Baking

After Easter Eggs

During the lead up to Easter, a recipe for a Cadbury Creme Egg “Scotch Egg” was doing the rounds and the reactions ranged from Yum? to Yuck! When a friend asked me what my take on this twisted treat would be, I put my thinking cap on and did a bit of research.

First step was to check the ingredients in the Creme Egg. Palm oil is an ingredient which was a concern because of its environmental impact, however, Australian Cadbury products are supposed to use palm oil sourced from sustainable producers which is great. The next ingredient that caught my attention was the red/orange food colouring 160c – aka paprika – yes paprika! I am allergic to paprika and all other chillies, so I couldn’t use that egg for my recipe. Undeterred, I decided to use Caramello easter eggs which I know don’t contain paprika. 🙂

My next step was to decide what coating I would use to wrap around my eggs. After some thought I went with a condensed milk and biscuit (cookie) crumb truffle mix. I couldn’t decide whether to add cacao powder into the mix so I made one batch with cacao powder and another one with milk powder. The milk powder mix is drier than the cacao mix which is really sticky, making it slightly challenging but heaps of fun to work with. I can’t decide which one I like best as they are both so tasty!

You can experiment with your own flavour combinations by mixing and matching different flavoured easter eggs such as Turkish delight or peppermint cream. You can also experiment with different toppings such as crushed cookies, sprinkles, grated chocolate, cocoa or cacao powder.

Easter Egg Truffles

Ingredients
125g shortbread cookies
25g cacao powder
25g milk powder
150ml sweetened condensed milk
12 mini caramel filled easter eggs
shredded coconut for topping

Instructions
Crush the shortbreads into fine crumbs in a food processor or by placing in a ziplock bag and smashing with a rolling pin.
Divide the shortbread crumbs evenly into two bowls.
Add cacao powder to one bowl and mix until combined.
Add milk powder to the other bowl and mix until combined.
Add half the condensed milk to the cacao powder mix and stir until combined.
Add the remaining condensed milk to the milk powder mix and stir until combined.
Place coconut in a bowl.
Remove wrapping from the easter eggs.
Place a tablespoon of milk powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg.
Roll in coconut. Repeat until 6 eggs are covered.
Place a tablespoon of cacao powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg.
Roll in coconut.
Repeat until remaining 6 eggs are covered.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
You can serve them straight from the fridge or bring to room temperature if you want a gooey centre.

An Apple For Autumn

This weekend is the March Equinox. One half of the world springs into Spring while the other half falls into Fall. I’m in the half that is falling into Fall, or as I more often call it – Autumn. I love this time of the year, when day and night are balanced. I love it even more knowing that colder weather is on its way! There are still sunny days ahead but the cooler nights remind us that the seasons are turning.

The Autumn Equinox is the second harvest festival on the Pagan calendar. Grains, fruits and nuts are traditional foods, as are breads, cakes, pies and other baked goods. Beer, cider and mead are great drinks to help wash down hearty Autumn fare while warming drinks such as mulled wines, ciders and piping hot chocolates provide comfort for lengthening nights.

When I think of Autumn, I think of apples and when I think of apples, I think of caramel apples! While holidaying in Las Vegas one Autumn, my best friend and I saw a store window filled with caramel apples. We were both too full to try one, so he took a photo instead. 

photo by Trevor

When I got home, I just had to create a cupcake version of a caramel apple. I think the perfect drink for these sweet apple cupcakes would be a warm mug of spicy mulled apple cider. 🙂

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Ingredients
for the apple cupcakes
1 cup plain flour, sifted
1/3 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
150g (2/3 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces  

for the salted caramel frosting
115g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup double cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 – 3 cups icing (powdered) sugar, sifted

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and sea salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until combined.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat on low speed until just combined.
Fold in the apple pieces.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
Cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting by melting the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat to medium and add the sugar and cream. Stir continually with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Add the salt and allow to cook for 2 minutes, being careful not to burn the caramel. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Place the caramel in a mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, gradually beat in the powdered sugar until frosting is smooth and reaches a piping consistency. This will take a few minutes of beating to achieve. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes. 

The Cookie Woman

One of my favourite treats growing up was a visit to the Cookie Man in the Myer department store food hall in Melbourne. The Myer food hall was an adventure all of its own, but it was the Cookie Man that always lured me with its siren smell of freshly baked cookies.

Once lured, I would stare at the colourful and tantalising display of cookies, excitedly trying to work out which ones I would get and how many! I loved slowly picking cookies and watching them drop into the foil bag. My assortment always included Californians (flavoured with cinnamon and topped with a slivered almond) and Coffee Walnut (lightly flavoured with coffee and topped with a walnut half). I loved eating these cookies with a glass of milk or a cup of tea, but that didn’t stop me from opening the bag a few times before I got home. Luckily the bag was resealable!

Thinking about these cookies made me yearn for a cookie that combines the cinnamon flavour of a Californian with the flavours of a Coffee Walnut cookie. I decided to play around with some of my cookie recipes to create my very own Cookie Woman cookies. 🙂

Coffee, Cinnamon & Walnut Cookies
(Makes approximately 18)

Ingredients
1 cup plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground coffee (or to taste)
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
125g unsalted butter, room temperature 
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature
approximately 18 walnut halves for topping

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Mix together the plain flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, coffee and walnuts. Set aside.
In a medium bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 
Add the egg and beat well. 
Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
Drop tablespoons onto prepared trays. (Using a cookie scoop makes it much easier and gives a great shape).
Gently press a walnut half onto the top of the cookie.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the outer edges become slightly darker than the centre of the cookie.
Place on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before serving.

Marmalade And Mayhem

When my 50th Anniversary Edition of Traditional Macedonian Recipes arrived, I couldn’t wait to to see what tasty offerings it contained. I was happy to see some familiar treats like Chicken and Baked Rice (Kokoshka Sus Oris), Egg Custard Banista (Mletchneek) and Lenten Crepes with Garlic Sauce (Posnee Peetoolee Sus Tulchen Luk). These recipes brought back happy memories and took me on a culinary journey through my childhood.

Traditional Macedonian Recipes was originally published in 1969 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by the St. George’s Macedono-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church and Ladies’ Section Mara Buneva. I was intrigued by who Mara Buneva was and, after a quick search, I discovered a female revolutionary who is as fascinating and divisive as the Balkans themselves.    

photo from Wikipedia

Mara Buneva was a Macedonian Bulgarian revolutionary. She was born in 1902 in Tetovo which was then a Vilayet of Kosovo in the Ottoman Empire and is now part of North Macedonia. After the Serbian annexation of Tetovo, Buneva moved to Bulgaria. She studied at Sofia University and married a Bulgarian officer. They divorced in 1926. Buneva then joined the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) in Sofia.

In 1927 she returned to Skopje and opened a store. When members of the Macedonian Youth Secret Revolutionary Organization were arrested and sentenced to long-term imprisonment, IMRO ordered the execution of Serbian official, Velimir Prelić.   

On January 13th, 1928, (ironically Friday the 13th), Mara Buneva assassinated Velimir Prelić. After shooting Prelić, Buneva committed suicide by shooting herself. Prelić died a few days later in hospital. Buneva was buried by Serbian police in an unknown place.

Buneva is viewed by some as a traitor and terrorist while others celebrate her as a heroine and martyr, fighting for the freedom of Macedonia. Attempts to place a commemorative plaque at the place where she died have failed as they are destroyed not long after they are erected. I don’t know if there is one there now, however, there is a wax figure of Buneva in the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. 

While I’ve only explored the tip of the iceberg in relation to the controversies and legacies surrounding Mara Buneva, it’s a journey I’m eager to pursue. And speaking of icebergs, Buneva Point in Antarctica is named after Mara Buneva.

To celebrate my discovery of another controversial revolutionary woman, I thought I would make one of the cakes from Traditional Macedonian Recipes. To honour Mara Buneva’s deathiversary, I’ve chosen the Marmalade Cake, which is a special Lenten recipe and contains no fats, dairy or eggs. Thankfully it contains lots of flavour! 

Marmalade Cake

Ingredients
1/2 cup oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
1 cup marmalade
1 cup water
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
zest of 1 orange
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 20cm (8inch) square baking pan with baking paper.
Mix together the oil, marmalade, water, walnuts and orange peel in a bowl.
Sift in the dry ingredients.
Mix until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing and cutting into squares.
Can be eaten warm or cold.

A Gem Of An Author

November 8th is Bram Stoker’s birthday. As I thought about Bram and his special day, I was drawn to the concept of birthstones and the magical attributes of gems.

A birthstone is a gemstone that represents an aspect of a person’s birthday. When people choose a birthstone, they usually choose one associated with their birth month. However, you can also choose birthstones associated with the day you were born or your hour of birth. The birthstone I was most interested in exploring for Bram was the one associated with his star sign, which is Scorpio.

During my research I discovered there was no consensus about which gems represented Scorpio. I also discovered that many of the gems chosen for Scorpio just didn’t feel right to me. That changed when I read Astrology for Wellness: Star Sign Guides for Body, Mind & Spirit Vitality by Monte Farber and Amy Zerner. They chose Obsidian for Scorpio with Onyx, Ruby and Black Opal as added extras. For me, these gems sing with the essence of Scorpio. These dark and gothic gems inspired me to come up with my own choice for a birthstone for Bram Stoker that symbolises both Scorpio and the dark world of Stoker’s most famous creation, Dracula. The gemstone I have chosen is Jet, in particular, Whitby Jet.

Jet is an organic gemstone which is naturally formed from fossilised wood. It is such a beautiful and intense black colour that it inspired the terms “jet black” and “black as jet.” Jet is smooth, lightweight and can be polished to such a high lustre it can be used as a mirror. 

Jet was used in Roman Britain to make jewellery such as hair pins, pendants, necklaces, bracelets and rings. The Romans also made amulets and talismans out of Jet as they believed it contained magical protective properties and could ward off the evil eye. Pliny the Elder believed that Jet could drive away snakes.

Whitby Jet became popular during the Victorian Era. The new railways brought tourists to Whitby which created a demand for Whitby Jet souvenirs. Whitby Jet was also showcased at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Whitby Jet jewellery became fashionable when Queen Victoria wore Whitby Jet jewellery as part of her mourning dress.

Not only is Whitby Jet associated with the Victorian Era and mourning, but Whitby is the place where Dracula first lands in England. As a Victorian author and creator of the world’s most famous vampire, Whitby Jet is the perfect birthstone for Bram Stoker. 

With my mind on gems, I knew exactly what I would make for Bram’s birthday – gem scones. These delightful treats are not actually scones but light little cakes. Gem scones are traditionally baked in cast iron tins called gem irons but shallow patty pans are good substitutes. They are great served with butter, cream and your favourite jam or preserve. I’m using blackberry jam to reflect the black gemstones associated with Scorpio.

Gem Scones

Ingredients
1 cup plain flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons caster sugar
20g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

for serving
butter
jam
cream

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Grease your gem iron or patty pan and heat in the oven.
Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl until they form a slightly runny batter.
Carefully remove muffin tin from the oven.
Dollop batter into the holes, filling each about 3/4 full.
Bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until springy to the touch.
Serve warm or cold.

More Cooking By Numbers

Recently I shared a recipe for Curd Cake in a post about a colouring by numbers phone app. I’m happy to say the app has added a few more recipes such as Bruschetta, Chocolate Granola and Cottage Cheese Pancakes!

Today I’ll be sharing my version of the recipe for Lemon Cookies with Olive Oil. These cake-like cookies are perfect for the coming spring weather (southern hemisphere). 

I dunked mine in tea flavoured with honey and lemon but they would also pair well with fresh lemonade/squash, lemon barley water or Limoncello.

Lemon Cookies with Olive Oil

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 + 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch salt
icing sugar (optional)

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 3-4 baking trays with baking paper.
Place the sugar and oil in a bowl.
Using an electric mixer, beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the lemon juice and zest and beat until combined.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.
Dollop spoonfuls of batter onto lined trays.
Bake 15 – 20 minutes or until golden.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before placing on a rack to cool completely.
Sprinkle with icing sugar if desired.

Additional notes:
The recipe said 3 eggs but I used 2 eggs.
It didn’t specify the amount of lemon juice or zest so I made a judgement call based on how lemony I wanted them.
It didn’t specify the oven temperature so I went with the standard 180C / 350F baking temp.

A Memory Of Cake

One of the ways I reconnect with the Macedonian food of my childhood is through cookbooks. As I read the names of recipes and browse through the ingredients lists, memories of food and fun times come flooding back. I recently started reading The Melting Pot: Balkan Food and Cookery by Maria Kaneva-Johnson. Here, in the pages of this wonderful book, were some of my favourite foods. When I came across a recipe for Cake Soaked in Fragrant Milk, something odd clicked in me. What was strange was that it brought back a memory of a cake that I’m not sure I’ve ever actually had. No one in my family remembers it, but I was sure I had it at a Macedonian picnic. Could I be confusing it with another cake? I don’t know. All I know is that when I read the recipe it was familiar and I had to make it.

I followed the recipe and made a beautiful cake, but it was not the one I remembered. The cake from my memory had coconut so I made the cake again and added shredded coconut. This was close to the cake I remembered. I’m still not sure if this is a cake from my childhood but it is certainly a favourite cake and whenever I eat it I have memories of Macedonian picnics, delicious food and circle dancing with family and friends.

Milk Cake (Ravanija so Mlecko)

Ingredients
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
800ml milk
4 eggs
200g castor sugar
250g plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Instructions
Mix the vanilla into the milk and refrigerate until the cake is cooked.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Grease and flour a baking pan, approximately 20cm x 20cm.
Beat the eggs with an electric mixer. As they start to become frothy, add the sugar and beat until pale, thick and frothy.
Using a metal spoon, gently fold in the flour and baking powder until combined. Do not over-mix the batter.
Gently fold in the coconut.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until the cake is golden brown.
Remove from oven.
Pour the chilled milk over the hot cake.
Allow to cool, then refrigerate.
Cut into squares or slices to serve.

Cooking By Numbers

I never thought I would be a “Colour by Numbers” person, but since downloading a colouring app on my phone, I have discovered the joy of unwinding with a picture or two. Not having to choose which colours to use is a great stress reliever. However, I still maintain some individuality by not always colouring in the whole picture. Sometimes I’ll just colour in particular colours (like red and black) or highlight a particular image (like a flower or animal).

I also love the variety of pictures I can colour. Naturally I was drawn towards animal pictures such as pandas and puffins but mandalas have also become a firm favourite. Equally unsurprising is another favourite category – food! Pancakes dripping with syrup, decadent cupcakes and lavishly decorated coffee and tea pots are a delight for the eye and imagination. 

While scrolling through the daily offerings, I couldn’t believe it when a recipe came up on my feed! My mouth watered when I saw a picture for a Curd Cake recipe. I immediately thought it would be a lemon curd cake, but as I deciphered the images and read the sparse instructions, I realised it was a cottage cheese cake! I love cottage cheese so I was keen to  make it – but not before I coloured in the picture. 🙂

The picture didn’t stipulate what size baking pan to use so I went with my trusty 10cm x 21cm loaf pan. I made a few tweaks to the recipe and was rewarded with a sweet, bread-like cake that is absolutely delicious when eaten warm. I enjoyed cold cake the next day served with a dollop of gin marmalade. This is an easy cake to make and one that you can tweak and make your own. Let me know if you make one!

Curd Cake

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Ingredients
3/4 cup sugar
75g (1/3 cup) butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line a loaf pan with baking paper.
Beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the cottage cheese and beat on low until combined.
Sift in the flour and baking powder.
Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 45 – 55 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes.
Slice and eat while warm or place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Refrigerate any leftovers.

Rise To The Occasion

When the pandemic hit, I was expecting some food-stuffs might be difficult to get. What I wasn’t expecting was that dry yeast would be one of them. Wanting to make some bread, and not confident to try making sourdough, I opted for an ingredient that I haven’t used since the 1980’s – fresh yeast.

Luckily the local delicatessen had a small amount of fresh yeast in stock which I used to make Herb and Onion Bread. The recipe makes two loaves so you can freeze one and eat one straight away. It’s delicious straight from the oven and slathered with butter. It’s great the next day too.

Ironically, as I was writing this piece, I noticed that dry yeast was finally back on the shelves. 🙂

Herb and Onion Bread

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Ingredients
25g unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
300ml buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey
15g fresh yeast
2 tablespoons dried herbs of your choice
1 + 1/2 cups white flour
1 + 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
milk for brushing
sesame seeds for sprinkling

Instructions
Grease and flour 2 loaf tins.
Place the butter and onion in a small frying pan and cook gently until the onions are soft but not browned. Set aside.
In a small saucepan heat the buttermilk and honey until warm but not boiling.
Pour into a small bowl.
Mix in the fresh yeast.
Sprinkle with the dried herbs.
Place in a warm spot and allow to bloom for 15 minutes until the mixture becomes foamy.
In a large bowl, mix together the white flour, wholemeal flour and salt.
Make a well in the centre and pour in the cooked onions and yeast mixture. Mix together until combined and the dough forms a ball.
Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl.
Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down, divide into 2 and place in prepared pans.
Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Cover and leave in a warm place for 45 to 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the loaves are well risen and golden brown. To check if bread is cooked, carefully remove one loaf from the pan and tap the bottom. It will sound hollow when cooked.
If the bread is not cooked, return to the oven and keep checking frequently until cooked.
Allow to cool slightly before turning out of the pans.
Serve warm or cold.

A Day For Mead

August 1st is Imbolc – the midway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is a time of hope, a time to remember that Winter is ending and Spring is on its way. Imbolc celebrates the return of Persephone as she takes leave from her role as Queen of the Underworld and returns to the Earth as a Goddess of Spring. Foods and drinks that are associated with Spring and the Sun are traditional Imbolc fare.

This year Imbolc coincides with Mead Day, which is celebrated on the first Saturday in August. Mead Day was created as way to forge friendships within the mead making community and to introduce (or reintroduce) the rest of us to the joy that is mead. 🙂 Mead is made by combining honey with water and yeast. Additional flavourings can be added such as fruits , herbs and spices. It can be served straight, in cocktails or as a warmed mulled wine.

I was first introduced to mead at a Pagan festival many years ago and immediately fell in love with its sweet and spicy honey flavour. I love drinking mead, but I also love cooking with it. Mead is a great addition to both savoury and sweet dishes, but especially to sweet ones.

To celebrate Imbolc and Mead Day I’ve made a mead cupcake with mead cream cheese frosting. If you can’t find mead, you can try substituting it with a sweet wine – the sweeter and stickier the better. The recipe can be scaled up and you can use the leftover egg yolk to make custard – with or without mead!

Mead Cupcake with Mead Cream Cheese Frosting
(serves one)

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Special instructions:
You will need 1 Texas muffin size silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan and paper liner.

Ingredients
for the mead cupcake
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg white
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
2 tablespoons mead

for the mead cream cheese frosting
1/4 cup (60g) cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons mead

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and combined.
Beat in the egg white.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt.
Stir in the coconut and mix until just combined.
Add the mead and stir until just combined.
Spoon the batter into a silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan lined with a paper case.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting by mixing together the cream cheese and icing sugar until combined.
Add the mead and mix until smooth and combined.
Dollop or pipe onto cupcake.
If the frosting needs to thicken before piping, place in the refrigerator for a sort time.