Cakes

Baking For The Equinox

Thursday the 23rd is the September Equinox. On the Equinox, the hours of day and night are roughly equal. Following the Equinox, the days will become longer than the nights or the nights longer than the days, depending on where you live. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you’ll be celebrating the Autumn/Fall Equinox so your daylight hours will slowly decrease as nights become longer. For those of us in the southern hemisphere, we are celebrating the Spring Equinox so our hours of daylight will slowly increase and the days become longer as we head towards the Summer Solstice.

After grating too much carrot for a recipe, I decided to use the extra carrot to make something for the Spring Equinox. I’ve always wanted to make carrot cornbread or a cornmeal carrot cake so I decided to play around with some of my cornbread recipes and my previous Easter Bunny Cupcake recipe. With some trepidation I baked my carrot and cornmeal concoction in a loaf pan and hoped for the best. Thankfully the cake turned out to be sweet and moreish – perfect for the Spring Equinox!

Carrot and Cornmeal Cake

Ingredients
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, room temperature
30g (2 tablespoons) butter, melted
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup grated carrot

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a medium sized loaf pan with baking paper.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, melted butter and maple syrup.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Stir in the grated carrot.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Remove from pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

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.

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.

A Rosy Midsummer

The Summer Solstice occurs near xmas in Australia, so while I’m getting ready to celebrate the longest day of the year and the shortest night, most of the stores are selling produce geared towards a winter feast day. I don’t mind, as I always look forward to the range of new shortbreads that are only available during xmas.

One of the other winter treats I used to enjoy at Summer Solstice was a Persian fruitcake filled with plump fruits and crunchy nuts and delicately flavoured with rose water. It was one of the most delicious fruitcakes I had ever tried. Every xmas I eagerly waited for the fruitcake’s arrival at the store until one year it wasn’t there and it never returned. That was almost two decades ago.

A few months ago I went for a country drive to Malmsbury Bakery, famous for its homemade Dundee cake. I was keen to try to this Scottish fruitcake as it was rumoured to be a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth II is also reported to enjoy Dundee cake at teatime. A cake fit for royalty was something I just had to have!

The cake was quite large, but I was assured that once opened, it would keep for months in an airtight container. I wasn’t sure how long it would last but I was happy to take a chance. As I cut a generous slice I noticed how large and plump the glazed cherries were, which immediately brought back memories of my cherished Persian fruitcake. I took a bite and was rewarded with the flavour and texture of one of the best fruitcakes I had ever tasted. This was as good as the Persian fruitcake.

The cake lasted weeks and I enjoyed every slice. With only a few slices left I decided to make a bold experiment. Could I add a rose water element to a slice without ruining it? I had to try. At first I was going to sprinkle rose water over a slice but I decided to make a rose water icing instead. I simply mixed icing (powdered) sugar with rose water until it was thick enough to drizzle and then drizzled it over my slice of fruitcake. While it wasn’t my coveted Persian fruitcake, it was floral and delicious and brought back many happy memories of solstices past.

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In keeping with the xmas spirit I also dunked a few pieces of shortbread into the rose water icing and then let them set. Happily they were a delicious success as well.

Happy Solstice!

Wake The Dead Cake

Saturday the 20th of April is Bram Stoker’s 107th deathiversary. To celebrate, I thought I would play around with a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks – Death Warmed Over by Lisa Rogak. This cookbook is a collection of recipes and customs from different countries and religions around the world with a common theme of death. The recipe I have chosen is an Irish Wake Cake, in honour of Bram who was born in Ireland on the 8th of November, 1847.

Irish Wake Cake

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Ingredients
for the cake
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup mixed peel*
1 + 3/4 cups flour
1 + 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
170g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
80g (3oz) cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk

for the glaze
1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons brewed black tea**

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line a 22cm (9inch) loaf pan with baking paper.
Place the currants and mixed peel in a small bowl.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl.
Add 1/4 cup of the flour mix to the dried fruit and toss until the fruit is coated in flour.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat until fluffy.
Add the eggs one a time and beat until combined.
Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.
Add 1/3rd of the flour mixture and 1/3rd of the buttermilk to the batter and mix until combined. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk.
Add the dried fruit and mix until combined.
Pour batter into prepared baking pan.
Bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before placing on a wire rack placed over a tray.
Make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and tea together in a bowl.
Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake and allow to cool completely before serving.

*the original recipe just uses currants. I substituted half the currants for mixed peel as I like the flavour and texture.
**the original icing is a lemon icing. I substituted the lemon juice with black tea as I was curious to see how it would taste and used Earl Grey to compliment the citrus notes of the mixed peel.

A Tale Of An Unripe Avocado

Every month our big chain supermarkets put out free cooking magazines which I love collecting. It’s an obvious advertising ploy as the recipes “encourage” you to use their supermarket brands. While I’m not usually interested in buying their products, I am interested in their recipes. 🙂 One of the recipes I couldn’t wait to make was an Avocado and Pistachio Cake. 

I bought my ingredients and eagerly waited for my avocado to ripen. Squeezing it every day, it finally felt ripe enough to use. I got my ingredients ready but left the avocado for the end as I didn’t want it to go brown. With a bench full of measured ingredients, the oven preheated and the pan ready, I cut open the avocado only to discover it wasn’t ripe. Instead of a beautiful soft inside, ready to be scooped out into the cake mix, it was tough as rubber and definitely not cake-friendly! 

Thinking quickly I grabbed a ripe banana that I had waiting for another recipe and substituted it for the avocado. The result was a delicious and aromatic banana cake that I would definitely make again! 

The recipe included a lemon icing which I omitted as the cake is sweet enough from the banana. As I wasn’t icing the cake, I didn’t have to wait for it to cool completely so I had a couple of slices warm from the oven. You can ice the cake if you like but I do recommend eating some while it’s still hot. And yes, I do plan on making this cake with avocado, I’ll just make sure I cut the avocado before I start.

Banana and Pistachio Cake

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Ingredients
70g shelled pistachios
70g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup almond meal

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 10cm x 21cm loaf pan with baking paper.
Process the pistachios in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a bowl until combined.
Add the banana and vanilla extract and beat until combined.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
Stir in the flour, baking powder, almond meal and pistachio meal until the mix is smooth.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into 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 before icing.

Mother’s Day

From ancient Goddess cults to the Christian Mothering Sunday, mothers in all their forms have been celebrated for millennia. The modern Mother’s Day celebration is part of that tradition. After the death of her activist mother Ann Jarvis, Anna Jarvis wanted to create a special day to honour mothers. Unlike former celebrations, Anna wanted her Mother’s Day to be reserved solely for your very own mother, not mothers or mothering in general. Anna succeeded in her quest, but she quickly regretted her victory.

Anna had envisioned a Mother’s Day where children of all ages would visit their mothers and spend quality time with them. Any gifts would be homemade to show the value of the relationship, not the value of the gift. She was devastated to see the holiday turn into a commercial enterprise for florists, confectioners and card manufacturers. She spent the rest of her life trying to destroy what she had created. Despite the commercialisation of Mother’s Day, it continues to be a very important day of the year.

Empress

Ironically, one of the reasons Mother’s Day remains so popular is that it has returned to the more Pagan understanding of mothers and mothering. Rather than focus solely on your own mother, Mother’s Day is promoted as a time to remember all forms of mothering including symbolic mothers and mothers in the animal world. Many zoos have special Mother’s Day events and encourage people to think about giving a donation or animal sponsorship as a Mother’s Day gift. It’s not what Anna wanted, but maybe by focussing on a broader meaning for Mother’s Day, we can also heal some of the stress that comes with this complicated holiday. Those who have bad relationships with their mothers or children, those who aren’t mothers and those who are mourning children or mothers who have passed away may gain some comfort from less rigid interpretations of the day.

As someone who has always been passionate about animals, I love the idea of including them in Mother’s Day celebrations. My first two posts on Mother’s Day were both panda film reviews – ACHOO! The sneeze heard across the world and Kung Fu Panda 3. Both posts look at the beauty, power and struggle of mothers and babies in the animal world. By including all forms of mothers and mothering in Mother’s Day celebrations, we can bring new focus to the holiday and give support to some of the rarest mothers in the world.

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In honour of all mothers I thought I would create an apple flowerpot cake with apple crisps. The cake can be presented in its pot as a gift. The apple crisps are a personal reminder of the bamboo and apple slices baby panda Miao Miao munched on during a cuddling session with one of her Aunties – me 🙂

Apple Flower Pot Cake

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Ingredients
170g butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup of sweet apple cider
2 tablespoons of elderflower cordial
Icing sugar for dusting

Instructions
Preheat oven to 170C / 340F.
Line an unglazed flower pot or glazed baking pot with baking paper – (approx 16 cm diameter and 10 cm deep)
In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.
In a separate bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves.
In a jug, combine the apple cider with the elderflower cordial.
Add the flour mixture alternately with the cider mixture to the creamed butter. Beat until well blended.
Pour batter into prepared flower pot.
Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool for a few minutes before removing from pot.
Gently peel away the baking paper.
Place cake on serving plate and dust with icing sugar.
Serve with apple crisps.

Apple Crisps
Ingredients
1 red apple
1 green apple
elderflower cordial for brushing
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions
Preheat oven to 130C / 250F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Thinly slice the apples crosswise and remove the seeds.
Using a pastry brush, lightly brush both sides of the apple slices with elderflower cordial.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon together and use to lightly dust both sides of the apple slices.
Place in a single layer on baking trays and bake for approximately 2 hours or until dry and crisp. Turn over every half hour.
Remove from oven, transfer to racks and allow to cool.