holiday baking and the return of seasonal favourites which make their annual (but much anticipated) appearance around this time of year. I always look forward to the first batch of fruit mince pies, which is a rather curious phenomenon for me considering that I am actually not a big fan of fruit mince. In fact, I loathe fruit cakes and traditional Christmas cakes; I can eat a slither of a slice out of politeness, so long as there is a nice cup of tea to help me wash it down.
I always look forward to Autumn, that time of the year when the trees change their colours and their golden leaves line the streets with their warm tones in contrast to the biting chill that is beginning to pervade the air. I also love Autumn because I can start to pull out my favourite trench coats, turtleneck jumpers and knee-high boots, a welcome change in wardrobe when I can start to cosy up with layers.