sweets

The Ides Of March

Beware the Ides of March! Julius Caesar was warned by a seer that harm would befall him before the end of the Ides of March – March the 15th. The seer was right. Caesar was assassinated on that day. But there is more to the Ides of March than Caesar’s death. In ancient Rome, the Ides of March was a celebration day for the first full moon of the year. To understand why March would host the year’s first full moon, we have to go back to the complicated issue of calendars.

The Julian calendar – introduced by Julius Caesar – is a solar calendar based on the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun. It replaced the more complicated ancient Roman calendar which was a lunar calendar based on the phases of the moon, the equinoxes and the solstices. In the Julian calendar, March is the third month of the year but in the ancient Roman calendar, March was the first month of the year. Due to the complicated calculations of the ancient Roman calendar, the full moon usually fell in the middle of the month, around March 15. March was a time of holidays and festivals celebrating the beginning of the new year and the arrival of the year’s first full moon.

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One figure associated with the Ides of March is the ancient Roman Goddess Anna Perenna. She represents the eternal cycle of a year’s ending and beginning. This is symbolised by her name which can be interpreted to mean per annum (every year). Her name also reflects the English words annual (anna) and perennial (perenna). As March is also springtime, she is associated with the cycles of life, death and renewal. She is also known as a Lunar Goddess.

As with many ancient deities, Anna Perenna’s origins are shrouded in mystery. One of my favourite origin stories is that Anna was an old woman living in Bovillae. During a secessio plebis – a type of extreme strike where all shops are shut down – Anna baked cakes every morning and gave them to the hungry rebels. In gratitude, they worshipped her as a Goddess. Thanks to their worship, Anna became a deified human. I love that she became a Goddess by baking cakes. There’s hope for me yet!

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Whatever Anna Perenna’s origin, the Goddess is celebrated on the Ides of March with feasting, drinking and toasting to health, long life and a happy year ahead. One tradition held that you would live as many years as the cups of wine you drank. I can only imagine the hangovers! That may be another reason to Beware the Ides of March 🙂

There are two places where it seems Anna Perenna was worshipped. One is Buscemi in Sicily where inscriptions to Anna and Apollo were discovered. The other is in Rome where a fountain to Anna was unearthed. Inspired by cake baking Anna and in honour of her two places of worship, I have created an Ides of March Cupcake. The cupcake is based on a  Sicilian cannoli ricotta filling. It is topped with a honey frosting. Honey was a favoured food in ancient Rome. Here’s hoping these cakes lead me to deification!

Ides of March Cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the ricotta cupcakes
1/4 cup honey
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup fresh ricotta
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup mixed peel

for the honey buttercream
1 cup (225g) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 cup honey

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the honey, olive oil, ricotta, lemon juice and lemon zest in a medium sized bowl until combined.
Add the egg and beat until combined.
Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.
Add the flour and baking powder and beat until combined.
Add the citrus peel and mix until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into the paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the buttercream by creaming together the butter and honey with an electric mixer on low speed. Gradually beat in enough powdered sugar until buttercream reaches a piping consistency. Spoon buttercream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.
Enjoy with a glass of wine or honey mead.

You can also check out my Libum – an ancient Roman recipe for cheesecake.

The Love Witch

It was just by luck that I discovered The Love Witch was playing at the Lido, a funky cinema in Melbourne – and for only three nights! I wanted to be surprised, so I didn’t read the film blurb or watch the trailer until after I got home. Well, the film was unexpected! It was funny, a visual pleasure, very challenging and slightly disturbing.

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Directed by feminist film maker Anna Biller, The Love Witch is a cinematic treat. Reminiscent of a Hitchcock film, the cinematography is a joy to behold. On a visual level, the movie really works. Elaine is stunning. With her black hair, wigs, enormous false eyelashes, eye catching makeup, unbelievable wardrobe, killer body and sheer natural beauty she lives up to her reputation as the love witch. Elaine struts her stuff in a bevy of stunning scenes featuring incredible locations, beautiful architecture and rooms showcasing amazing interior design. I love Elaine’s apartment, decorated with artwork inspired by Aleister Crowley’s Thoth tarot deck. I want to live there! And the Victorian Tea Room where she visits is so adorable. It reminds me of The Austen Tea Room I recently wrote about. But for all of its visual beauty, I’m not sure if the film delivers on a theoretical or magical level.

There are many ways to approach this film theoretically. The director certainly has fun playing around with feminist film theory and the art of film making. I spent many years studying feminist film theory at university, but luckily I focussed on Jungian and archetypal theory, not Freudian. I was therefore spared the horror of having to truly understand concepts like the male gaze. Unfortunately, director Biller plays with this theory and apparently tries to subvert it. I was hoping to give you a brief synopsis of the theory but once I started writing my eyes watered and I had to have chocolate to recover from the shock! So I’ll leave the theoretical analyses to those who care and move onto what I really care about – magic and witchcraft 🙂

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The Love Witch is one of only a couple of films that focusses on non-magical human witches. Elaine joins a witches coven in San Fransisco after her husband leaves her. Here she learns about sex magic and love spells. Using herbs, spells and the power of her awesome body, Elaine seduces man after man hoping to find true love. You see Elaine loves love, she’s addicted to love and wants nothing more than to be loved. She is obsessive and narcissistic. She uses all her witchy craft to try to find a patriarchal relationship where she cooks for her man and rewards him with mind-blowing sex. Sadly her use of love magic leads to nothing but disappointment, tragedy and death. Elaine is a witch who will definitely love you to death.

I found this disappointing. I wanted her embracing of witchcraft to be something positive, not a reinforcing of stereotypical attitudes about women, men and relationships. Even worse, it seems as though the high priest of the coven is nothing but a sleaze who has sex with the female initiates while his high priestess partner looks on. When Elaine is near the slimy high priest she acts as though she is a victim of sexual abuse rather than a liberated, powerful, sexual woman and witch. One of the more cringe worthy scenes is when Elaine, the high priestess and high priest are at a burlesque show and the repulsive high priest rambles on about the power of women, the power of their sexuality, their bodies etc while a very skilled woman dances and performs on stage. I’m not sure if this was some sort of feminist subversion but for me it didn’t work. I wanted to scrub myself clean every time I saw the hideous high priest! I am so glad I trained in covens with high priestesses only 🙂

The one witchcraft scene I thought was feminist and empowering is when Elaine makes a witch bottle by urinating into a jar and then dunks a used tampon in it! Okay, that was unexpected.

I actually think it is a great movie to see if only for the cinematography. If you’re a witch you’ll also find it interesting. Plus, there’s the Aleister Crowley inspired room. Check out the trailer for a brief taste of this very unusual movie! The Love Witch

The other thing I loved about the film is cake – yes cake. There are a few delicious scenes featuring mouthwatering cakes. In homage to these lovely cakes I thought I would share a recipe for a Persian Love Cake. It is normally made as two cakes sandwiched together with a rich frosting. In honour of Elaine and her obsession with love I decided to make heart shaped mini cakes. This means there is plenty of frosting left over. You can slather it on top of the cakes or dollop it on other desserts. Or you can just eat it with a spoon.

Persian Love Cakes

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aromatic rose water, lemon and cardamon cakes sandwiched together with saffron frosting

Ingredients
for the cakes
1 cup plain flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup honey
4 tablespoons rose water
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
6 cardamon pods, seeds removed and crushed
1/2 cup caster sugar

for the frosting
1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads
1 tablespoon hot water
1/4 cup thick yoghurt
200ml pure cream, chilled
1/3 cup icing sugar
extra icing sugar for dusting

Method
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Grease two sandwich pans then line with baking paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, honey, rose water, water, olive oil, lemon peel and cardamon until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth and combined.
In a medium sized bowl whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and beat until the mixture resembles thick marshmallow.
Place a small amount of egg white mixture into the batter and gently mix until combined. Add half of the egg white mixture and gently fold through. Add remaining egg white mixture and gently fold through.
Divide batter evenly between the two cake tins.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Cool in the pans for 15 minutes before turning out onto racks and peeling off the baking paper.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.
Make the spread by steeping the saffron threads in the hot water for 20 minutes.
Place the yoghurt into a small bowl. Strain the saffron liquid into the yoghurt and mix to combine.
Place the cream and sugar into a medium sized bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Add the yoghurt mix and whip until stiff peaks form.
To assemble, cut the cakes with different sized heart shaped cookie cutters, making sure you cut them in pairs. Sandwich two hearts together with frosting.
Dust lightly with icing sugar.

The Austen Tea Room

A Tale Of Two Valentines, my first post about Valentine’s Day, was about love and death and the history of the day. As we move toward another Valentine’s Day, the shadow of death moves with me.

Someone very dear to me passed away just after xmas. Although neither of us were Eastern Orthodox any more, we were both born into that religion and some of the traditions still have special significance for me. One such tradition is the ritual performed on or around the 40th day after a death.

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In Orthodox theology, the soul of the departed stays on earth for 40 days after death. The soul wanders around, visiting their home and places of personal importance. Many rituals are performed during this period to help the soul on its journey. On the 40th day, the soul leaves the earth. This final departure is celebrated with family and friends. Rituals are performed culminating in a meal, usually eaten at the grave or at the home of the departed. Traditional funeral foods and the favourite foods of the departed are served. It is a time of celebration and the ending of the official mourning period for most involved.

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As the 40th day approached, I wondered what I would to do to honour this ritual. A visit to her grave was a must. But what about food? It was an important part of our relationship. We loved going out to eat and we spent most of our visits together talking about food and recipes. I thought about making one of her favourite dishes and bringing it to the grave but it didn’t feel right. Then, while doing research for an unrelated event, I found the perfect solution – The Austen Tea Room – a tearoom honouring the late and great romantic writer Jane Austen. Located halfway between my home and the cemetery, it was the perfect place to have a a celebratory funeral meal.

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The Austen Tea Room brings us right back to Valentine’s Day. What could be more romantic than dining under the watchful gaze of the creator of Mr Darcy! I had a toasted cheese and ham sandwich with coffee followed by scones with jam and cream and a pot of tea. The surroundings in the cafe section were informal but the rooms where the high teas are served were incredible. I am definitely going back for high tea.

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I must admit that I have read only one of her books – Northanger Abbey – but I do love the television and movie versions of Pride and Prejudice – especially Pride, Prejudice and Zombies! I also own the Tarot of Jane Austen 🙂

The scone recipe below is not traditional, but you can serve it with traditional jam and cream. I wanted something different so I went with butter and maple syrup which works really well with sparkling wine.

Sparkling Scones

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Ingredients
2 + 1/2 cups self raising flour
200ml cream
200ml sparkling wine
butter for serving
pure maple syrup for serving

Method
Preheat oven to 225C / 440F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Sift flour into a medium sized bowl. Add cream and sparkling wine. Mix together until just combined.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead into a 4cm thick square. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.
Place scones so they are just touching on baking tray.
Bake for 12 – 15mins or until golden brown and cooked through.
Serve with butter and maple syrup or your choice of accompaniments.

 

A Very Warm Solstice

It’s time for those of us in the southern hemisphere to get ready for Midsummer! Wednesday 21st is the Summer Solstice, our longest day/shortest night of the year. While the northern hemisphere is preparing for their cold winter, we are getting warmer and warmer as we move into our summer. Since the Winter Solstice, the days have become longer and the nights shorter. When we reach the Summer Solstice, this reverses. Our longest day heralds the beginning of shorter days and our shortest night gives birth to longer nights.

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There was a time when I dreaded the arrival of summer but those days are gone. Over the years I have made peace with my solar deities, although I still hate the really hot days and long, oppressive nights that our summer can throw at us. I have learned to love the days when the weather is beautiful, warm and sunny and you just have to go outside and enjoy it. I’ve also come to appreciate the pleasantly warm nights where all you want to do is relax with a sparkling drink and wait for the night to slowly cool.

So with thoughts of outings and get-togethers with friends, I would like to celebrate the Summer Solstice with a sweet and golden Sunflower Seed Brittle. This sugary delight can be used to decorate cakes and desserts or eaten as is.

Sunflower Seed Brittle

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Ingredients
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Instructions
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Place the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat.
Stirring constantly, cook for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves and caramelises.
Remove from heat.
Quickly stir in the sunflower seeds.
Pour onto prepared pan.
Allow to cool completely before breaking into shards.

If you like sunflower seeds, check out my recipe for Sunflower Seed Baklava.

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Rocky Roads

Spending a weekend away in Walhalla proved more heavenly than I thought possible. Walhalla is a small town in Victoria, Australia. It started as a gold mining town with around 4,000 residents. No longer a gold mining town, it has a population of less than 20. Tourism is the big draw card now. One of the best things about the town is that there is no internet connection and no mobile phone reception. This meant we could unplug and enjoy a stress free weekend.

We stayed at the Brewery Creek Cottage, a quaint little place that had three of my favourite things – a spiral staircase, a four poster bed and a log fire. There was even a witch on the window! We spent the evenings enjoying a drink next to the roaring fire, playing board games and reading. The outside world was forgotten for a short time.

I chose the Brewery Creek Cottage because the path beside the cottage leads to the cemetery. That was something this goth could not resist! The winding and uphill path was challenging but beautiful. The trees seemed to cradle the path from high above. The cemetery, perched on a hill, had views to die for! Graves were dotted up and down the hilly cemetery. I gingerly picked my way along the path reading the ancient gravestones. I could have spent hours exploring but the sun was setting and I really didn’t want to navigate rocky paths in the dark.

Another reason we visited Walhalla was to take a ride on the Walhalla Goldfields Railway. As we sped towards Thomson, one side of the train passed rocky walls that were so close you could reach out and touch them – not that I recommend doing that 🙂 The track on the other side of the train ran precariously high above a forest stream. The drop from the window looked great. I kept jumping from side to side of the train so I could get the best views!

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After the train we went for a tour in the Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine. I’m always nervous going into caves as I’m claustrophobic but I also love caves as they make me think of the Underworld and the home of Hades and Persephone. Luckily it wasn’t one of those cramped tunnels were you have to duck and crawl your way through. This tunnel was very roomy so I relaxed and enjoyed the experience and the history lesson.

Inspired by the looming mountains and the paths that have been carved through their rocky terrains, I thought I would make rocky road. Rocky road is a sweet made with chocolate and marshmallow. You can add other things to the mix such as nuts or Turkish delight. I have added glace ginger as a nod to the gold found in Walhalla. If you really want a golden experience, serve the rocky road with edible gold!

Rocky Road

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Ingredients
250g dark chocolate
50g white marshmallows, cut in half
25g glace ginger
50g cashews, roughly chopped
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Method
Line the base and sides of a square cake tin with baking paper (approx 20cm x 20cm).
Gently melt the chocolate in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow to cool slightly.
In a large bowl combine marshmallows, ginger, cashews and coconut.
Pour in melted chocolate and mix through.
Pour into prepared tin.
Allow to stand for a few hours to set.
When set, cut into pieces and serve.

A Game Of Love And Death

There are eight seasonal festivals that many witches and Pagans celebrate. Three of them are really well known – Yule, Easter and Halloween. Yule and Easter fall around the Summer Solstice and the Spring Equinox. They have been overlaid by a veneer of Christianity and so are celebrated in many different ways across the globe. Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It too has been overlaid by many cultural veneers but has stubbornly remained Pagan. From its ghoulish iconography to its impish games, there is no mistaking that Halloween is a time for remembering, honouring and fearing the dead.

Last week I discussed the issue of flipping northern hemisphere festivals to fit with southern hemisphere seasons. For a moment I fell into step with my witchy compatriots. Beltane, a fertility festival with a special emphasis on love and unions, was calling. For the first time since I became a solitary witch I was considering celebrating Beltane on October 31st. But a few things happened that flipped me back to Halloween.

As I was perusing the shelves at my local craft beer shop I saw a can of beer that really called to me – a saison named Persephone! When I saw the name, and the Grecian inspired artwork, I just had to have it. The beer is flavoured with balsamic, grapefruit, pink pepper and, not surprisingly, pomegranate. But what really interested me was that saison is French for season. I didn’t know that. The label told the story of Persephone’s journey and how her love of pomegranates bound her to the Underworld and to a seasonal dance of Love and Death with her husband Hades. I can think of no better drink than a saison for Persephone.

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I chose to drink my Persephone saison while finishing a book recommended to me by my friend and cupcake conspirator Anne Belov. Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death is an extraordinary tale featuring the anthropomorphic characters of Love and Death. Each chooses a human player that will represent them in a game. The human players don’t know they have been chosen. Love and Death then manipulate the lives of their players to see if they will choose each other or go their separate ways. Choose Love and the game ends, choose Death and you end! One of the intriguing questions in the book is if we didn’t have Death, would we Love as deeply? Does knowing that Death is our final destination inspire us to Love more fully? Another fascinating aspect is the relationship between Love and Death. Are they enemies or are they two halves of the same coin? You’ll have to read the book to find out 🙂

This October 31st I will be celebrating Halloween. I can’t resist the siren call of the Halloweeny paraphernalia surrounding me! But I won’t be forgetting Beltane. Although I have symbolically chosen to celebrate a festival of Death over a celebration of Love, I will also be thinking of my fellow witches down under who will be leaping over bonfires to promote fertility and dancing around a maypole in November. As for me, this Halloween I will begin a new round of my own seasonal game of Love and Death.

Coeur a la Creme

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Love and Death unite in this decadent heart of cream bathed in pomegranate juice and scattered with fragrant pomegranate seeds.

Ingredients
125g mascarpone
125g ricotta cheese
300ml double cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pomegranate, juice and seeds

Method
Beat mascarpone and ricotta with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add cream, sugar and vanilla and mix lightly.
Line coeur a la creme moulds* with muslin that has been moistened with water and wrung out. Make sure there is enough overhang to cover the top of the mixture. Pour mixture into moulds and cover the top with muslin. Place on a cooling rack over a baking tray and leave in fridge to drain overnight.
Unmould onto serving dishes and decorate with fresh pomegranate juice and seeds.
To prepare pomegranate, cut the fruit in half and squeeze into a bowl. Separate the juice and seeds. Pour as much juice and scatter as many seeds over the coeur a la creme as you like.

*Coeur a la creme moulds are heart shaped ceramic moulds with holes for drainage. They are difficult to get so there are a number of ways to achieve the desired heart shape without them: 
1) You can buy a heart shaped silicone cake pan or mini cake pans and make holes in the bottom with a skewer.
2) You can leave the mixture in a muslin bag to drain overnight then place in a heart shaped mould or moulds before serving.
The important thing is that the cream mixture is allowed to drain overnight before shaping.

Sun Days

As winter gives way to spring, a part of me laments the end of our cold weather and dreads the coming heat. But over the years I have begun to make peace with Apollo, mainly due to a severe vitamin D deficiency. So, much as it pains me, I have allowed the sun to touch my skin! Dracula was out in the sun in the novel, so I guess it’s OK for me too 🙂

One of the things I love most about warm weather is eating ice cream. As a child, I loved ice cream sundaes – especially the maraschino cherries!! I thought I would pay tribute to the sunniest day of the week – Sunday – with a sundae that combines my love of cold, dark winters and my new appreciation of the sun and summer. So I’ve combined a classic winter sticky toffee pudding with a summery banana split.

Sticky Toffee Banana Sundae

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Ingredients
for the date ice cream
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
125g dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1 litre vanilla ice cream

for the toffee sauce
120g unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup double cream

for serving
2 bananas, thinly sliced
400ml double cream, whipped
maraschino cherries

Method
Bring the sugar, water and butter to a boil in a saucepan on medium-high heat. Turn heat down to medium. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the dates.
Stirring occasionally, continue to simmer until the dates are mushy and combined. Allow to cool.
Once the dates are cool, remove the ice cream from the freezer and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to soften. Fold the cooled dates into the ice cream and return to the freezer to set.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once the butter has melted turn the heat to medium and add the sugar, salt and cream. Stir continually with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved, being careful not to burn the caramel. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
To serve, line four serving bowls with banana slices. Pour 1/2 of the caramel sauce evenly over the bananas. Top with 3 scoops of ice cream each. Pour the remaining toffee sauce over the ice cream.
Top with whipped cream and a cherry or three!

Try swirling the date mixture through different types of ice cream flavours.

Blondies for Blondie

I thought I would make some blondies in honour of Blondie, the beautiful European brown bear that made our stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge so awesome 🙂

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Blondies are a variation of brownies. They are usually made with butter and brown sugar which gives them a lovely butterscotch taste. For these brown bear inspired blondies I decided to brown the butter which gives it a nutty flavour. I also added macadamia nuts and white chocolate for a bit of crunch.

Brown Butter Blondies

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Ingredients
165g unsalted butter, roughly chopped
1 + 3/4 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup demerara sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
170g white chocolate, roughly chopped

Instructions
Place the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Carefully swirl the pan and cook until the butter becomes tan in color. Be careful as it is easy to burn. Once tan, remove saucepan from heat and pour butter into a heatproof bowl.
Heat the oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a 20cm square baking pan with baking paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Stir the sugars into the cooled butter.
Stir in the eggs and vanilla.
Gently fold the wet ingredients into the flour.
Add the white chocolate and nuts. Stir until just combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Place on a wire rack to cool before cutting into pieces.

Evolving Oat Slice

When my friend Sue from New Zealand shared a recipe post on FB, I took one look at the Oaty Ginger Slice and knew I would be making it! The recipe is an adaption by Chelsea Winter, a past winner of MasterChef New Zealand, of a Jo Seagar recipe, a much loved New Zealand chef. Inspired by these talented women, I had to make my version of this classic treat 🙂

The oat base looked too good to mess with, so I followed the recipe exactly for that. While the ginger icing also looked delicious, I really wanted to make my stamp on the recipe so I went for a coffee icing. I replaced the golden syrup with maple syrup and the ground ginger with ground coffee. This is another great base for a recipe that you can add your own flavours and tweaks to 🙂

Coffee & Ginger Oat Slice

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Ingredients
for the oat slice
150g butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
3/4 cup plain flour, sifted
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, sifted
1 + 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, sifted
1 + 1/2 cups whole oats
3/4 cup desiccated coconut

for the coffee icing
150g butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon instant coffee
2 – 3 cups icing sugar, sifted

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 32cm x 22cm baking pan with baking paper.
Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir gently to combine. Once combined, remove from heat.
Stir in the flour, baking powder and ginger until combined.
Fold in the oats and coconut until combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing into the sides.
Smooth the top with the back of a spoon.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until it reaches your preferred level of crunchiness*
Remove from the oven and leave in the pan while you make the icing.
Add the butter, maple syrup, coffee and 2 cups of icing sugar to a saucepan.
Stir over medium heat until melted.
If the mixture is too liquid and not coming together, slowly add more icing sugar, but no more than a cup. Stir until you have a smooth, pourable icing.
Pour warm icing over the warm slice.
Leave in the tin to cool then cut into slices.

* The longer you bake it the crunchier it gets but you don’t want it to be too crunchy to eat! You may have to bake a few to decide your optimum crunchiness.

Following The Sun

Monday August 1st is Imbolc in the southern hemisphere. It is the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Traditionally it is the first day of spring. Even though winter is still in full swing, the promise of the sun returning is awakened on Imbolc.

To celebrate the return of the sun I thought I would explore a solar symbol – the sunflower. Sunflowers are of the genus Helianthus, named after Helios, the Greek God of the Sun. While they are growing, young sunflower buds track the movement of the sun from east to west. This is called heliotropism. Once they bloom, sunflowers generally face east – the direction of the rising sun. For me sunflowers symbolise a beautiful solar dance and are a symbol for the impending return of the summer sun.

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Sunflowers are also an important food crop. Sunflower seeds and sunflower oil can be used in many ways in cooking. I was tempted to make sunflower muesli bars but then I thought I would make one of my favourite desserts – baklava.

Sunflower Seed Baklava
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Ingredients
for the filling
1 cup hulled sunflowers seeds
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

for the pastry
125g unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
375g packet of filo pastry

for the syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Method
Place the sunflower seeds, pine nuts and walnuts into a food processor or blender. Process until finely chopped.
Add the sugar and cinnamon and mix until just combined.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Generously brush the bottom and sides of a baking tray with melted butter.
Unroll the filo onto a chopping board. Cut the whole stack to fit your baking dish.
To prevent the pastry drying out, cover the filo sheets with a damp tea towel.
Working with one sheet at a time, place in the baking tray and brush with butter.
Repeat until roughly half of the sheets of filo have been buttered.
Spread the filling evenly over the top.
Place one sheet at a time over the top and brush with butter until they have all been used.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the pastry layers into square or diamond shapes.
Bake for 50 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp.
While the pastry is baking, make the syrup by placing the sugar, water, cinnamon and lemon juice in a small saucepan.
Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Set aside to cool.
When the baklava is baked, pour the cool syrup over the top of the hot baklava.
Allow to soak for at least 5 hours.

baklava