I have a soft spot for jellies and make them more often than my husband would like. In fact, he only recently confessed that he was not so fond of this wibbly wobbly dessert. In his family, they often make fun of British desserts and I recall someone once receiving a packet of jelly crystals at Christmas as a joke. I didn’t get the joke, of course, and the jelly crystals looked far more enticing than the bar of soap I received that year.
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?
A big, big thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway to win a copy of Rachel Khoo’s latest cookbook, My Little French Kitchen. The response was fantastic and I loved reading everyone’s entries on their favourite French food. The entries made me realise how far-reaching and popular French food really is; from the simple baguette loaf and famous croissant to the more exotic Duck à l’Orange, the entries highlighted how wonderful and delicious French food is, and how difficult it is to name just one favourite! The lucky winner will be notified by email shortly.
But my adventures in cooking from My Little French Kitchen are far from over and, this week, Rachel Khoo’s spin on the classic Far Breton has made my afternoon tea breaks that little bit more indulgent.
This is the ultimate “minimum effort, maximum effect” dessert. Served in little pretty glasses, these deconstructed cheesecakes will fool your guests into thinking that you have been labouring away in the kitchen Top Chef-style when, actually, they require no more than 15 minutes to create from scratch.
As an Australian married to a Frenchman, could there be a more perfect cake to represent the union of our two cultures than the madelamington, a French madeleine dressed up as an Australian lamington? No, I didn’t come up with this name, but I am rather disappointed that I didn’t coin this term myself. In fact, as a frequent baker and consumer of madeleines and lamingtons, I wonder how the idea of marrying these two cakes had never occurred to me.
It was precisely this recipe in Rachel Allen’s new book, Cake, which prompted me to buy the book. Not that I really needed a recipe – I could have used my go-to madeleine recipe and the chocolate icing from my lamington recipe. But the idea of the madelamington itself was so cute that I was sold on the book.
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.
My husband and I are delighted to announce the arrival of our first child, a healthy and bouncing little boy, in late November. He has inherited his mother’s love for sleep and eating, except, of course, his mother has been doing little of either in recent weeks 😉
In preparation for his arrival, I had lined up several posts in readiness for publishing on this blog in the coming months, but pregnancy is so often fraught with periods of distraction (particularly nesting in the third trimester) that my to-do list soon became a to-do item in itself. And since the Little One’s birth, I’m not even sure where that to-do list is anymore …
But as our Little One is approaching one month old (didn’t we just bring him home from the hospital??), bits and pieces of my former life are reappearing and I suddenly feel a sense of normality returning, if only very briefly. So I am stealing a moment right now to try and quickly post something, not to mention that I even found time to do some food photography this morning! Amazing how little sleep one really needs to function 😉
On a recent trip to London, I was reminded of my fond affection for Devonshire Tea, essentially a scone served with jam and cream. In fact, my desire for a daily scone fix made me brave enough to venture into a café on my lonesome most afternoons, just so I could sit down to a proper cup of tea with a plate of warm scones. There is nothing more restorative if you have been on your feet all day, visiting museums and shopping on the High Street
One such lovely establishment serving scones (although not proper Devonshire Tea) was the Patisserie Valerie in Covent Garden, a branch of what seems to be a patisserie/café chain store in the UK, although each one I came across seemed quite charming and unique, not necessarily catering to the masses. I found them to be welcoming enough to enter and sit by myself, sipping a warming cup of coffee or tea with something sweet on the side while I attempted, with travel guide books and street maps spread out around me, to plan my next place of visit. Stay tuned for an upcoming, although brief, travel post on London …
I had a sudden inkling to make crumpets the other day, somewhat unusual because I was only ever a mild fan of these yeasted breads when I was a child. My memories of crumpets are of the shop-bought kind which were round, thick and spongy in texture. Once lightly toasted, a generous slather of butter was obligatory, as was a good dollop of runny honey or jam. As a child, perhaps the allure of crumpets was watching the butter and honey disappear into the many little holes (or, rather, air bubbles) on the surface, which would inevitably end up dribbling down your chin as you took a bite into the warm bread.
Perhaps it is because I’ve had more time to contemplate breakfast lately that crumpets came to mind, and coupled with my New Year’s resolution to bake more with yeast (which I haven’t ventured near since typing up those resolutions), that I committed myself to the task of making them at home.
While working in the outer suburbs of Chicago in the last few years, I often found myself at a Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstore during lunch, not only because I have a fondness for bookshops but mostly because I discovered that living and working in Switzerland had had a big influence on my lunch-time eating habits.
Unlike the Australians and Americans who often grab a quick sandwich or heat up leftovers to eat at their desk, the Swiss tend towards a leisurely a 2-3 course hot lunch, followed by a customary coffee before heading back to their desks once their lunch hour (or two) is up. This is not to say that the Swiss are dwindling away their time during office hours; lunch breaks are mandatory by law and most people often use their hour for business chit-chat or networking, and enjoy a good meal in the process. It is also commonplace to lunch with your colleagues at the work canteen, so it is a culture which fosters social interaction amongst employees, even if you might only end up talking about work or engaging in polite chatter over your meal. I have to admit that I enjoy the Swiss approach to lunching and one often feels that the lunch break was in fact a break.
But as a visitor to the offices in the US, lunch was often a lonely experience for me. Several colleagues often went out of their way to lunch with me now and then, but I got the feeling early on that most tended to work through their lunch hours, that anything more than 15 minutes was only reserved for the odd occasion, like when a visiting colleague was in town. But as I often worked in the US for about a month at a time, I couldn’t expect a leisurely lunch everyday. Yet it didn’t feel right to sit in front of my computer with a styrofoam cup of soup and a plastic spoon when I was so used to sitting down to a proper meal with proper cutlery (or, as they say in the US, silverware). So on those days when I found myself alone at lunch, I would hop into the car and drive to one of the many malls nearby for some amusement. I didn’t mind so much hanging out on my own as it was rather an adventure to explore the mid-west while working there. And so I often found myself at a bookshop where I would grab a quick snack at their in-store coffee shop, and flick through books which I would never find back in Zurich, like the complete Paula Deen collection. Or the rather unusual semi-homemade offers by Sandra Lee. I must confess to having a soft spot for American cooking.
They say that anyone can buy a good house, but good neighbours are priceless.
We happen to be blessed with the most wonderful neighbours in our whole building. Ok, it’s a small building with only 5 tenants, but it is still a wonder that we love to get together regularly for dinner, with a new host on each occasion and dinner being a casual affair where we each arrive in our house-slippers and even bring along chairs or an assortment of dinnerware if need be. We go on picnics together, attend each other’s wedding and even babysit if the need arises. One particular neighbour is so sweet to occasionally leave boxes of Lindt chocolates on our doorstep, he being an employee of this awe-inspiring local institution. If you have had a horrid day at work, coming home to find a little treasure of pralines at your door not only does wonders for your spirit, but almost makes you believe in the fairy godmother.
I have a weak spot for any recipe which contains Nutella. Although it is a welcome comfort just on its own, spoon directly in the tub, I find it equally irresistible in baked goods. Take the Madeleines with Nutella, as an example.
So when I saw this recipe for Gooey Chocolate Cakes with Raspberries and Nutella, hardly any encouragement was required to try this recipe. And I have since made this recipe no less than half a dozen times, a testament to how wonderful these little cakes are.
This is another fabulous recipe from Katie Quinn Davies of the famed What Katie Ate food blog and who has recently been propelled to stardom with her own cookbook in the pipeline, plus a regular monthly column in Australia’s Delicious magazine. If there is anyone’s career path I admire right now, it is hers. Given her amazing talent as a stylist and photographer, she clearly deserves all of this recognition which has come her way.
Happy Australia Day! Although lamingtons have an iconic status in Australia and are enjoyed throughout the year, it seems rather fitting to make lamingtons for Australia Day.
Lamingtons are quite popular at bake sales, and anyone growing up in Australia will know of the lamington drives, a fundraising event (usually in schools) where lamingtons would be sold by the half dozen to raise money for charity.
One of the best things about having a blog and sharing recipes with like-minded foodies is receiving all of the wonderful comments and emails from readers all over the world. So many of the emails I have received are so touching with kind compliments, and many with individual recounts of how something I have posted on my blog has triggered memories of an old family favourite or of simply how a recipe has turned out. Whether these messages are just a few words or longer narratives, I enjoy reading them all
A frequent question which has popped up a few times from my American readers is: what on earth is “cream of tartar” and where can it be purchased in the US? I have to admit that I also searched high and low for cream of tartar whenever I was working in the US and had no luck in finding it. I had a craving for honeycomb one day and as neither Crunchie bars nor Violet Crumbles are available in the US, I was motivated to try and make honeycomb at home using Nigella’s recipe from Nigella Express. Alas, there was no cream of tartar to be found (but a giant Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ultimately satisfied the sugar craving :-)).
If there is one cake which I always look forward to making and eating at Christmas, it would have to be gingerbread. Whether it is gingerbread in the form of beautifully iced and spicy biscuits, or the more sticky and moist sponge cake, I love them all. Anything which is heady with the aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger is something I would be happy to sit down to with a big mug of tea.
If you are a fan of white chocolate, you will love White Christmas. I’m not sure where this recipe originated from and how the name came about, but it is ridiculously easy to make and serves well as a sweet treat throughout the festive season, not to mention that they are great as Christmas gifts too.
I have a real soft spot for madeleines. It could be because I have very early memories of eating these dainty little cakes, their light sponginess making them the perfect snack for little hands. The madeleines of my childhood were always plain or lemon flavoured. These days, recipes abound with countless variations of flavours for these little cakes, both sweet and savoury. And I love them all!
One particular variation which I make perhaps a bit too often is with Nutella, another great love of mine from my childhood. Growing up, I was made to believe that Nutella was unhealthy and, anyway, none of my school friends ate Nutella. You see, the “good kids” ate Vegemite so I was usually only given a little sachet of Nutella once in a blue moon as a treat.
Growing up in Australia, I loved eating pikelets for afternoon tea. My earliest memory of pikelets was when I was in primary school, perhaps about 8 years old, when our teacher made pikelets one afternoon and cooked them on an electric frying pan, with eager little bodies “helping” her with various tasks like measuring, stirring, flipping. Being young children, we were often always quite hungry and cooking classes like these were always met with much enthusiasm. As soon as the pikelets were cooked, we would spread them with butter and jam and eat them more quickly than they could be made.
Pikelets are essentially little pancakes. In some parts of the world, they are called “drop scones”.
We’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to go to Wales twice, both times for weddings of close friends. It is such a beautiful country, particularly if you head outside of Cardiff where you will see picturesque rolling hillsides, lush green farms and, if you make it that far, magnificent coast lines.
If I had to name one dessert as my “desert island dessert”, it would probably have to be profiteroles. It seems most people are abuzz with French macaroons these days (which I also adore) but, to me, the profiterole is what encapsulates a typically French dessert. There is something about the sweet custard encased in a soft choux pastry and then covered with a decadent chocolate sauce. Whenever I see it on a dessert menu, I often find it hard to resist, even if there might be many other more exotic desserts on offer.
Growing up in Brisbane, I remember eating profiteroles only on rare occasions when my French class and I would visit one of the few French restaurants in the area in an attempt to practice our clumsy French with the poor chef and waiter who probably had to put up with the same lame dialogue on a frequent basis. I often wondered if the Alliance Française or even the French Embassy collaborated with these few French restaurants to somehow facilitate unusually slow, clear and polite French with their customers.
I love donuts. I particularly love them hot, fresh from the vat and sprinkled with lots of sugar and ground cinnamon. Give me a donut and a cup of coffee for breakfast and I’m a happy camper.
Now probably isn’t the best time to confess that I once had an addiction to cinnamon donuts. I was living in Brisbane, Australia, at the time and would often buy them by the half dozen from the supermarket and finish them within a day. Not very classy but gosh they were good! Thankfully, those days of gluttony are (sort of) over for me. Though, that is probably due in part to the fact that I now live in Zurich, Switzerland, where cinnamon donuts are a rare find.
As much as I adore coconut macaroons, I have actually never made them before. I’ve been eyeing Nigella’s recipe in How to Be a Domestic Goddess for ages but I’ve never had cream of tartar to hand (it’s not available where I live). But when I saw how simple Rachel Allen’s recipe was, I was interested to try it, not least out of curiosity.