every task you undertake, becomes a piece of cake

It was The Spice Girls who first said in their seminal text Wannabe, “now here’s the story from A to Z, you wanna get with me you gotta listen carefully”. And so it follows that if you wanna get with this cake you too should closely heed this recommendation. I guess what I’m saying is, this cake isn’t complicated but there’s plenty going on and so you might want to take the following hints into account. And the subtext: I really like quoting the Spice Girls on this blog.

– I can’t think of a better way of extracting the juice from the mandarins than peeling the fruit, holding it in your fist and then clenching thoroughly over a receptacle of some kind. It’s visceral, it’s effective, it neatly does away with including another kitchen implement that you have to wash.
– You can of course use oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, any other citrus that I’ve shamefully failed to name here instead of mandarins.
– The texture of your yoghurt will affect how much icing sugar you need. If it’s the more liquidy stuff, more icing sugar. If it’s the fabulously whipped-cream thick variety, perhaps less is needed.
– With this in mind, go slowly with adding more yoghurt to the icing or it might all just slide right off the cake and make you nearly cry frustrated tears when you put it on the cake. How do I know? I just do.
– Only arrange the plums just before you serve this. Or they will fall off. They just will. Perhaps it’s their passive-aggressive way of reminding us that they’re not in season, and therefore they’re not going to cooperate with no upstart food blogger.
– This cake is really delicious and not as scary as I’m making it sound.

Mandarin Cake With Yoghurt Icing and Plums

Cake adapted from a recipe in the Best of Cooking for New Zealanders by Lynn Bedford Hall. Icing and stuff all my idea though, for what it’s worth.

125ml mandarin juice (this depends on your mandarins, but maybe seven altogether?)
125ml plain oil, like rice bran or grapeseed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
175 sugar
250g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt

6 plums
3 tablespoons sugar
1 extra mandarin

3 tablespoons plain unsweetened yoghurt
150g icing sugar, plus more if necessary

Set your oven to 170 C and line a 21cm springform tin with baking paper.

Whisk all the cake ingredients together (that’s from mandarin juice to the pinch of salt inclusive, by the way) for a few minutes till it forms a thick, pale golden batter. Tip this into the caketin and bake for an hour, though check after 45 minutes. Ovens can be tricksy.

Meanwhile, slice the plums into wedges and place them in a bowl. Sprinkle over the sugar and squeeze over the juice of the mandarin. Leave to sit at least for as long as the cake needs to cook, but overnight is even better.

Once the cake has cooled, whisk together the yoghurt and icing sugar till thick. Add more of either ingredient if necessary. Icing can be tricksy, too. Spread this thickly across the top of the cake, and place the plum slices on top.

Juicy plums, oddly-yet-pleasingly tangy icing, soft-crumbed and sweetly citrussy cake. Worth every Spice Girls quote it took to get to this point (and if you’re not weary of Spice Girls quoting, ignore that sentence and instead read this one: Yay, Spice Girls!)

As I said, plums aren’t in season, but they were only $6 a kilo and you can hardly get anything for $6 these days. If I sound a little defensive it’s only because I recently had the good fortune to meet Nadia Lim, winner of 2011 Masterchef, and she is VERY big on seasonal eating. Which is highly admirable. Sorry to let you down, Nadia, but if it’s any consolation, mandarins are in season right now so hard. And these ones couldn’t be fresher or more local, as they’re from Tim’s grandparents’ tree in Wairoa.

How did I meet her? My dear friend Jo and I were both invited to her Wellington On A Plate Masterclass by Pead PR. You can read Jo’s thoughts on the event here. As well as being a great friend, Jo is also good to hang with at a party. She’s all “Oh hey there Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, let’s hug and talk about our lives and this is my friend Laura”. And she stayed with me right to the end (the champagne helped the time fly by, admittedly) while I waited to meet Nadia and talk with her. Nadia herself should be commended for her massive patience in taking the time to talk to me after having talked to roughly a million other people beforehand. I admit I never actually saw Masterchef – we don’t have a TV, and while I love cooking shows I honestly find the hugely competitive ones a little stressful to watch. All that running around and plating up and being edited to look like a mean person! So while I’d heard Nadia Lim’s name around, and had read a few interviews with her and such, I didn’t have much of a feel for what she was like as a person or a cook. Well, she seems awesome. She’s enthusiastic about food, which I love, she’s confident and fun, she’s highly knowledgeable, and she made three different salmon entrees (using Regal King salmon) and a dessert in her half hour masterclass. All of which I wanted to try recreating myself as soon as possible. You know sometimes when a recipe is so simple and practical and delicious that you think “why haven’t I been making this all the time?” That’s how I felt about her salmon recipes.

And as I said, I got to have a chat with her and she graciously answered the three questions I threw down.

HungryandFrozen x Nadia Lim

Me, Laura Vincent: You’ve just had a cookbook published. What’s something people should know about the process? 

Nadia Lim: Mine was a seasonal cookbook, so if you shoot in winter…I had to use imported stuff which I hated, because I’m a huge fan of eating seasonally and locally, it was a huge dilemma. There are things I had to leave out…and some things I just couldn’t use at all, like I couldn’t put feijoas in. That was a challenge.

Me: I hear that. I am struggling to find strawberries for my photos. Luckily butter’s always in season… I think it’s awesome that you’re young – 26 – and you’ve got a cookbook, you won this TV show, you’re out there getting yours. In an industry generally presided over by older males, what do you think a younger perspective brings?

Nadia: I’ve always stayed pretty true to my food philosophy. When I was twelve I came up with my philosophy of ‘eating from the ground, the sea and the sky, not the factory. But when you’re younger, you’re more more willing to learn new things. Sometimes people are a little stuck in their ways, their techniques, how they do things, but I’m very adaptable and I like to learn from lots of different people, I’m really open to it. And I also think the young generation has a real responsibility, now we’re going back to more, you know, finding out about your ingredients. Whether they’re ethical, sustainable, healthy, what their environmental impact is. That’s really important.

Me: Say someone gave you a million dollars and you could travel anywhere in the world to eat their food-

Nadia [immediately]: Turkey. Yes. I love Middle Eastern flavours. I haven’t been to the Middle East yet but I use a lot of their ingredients in my cooking. I love things like pomegranates, dukkah, labne…Turkish cuisine often – well, you know the flavour wheel, of whether your tastes are more tart/sour dominant or sweet, or salty…I’m quite sour orientated, and a lot of their food is quite tart, like their cheeses, and pomegranate molasses.

Me: And sumac?
Nadia: Yeah! They use so many things that I love in that type of cuisine, and it’s quite healthy, lots of grains and vegetables and freshly made food.

Me: I have spent one afternoon in Turkey – I didn’t eat anything, I had one glass of apple tea. 

Nadia: Apple tea is so good!

Me: Yes! Based on that I can definitely recommend the place. And thanks heaps for your time.

Nadia: Thank you!

Thanks again Nadia Lim, now established as my second-favourite Nadia, right after Ms Comaneci.

In a world where there is so much to be outraged at, like awful pizza companies being awful, I’d like to also throw some light on some things making me happy lately. Whittaker’s sent me a wealth of their wonderful chocolate to assist my recipe testing, for which I’d like to individually hug every single Whittaker’s employee. Tim and I found out we’re going to be able to go behind the scenes at Third Man Records and will get to talk to co-founder Ben Swank when we’re in Nashville in October. We went to a Whisky Breakfast for Wellington on a Plate at Arthur’s cafe – our friend Kim has some glorious photos here on her blog. I got to meet Nadia Lim (okay, you already know that from just ten seconds ago, but I’m not above recycling nice news.) I finally finished and uploaded episode 3 of my podcast, The HungryandFrozen #soimportant Podcast. You can listen on iTunes or on the website. If you like.

And finally, this excellent cat video made me laugh.
Title via: Was *this* close to quoting the ‘jaded mandarin’ line from Jesus Christ Superstar, which I thought for a long time was Judas calling Jesus a mandarin as in the fruit. But instead: MARY POPPINS with A Spoonful of Sugar. She is so important. 
Music lately:

Willy Moon, I Wanna Be Your Man. He is one smooth babe.

Placebo, Slave to the Wage. Forgot how much I love them.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Down By The Riverside. She is the coolest.

Next time: I’m as shocked as anyone, but it’s nearly spring! I’m hoping there’ll be some new fruit and vegetables coming in soon…I love winter so much but I’m ready for more fruit and for asparagus!

PS: I totally forgot to upload the photos first time I published this. Fail! But lots of people reminded me right away. Hooray for the people!

8 thoughts on “every task you undertake, becomes a piece of cake

  1. Emma says:

    You do so many fantastic things, PLUS you get to eat freshly-picked mandarins! You and your dreamboat life:)

    I adore this cake, it sounds delicious. Something to remember when mandarin season rolls around!


  2. Scotty says:

    I can send you some of our mandies if you need more Laura! Sounds like you had a delightful time at WOAP… I want to meet Jo one day, perhaps next when I'm in Welly. Do you need any special ingredients I might find in Central America? xx


  3. Anonymous says:

    That cake looks amazing. And I am never really a fan of citrus cakes (I know, what am I like!) but my favourite thing about your blog remains your tone. I get to have you reading along in my head, it is that much in your voice.

    P.s. adding Turkey to my list. But only for the Apple tea.


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