Fresh Peach Galette [Vegan]

IMG_4912

When pondering my blog recently, in the way a concerned parent might frown, with tented fingers, at their child’s blotchy and error-strewn schoolbooks, perhaps with unsavoury cartoons drawn in the margins, something occurred to me: the majority of my recipes lately have been baking, with the occasional preserve. The simple reason being I blog about things as I cook and eat them – it’s rare that I’ll make something especially for the blog – and in turn, baking is most likely to happen during the day, which makes for good photography light, as opposed to dinner, which either happens after the sun has set, or in a hurry of serving and eating, or both. As for desserts, which happen even later – well, no wonder I don’t have a ton of recipes for them these days. Unless they’re ice cream, a scoop of which can be photographed in the morning. I would love to have the kind of food blog where I make recipes – and even test them! – in the day time and photograph them specially, which would make it more of a resource, as opposed to in this incidental fashion with the photographing happening moments before the consumption. That’s not likely to change anytime soon, nor is it practical to my living situation, and that’s fine, but in case you’re like, “where are the dinner and dessert recipes already”, well, take comfort from the fact that I frequently lie awake thinking about that very same question.

IMG_4913

Anyway, this week I was the fortunate, grateful receiver of a large bucket of ripe peaches from my godmother’s garden, and I was determined to make something that wasn’t a cake or an ice cream (my first instinct, and – I’m not ruling out the remaining peaches ending up used in this fashion) but a dessert, a proper pudding. Enter this vegan peach galette – the ideal recipe for me, in that I could make it in the day, take some beautifully lit photographs, and then quickly warm it up later on for eating after dinner. And it’s the ideal recipe for you, because it’s a pie – but so much easier – with a careless and carefree method for pastry and filling both. And even though I’ve said it’s a dessert, in the unlikely event of leftovers a slice of this is lovely cold (or briefly nuked in the microwave) with a cup of tea or coffee.

IMG_4918

Untroubled by any other rowdy filling ingredients, the gorgeous peaches shine – lightly caramelised and jammy from the oven’s heat and gently helped along by the resiny warmth of the thyme leaves and a slight kick of lemon. The pastry couldn’t be easier – and yeah, it uses margarine, but let me be upfront: while I’m yet to meet a commercial margarine which doesn’t taste slightly awful either immediately, or later upon sober reflection in the middle of the night, I must concede that it’s a consistently well-behaved ingredient to bake with. Pastry is stressful enough without worrying about it falling to pieces! The margarine, plus the acid of the vinegar added to the milk, makes a pastry which is tender, easy to roll, extremely courteous, and bakes to a biscuity crisp finish. And to counteract the entirely valid stress of it tasting like margarine, I’ve added plenty of cinnamon – I promise, the finished product is purely peach pie, with no unwelcome flavours.

This galette would be beautiful with whatever fruit you have to hand – obviously any stone fruit could be subbed in, but also consider berries, apples, pears, or a thrilling combination of any of the above. But in our current high summer there’s no better fruit than the peach, and they look so gloriously golden and cosy peeking out from under their pastry blanket-hem that I’m almost envious of them – oh to be a peach, gently tucked under a fold of pastry and baked for thirty minutes!

IMG_4914

Fresh Peach Galette

An easy and delicious rustic free-form vegan peach pie, for anyone too scared to make a pie – the pastry is done in the food processor, the filling is basically just sliced peaches, and yet it tastes like so much more.
Recipe by myself. Makes six good-sized slices, or four even-better-sized slices.

  • 7 tablespoons margarine (no need to level them if they’re slightly heaped)
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 ripe peaches
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons custard powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1: Place the margarine and flour into the food processor bowl and – if it will fit – put the processor bowl in the freezer for ten minutes. If you don’t have the space, chill the margarine and flour in a small bowl before transferring to the food processor. While this is happening, mix the soy milk and vinegar together and set aside to activate/curdle.

2: Briefly blend the chilled margarine, flour, plus the salt and cinnamon in the food processor till everything is incorporated and resembles damp sand. Add the milk and vinegar mixture and pulse two or three times to just mix it in. Don’t worry if it’s not looking particularly coherent at this point, the key to a tender pastry is not over-mixing. Tip the dough into a bowl and press it into a ball with your hands. It’ll be a little sticky, which is fine, but dust a little more flour over if you think it needs it. Cover the bowl and chill the pastry in the fridge for about an hour, although you can leave it overnight if need be.

3: Once the pastry is about done chilling, set your oven to 190C/375F. Slice the peaches and place in a bowl with the sugar, lemon juice, custard powder, and vanilla.

4: Remove the pastry from the fridge and place on a baking paper lined baking tray. Roll it out to a large rough oval or circle shape – it truly doesn’t matter, just roll – about 1/2cm thick. I scattered a little flour on the dough and then put a piece of baking paper on top before rolling, both to prevent it sticking and to save having to wash the rolling pin, I recommend you do the same. The edges don’t have to be uniform, but if they’re particularly jagged, trim them a little, and re-roll the scraps of pastry into the rest of the dough.

5: Pile the peaches into the centre of the pastry, leaving a border of about 8cm free – no need to get out your ruler though, it really doesn’t matter too much either way, you just need to have enough free pastry to fold over the peaches.

6: Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the peaches. Fold the edges of the pastry over the peaches, as you can see in the photos. There should be some liquid remaining in the bowl which held the peaches – pour most of it over the peaches and use the rest to brush over the pastry (or you can simply brush the pastry with a little milk.) Bake your galette for thirty minutes, or until the pastry is golden and crisp. Let it sit for ten minutes before slicing.

Notes:

  • I say five peaches to account for any bruised bits/eating slices of peach as you go. If you have four absolutely perfect peaches and the fortitude to not eat any of them, you can use four. You could probably get away with three peaches, it would just be a smaller galette. And of course, you could use other stone fruit instead – nectarines, apricots, plums, etc.
  • If you don’t have a food processor – one less dish to wash, hurrah – simply rub the cold margarine into the flour with your fingertips, and stir the milk in with a spoon.

IMG_4916

music lately:

I Believe from the Broadway cast recording of Spring Awakening. I’ve been revisiting a lot of cast recordings I haven’t listened to in a long time and getting outstandingly emotional over them, thoroughly recommend it. That being said, I Believe could just about fool someone into thinking it’s not song from a stage show but instead a forgotten folk tune from the 70s, with its hopeful yet bittersweet refrain, yearning harmonies, and pensive guitar strumming.

Force Field by KŌTIRO from their album High-Def Multinational. This is just gorgeous, airy and spacious yet full and warm, like a freshly-baked loaf of bread. I also love the lush and immense Puti’s Maunga from the same album, it’s only 56 seconds long so my advice is to listen to it eighteen times in a row on loop to give yourself time to properly vibe with it.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

The Best Vegan Cupcakes

P1200210

Somewhere between Sex and the City, the establishment of Web 2.0, and the 2008 financial crisis, cupcakes truly had a moment. I’ve been around long enough with hungryandfrozen.com to witness their rise, their stagnation, and the mild backlash, and in this time I’ve only actually blogged about them like, once, eleven years ago, and have spent the rest of the time loftily reflecting upon the cupcake’s place in societal food trends and my place as its constant witness. That self-congratulatory nonsense ends today, since I finally made cupcakes again and the thing is, outside of trends or whether you think they’re cutesy or whether you’re still smarting from being charged $9 for one that time when you accidentally wandered into the local organic market and had made too much small talk with the cupcake seller to be able to back out politely without some kind of purchase – outside of all that – cupcakes are wonderful. A small cake! Just for you! Whole and perfect, with nothing to add or subtract! What’s not to love?

Recently it was my brother and father’s birthday, and I strong-armed them into letting me make cupcakes as the candle-bearing birthday cake (a conceit completely undermined by the birthday celebrations occurring at a beach picnic where the untethered wind wouldn’t even let the match stay lit for more than a second). Normally I’m quite confident to just make up a cake but with the pressure of it being for an occasion I wanted to consult an existing recipe, and then this one at Minimalist Baker seemed so straightforward and reasonable that I ended up following it pretty well to the letter. The recipe worked perfectly: tender, vanilla-scented little sponge cakes, exactly how I pictured them in the tastebuds of my mind (or the mind of my tastebuds?) and the ideal load-bearing wall for all that buttercream.

P1200209

So while I can’t take credit for the cupcakes, the buttercream is absolutely my invention and I cannot even begin to express how delighted I am with it, and myself. Speaking with a vague, unearned air of science, the process involves making a quick emulsion of oil, vinegar and milk, which imitates butter, and then beating icing sugar into that unlikely emulsion until you end up with clouds of the most dreamy, fudgy, buttery and delicious icing you can fathom (as a vegan, I mean, but everyone I’ve fed this to loves it.) I’d explored different kinds of vegan icing before and while using margarine gives good results texture-wise, it’s so hard to avoid that unfriendly margarine flavour. With this quick emulsion method, you get all texture, all flavour, and none of the crestfallen bereft-ness. I split the buttercream in two and flavoured half with cocoa and half with raspberry flavouring and the latter was absolutely my favourite – obviously chocolate is very good, in fact it hardly needs me to defend it, but there’s something about a pink cupcake that just feels right in my soul.

These really are the perfect cupcakes, and without a drop of exaggeration I’ve thought about them every single day since the last one was consumed. And don’t feel like you have to wait for a special occasion to make these: if birthdays are far off (or out of reach) I’d just make a batch and have them for dinner, in its entirety.

IMG_4581

The Best Vegan Cupcakes (with The Best Vegan Buttercream)

Delicious, classic vanilla cupcakes with raspberry or chocolate vegan buttercream. Cupcake recipe adapted very slightly from the Minimalist Baker; Buttercream recipe by myself. Makes 12.

  • 1 cup soy milk or similar
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a standard muffin tray with 12 paper liners.

2: Start by pouring the milk and vinegar into a large mixing bowl and leaving for a minute or two to curdle slightly. Add the oil, vanilla, and sugar, and whisk to combine.

3: Sieve in the dry ingredients – important, as sieving prevents any baking soda lumps – and as the original recipe recommends sifting some of the flour in before the raising agents followed the remaining flour and salt, I will pass this tip onto you as well. Sieving the dry ingredients in this order helps to ensure that the baking powder and baking soda are fully dispersed amongst the flour. Whisk everything together until well blended without any lumps remaining. The mixture should be about the texture of pancake batter – if it’s too liquidy then just sieve in a couple more tablespoons of flour.

4: Divide the mixture between the twelve paper holders, filling them no more than 3/4 full to allow for the cupcakes rising. The mixture is extremely delicious, and it will look like you’ve got a lot, but I personally recommend waiting until you’ve actually filled the paper cases before you go eating too much of it. Bake the cupcakes in the centre of the oven (that is, not too high or too low) for 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of them comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before icing. If the cupcakes have risen quite high, you might want to level off the tops with a serrated knife (and then eat the offcuts, cook’s treat) to make a flat playing field for the icing to go on.

Buttercream:

  • 1/3 cup soft (but not melted) refined coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup soy milk or similar (plus extra if necessary)
  • 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 level tablespoon golden syrup (or light corn syrup if American)
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon custard powder
  • 2 and 1/2 – 3 cups icing sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons good cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon raspberry flavoured essence
  • few drops pink food colouring
  • Rainbow sprinkles, or sprinkles of your choice, to serve

1: Place the soft coconut oil, milk, vinegar, golden syrup and salt into a mixing bowl and blend with a stick blender. It will look quite unpromising at this point, but don’t worry. Add the custard powder and blend again, followed by the icing sugar, a spoonful at a time while still blending, until it forms a thick, dense frosting that begins to hold its shape.

2: Once it gets particularly thick you can remove the stick blender and add the remaining icing sugar by sieving it in and then stirring to combine – start off with 2 and 1/2 cups, but if it’s too thick, stir in a tablespoon or two of extra soy milk, and if it’s too soft, sieve in a little extra icing sugar. The texture you’re after is a spreadable icing that’s thick enough to hold its shape when you move your spoon through it.

3: Scoop about half of the icing into another small bowl. In one bowl, sieve in the cocoa and stir it in until it’s completely combined – you may want to add another spoonful of milk here, as the cocoa can have quite a drying effect. In the second bowl, stir in the raspberry essence and a few drops of pink food colouring, until it’s the flavour and shade you want.

4: Frost the cupcakes once they’re cooled completely – I just dropped a spoonful of icing on top of a cupcake and spread it around with the back of the spoon, then moved onto the next one, but you could also use the flat side of a knife. Scatter the sprinkles over the cupcakes as soon as you’ve iced them – if you leave it too long the icing will set and the sprinkles will just bounce straight off (I mean, I still got sprinkles everywhere anyway, but.) You might end up with a little more icing than you need, once again: cook’s treat.

Notes:

  • I recommend rice bran oil specifically because of its neutral flavour – because these cupcakes are pretty simple I wouldn’t recommend an oil with an overpowering flavour. Canola or grapeseed oil also have a pretty neutral flavour.
  • I haven’t tried piping this buttercream so I couldn’t honestly say whether or not it’s suitable for the purpose, although I’d guess it would be, since it holds its shape well.
  • The custard powder in the icing is for flavour and texture, but I’ve made it without and it was also fine so don’t stress if you don’t have any.

P1200216

music lately:

One For My Baby (And One More For The Road) by the highly underrated Ida Lupino, from one of my favourite films, Road House (1948). She’s not exactly a singer, but the way she acts through this song is exquisite – as the bystander says after she’s done, “She does more without a voice than anyone I’ve ever heard!”

Dress by PJ Harvey. That barrelling drumbeat and the “if you put it on” refrain and everything, it’s just so good.

Regina by The Sugarcubes. You know I have ready a list of Broadway songs I would love to hear Bjork sing (and vice versa, I’ve always thought Idina Menzel would be an ideal person to cover Big Time Sensuality.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan Rum + Pecan Cookies

P1200095

Well, 2021 has shuffled in the back door looking suspiciously like 2020 in a trench coat with a large fake moustache affixed under its nose. And with it, I also shuffle forwards in continuous pursuit of the most palatable way to be all, “here’s a cookie recipe” as the systemic failures and relentless atrocities of the world spiral around us. Truth be told, I don’t know if there is a good way of doing it – and I also don’t believe it’s actually possible to politely withhold politics from the dinner table. What else is there to talk about? Everything’s political! If anything, my hesitancy in alluding to current events is less based in coyness and more based in the fact that there is just SO much happening right now, and all these happenings are jostling for the attention of whatever shreds of my attention span remain after being pan-fried in the savagely hot, high-summer sun which is, I believe, currently located on the roof of my house and not in outer space. (All that being said: a president having two impeachments – while demonstrably imposed far too late to have any real mitigation of risk and harm – is objectively hilarious. Or careless, as Lady Bracknell would have said.)

On New Years Eve my dear friend Charlotte and I watched the sun setting meditatively over the Tasman Sea, and under that sinking sun we listed our intentions and goals for the year – as you can guess, mine include getting an indulgent yet solicitous agent; having a manuscript published to fabulous acclaim; working out how to make a food blog relevant without changing a single thing because I like it as it is; and acquiring a weighted blanket – and I’m speaking them aloud here to give the manifestation process a purposeful bump forwards. We then went home and played Scattergories until 1am when I realised it was suddenly no longer 2020. It was maybe the most lovely new year I’ve ever had, and I hope you, like me, also had a chill and delightful time over the holidays.

Anyway – here’s a cookie recipe?

P1200092

You know and I know that the chocolate chunk cookie rules supreme in hearts and imaginations, but this recipe – which I’ve adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s excellent Veganomicon cookbook – is sensational, and extremely worth your attention. The original recipe evokes the flavours of eggnog, but not having ever tried eggnog I can’t speak to its accuracy. Even sans context, these flavours are glorious – the demure warmth of the nutmeg and cinnamon, the buttery elegance of the rum and pecans, the latter offering mellow crunch strewn throughout each chubby golden ball of dough.

P1200096

I have to assure you that your cookies won’t turn out cracked and funny like the ones pictured – I’ve made this recipe so many times, but the one occasion where I thought to photograph them, I’d only had self-raising flour on hand and so that affected the way they baked. Your cookies will be smooth-surfaced and beguiling, I promise. I really have made these rum + pecan cookies dozens of times – including a triple batch just before Christmas, prepared in such large quantities for – unsurprisingly – Christmas presents to distribute to the whānau. I also attempted a version while camping last week, “baked” in the large gas-powered frying pan – and they weren’t terrible. Even if you accidentally overcook these they’re still fine, you just really need a cup of tea on hand for significant dunking.

These are grown-up yet comforting and cosy – a truly remarkable cookie. I don’t think I’ve made a batch yet without doubling up the quantities since the first time I tried it.

P1200099

Vegan Rum + Pecan Cookies

My favourite cookies – maybe even more than chocolate chunk? Adapted from a recipe in Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. See notes at the end of the recipe for ingredient substitutes and how to make these alcohol-free.

  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1/3 cup neutral-flavoured oil (eg rice bran)
  • 1/4 cup soy milk or similar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses, treacle, or golden syrup
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 and 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1/4 cup cornflour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or use ground)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a baking sheet (or two, if you have them) with baking paper. Roughly chop the pecans, or – I personally find this much easier – crumble them with your fingers, and set aside.

2: Briskly stir the oil, milk, white and brown sugars, molasses, rum and vanilla together in a mixing bowl, then stir in the pecans. Sieve in the remaining dry ingredients and mix into a thick dough. If it looks too sticky, add a little extra flour (and sometimes I roll each unbaked cookie in a little extra flour before baking just to be safe – hence the dusting of flour you can see on the cookies in the photos.)

3: Roll tablespoons of the dough into balls and place about two inches apart from each other on the baking tray – no need to flatten them or anything. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until the pale dough has turned golden. As I’ve noted elsewhere, your cookies probably won’t crack like mine did in this photo – I only had self-raising flour when I made this batch and I think it affected them a little.

4: Carefully transfer the cookies to a cooling rack using a lifter/flipper tool and continue rolling and baking the remaining dough. If you are baking two trays of cookies at a time you may need to give the tray on the bottom an extra minute or two.

Makes 20-24 cookies.

Notes:

  •  The rum I used was Plantation Original – it really is crucial that you use a darker rum here, not a white rum. That being said, if you have spiced rum on hand that would work perfectly. Bourbon would also be extremely ideal here.
  • If you don’t want to use alcohol at all, replace the rum with more milk or orange juice, and up the vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons.
  • I feel compelled to emphasise that the ingredient we call “cornflour” in New Zealand is called cornstarch in America, and is not to be confused with polenta.
  • The original recipe only uses white sugar, so you can absolutely do the same
  • Walnuts work great instead of pecans
  • I don’t recommend using self-raising flour!

P1200100

music lately:

No 1 Fan by Majesty Crush. This song, from the very underground early 90s shoegazey band Majesty Crush, is just startlingly gorgeous. It makes you feel exhilarated but in a really sad way, you know?

That’s Where The Sin Is, by Minimal Man. I started 2020 with MM’s transcendently wonderful song Pull Back The Bolt – I urge you to go listen to it! – and we meet again in 2021. That’s Where The Sin Is bears a more sinister, nihilistic vibe, but is no less immediate and alluring.

Nobody’s Side, sung by Broadway’s Julia Murney in the 2003 concert version of the musical Chess – this is the definitive interpretation of the song. The cerebral quality Murney brings to every role, the Capital-A Acting that she does, her unparalleled vibrato absolutely pinging, that note she hits precisely three minutes in which is so stratospheric I couldn’t even tell you what it is (a high J perhaps? An N major?) I could pummel whoever decided to cut away from her expressive face at that moment to do a wide shot, and I would gladly hand over a non-essential organ for a high-quality cast recording of this show – till that blessed day comes, a grainy YouTube video it is.

Next time: I believe it’s that time of year where, despite professing to not be wild about soup, the only thing I can face eating in this stifling heat is…chilled soup.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up

p1190535

Once more Christmas lurches purposefully towards us, engorged with expectation, and emotion, and the hopes and fears of all the years, and capitalism. Which means one thing, round these parts: it’s time again for my annual list of edible gift idea recipes, gathered from my prior blog posts over the past thirteen years. It’s a self-serving action, yes, but also hopefully helpful in some way – and all I ever really want is to be useful, but to also draw attention to myself in the process.

Time is forever a strange and fluctuating thing – and never in such a collectively experienced manner as this year with COVID-19. We all felt how it was March for six months, now next March is inexplicably three months away – and I know for many, this Christmas is not going to take its usual form. If you’re confined to a relatively small circle of people, there are still neighbours, the postal service, any number of people nearby who might be cheered by a small jar or box of something in their letterbox, or on their doorstep. Even just you, alone, are reason enough to bake a cake. I also realise to heaps of people Christmas is quite reasonably another day of the week! But generally there will be some point in your life where giving a gift is required, and almost all the recipes listed below work beautifully year-round (though I personally can’t eat candy canes out of season.)

d4de8-img

As for the financial pressure of this time of year – I won’t lie, between the ingredients, time, electricity, storage and wrapping, homemade edible gifts aren’t necessarily that cheap, and there’s no moral superiority in making your own jam. It is undeniably delightful to receive something homemade – but if this is too strenuous, stick with the food concept and do your Christmas shopping at the supermarket. Chocolates, candy, olive oil, fancy salt, peanut butter, curry pastes, hot sauce, olives, a complicated shape of pasta – even just food you know someone eats a lot of. They love noodles? Get them noodles! I guarantee they’ll be pleased. Basically, we cannot escape capitalism but giving an edible gift of any kind has so many upsides: it’s delicious, it has immediate application, it will eventually cease taking up space in the receiver’s house, it makes you look like a really great person.

P1200083

To the list! I’ve grouped the recipes into three categories, and have also included some of the recipes I wrote for Tenderly over the last year.

Two caveats: some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant. Also I feel like it’s worth pointing out that anything involving an ingredient which either could melt or has been melted, should be stored in the fridge rather than under the tree.

Also – all these recipes are vegan.

adb48-p1150365

Category One: Things In Jars

No matter how uncertain the world we live in, you can still count on Things In Jars. From relish to pickles to the unsinkable salted caramel sauce, it’s always well-received, it always looks like you’ve gone to arduous levels of effort, and it’s an ideal gift for everyone from your most marginally tolerable of coworkers to the most highly specific love of your life. For added personal flair – although this could just be my neurological predisposition for over-explaining – I suggest including a gift tag with recommendations on ways to use the contents of the jar.

Savoury:

91d36b22-3397-4e9f-82a9-b842bd12cfb1

Sweet

1_aaxmfu-nrngcrv-guzg3tq

Category Two: Baked Goods

They’re baked! They’re good! While biscuits and cookies are more commonly gifted, don’t rule out a loaf, perhaps wrapped in baking paper and then brown paper – the banana bread and ginger molasses loaf below keep well (especially the latter) and would make a charmingly convivial offering. At this busy time of year, having something to slice and eat with a cup of tea or a snifter of whatever weird liqueur you can find in the back of the cupboard is nothing if not a stroke of good fortune.

9297312b-b637-4d15-ae97-f50628e1507b

Category Three: Novelty, No-Bake Sweets, and General Sugary Chaos

The best category, let’s be frank. Whether it’s dissolving candy canes in bottom-shelf vodka or adding pink food colouring to white chocolate for the aesthetic, sugar is the true reason for the season. And since dentists wildly overcharge us for their service, you might as well make them really earn it.

2aead-download28629

music lately:

Supervixens by AR-Kane, I love this song so much, the way the woozy vocals slide over the melody, the way the melody slides over the beat, in fact this whole album (“i”) is exhilaratingly glorious.

Brooklyn Blues, by Clifford Gibson. Okay so I love early blues, but if I’m honest, I only initially got into Gibson because I found him on Wikipedia under the list of people who have the same birthday as me (April 17.) Fortunately this rather vain curiosity was highly rewarding because he was a wonderful musician (of course!)

Irma La Douce, by Shirley MacLaine from her fantastic Live at the Palace album. This is the English version of the title number of the French stage show on which the film of the same name was based, in which Shirley MacLaine played the title character – Irma La Douce – very straightforward. It’s one of my very favourite films and I love her performance of this song, from its wistful, introspective beginning to its unhinged, full-throated conclusion.

Also – I was genuinely heartbroken to learn of the passing of Broadway legend, icon, star, Ann Reinking. I could say SO MUCH about her, and Fosse’s choreography, and Gwen Verdon, and the way they all worked together – but instead I’ll just link to this clip of her dancing in a dream sequence in All That Jazz – a film I could watch every day and never tire of. It’s a deceptively simple number, but her precision and ownership of the movements is astonishing. Everything she does – even just lowering her eyelids in a blink at 46 seconds in – is a dance movement, on a level the rest of us can only dream of.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area, where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, short stories, all for just $2 a month.

The Very Best Christmas Cake (vegan)

7ecd2-p1110131

If growing old is humanity’s largely unavoidable curse, its reward is surely discovering and ageing into the untold experiences and possibilities and freedoms which adulthood affords you. Or at least, so I hear. Currently, the only one of these afforded freedoms I can afford, is that the years have sufficiently killed off my tastebuds, so I may genuinely enjoy eating Christmas cake.

Christmas cakes – or fruitcakes in general, be they secular or vaguely pious – were an extreme letdown in my childhood, not just because they tasted so foul to my dilettante palate – but because they looked so storybook spectacular, with that smooth expanse of uninterrupted white icing and that rich chocolatey-looking interior. But oh, such injurious, disgusting dissonance! The icing tasted like fimo modelling clay – the cake beneath like the inky pages of a King James Bible, recently flung into a puddle.

Anyway, time passed, now I like them.

P1200058

But if I’m going to eat fruit cake, it still better be excellent, and this recipe, let me assure you, is the most excellent. Yes, it’s vegan, but specifically, it’s not merely the best vegan Christmas cake, it’s, in fact, the best Christmas cake. It is vegan – and it is best. It’s even better than the recipe I put in my 2013 cookbook (pictured up the top there with its dashing star wreath icing – look, it’s a nice picture, and visually, an iced fruitcake is an iced fruitcake, so I reserve the right to repeatedly trot out this relatively old image.)

This fruitcake is wonderful both to make and to eat – as you’ll see in the recipe, the most stressful aspect is lining the tin with baking paper. The combination of dark rum, Guinness and tea give it such a robust backbone of flavour – for some reason, the combination of chai and rooibos is particularly buttery and rich, but if you can only get one or the other then so be it. Guinness tracks its muddy footprints through the batter, lending complexity and intensity. Dark rum speaks for itself (but in case you can’t hear it: it’s just very delicious.)

P1200063

I impatiently cut myself a slice as soon as the cake came out of the oven – needing to know whether the recipe actually worked or not – and it was incredible. Two days later, it was like a whole different cake. Deeper, darker, more settled, more confident, it tasted so good I’m ascribing human qualities to it. It tastes like the sound of Bing Crosby’s least phoned-in Christmas album. It’s amazing. It’s the Christmas cake you deserve.

P1200067

The Best Christmas Cake

Easy, incredibly delicious, only gets better with age – just like you – and it’s vegan – just like me. I recommend starting this about five days before Christmas, for it to be really peaking right when you need it.

Fruit:

  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup prunes
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sultanas
  • 1 and 1/2 cups tea made with two chai rooibos teabags (or one rooibos, one chai)
  • 1/2 cup dark rum

Cake:

  • 1/2 cup neutral oil, eg rice bran or sunflower
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup treacle, or golden syrup
  • 1 cup Guinness
  • 1/2 cup soy milk, or your preferred milk
  • 4 teaspoons malt vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 3 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3-4 drops pure orange oil

1: Roughly chop the prunes and dried apricots (measure them out first, then chop them) until they’re all more or less in quarters or thirds, and place them, along with the sultanas, into a small bowl. Cover with the hot tea and the rum, cover, and leave in the fridge overnight, or for at least six hours. But ideally overnight.

2: After a suitable quantity of time has passed, drain the fruit, retaining any of the steeped liquor (there won’t be much, it will be delicious.)

3: Now comes the most difficult part – lining the tin. Take a 22-23cm springform or loose-bottomed cake tin, cut a circle of paper to fit the base, then take a long stretch of paper, fold it in half horizontally/along the long edge, bring the two edges together to make a loop, and fit this inside the cake tin, overlapping the paper where necessary to make it more or less hug the tin’s inner walls. It doesn’t matter if it’s all a bit hodge-podge, the cake batter will hold it in place, but it might help to place a bowl or something inside the tin while you wait, to hold the paper in place. You should end up with the cake tin lined on the base and sides with paper, with a good-sized collar extending over the top edge of the tin.

4: Now comes the easy part – making the cake. Set your oven to 160C/320F. Mix the oil, sugar and treacle together in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Stir in the Guinness and milk – it will probably froth up a fair bit, but it will subside – followed by the vinegar and vanilla.

5: Add the remaining dry ingredients (you don’t have to sieve the flour but I always sieve baking soda, because I live in fear of lumps in my baking and unfortunately have the past experience to justify such fears) and slowly stir together till it forms a cohesive, liquid-but-thick batter. If you’re worried, the cocoa doesn’t make it taste chocolatey – it just adds another layer of dark intensity.

6: Fold in the drained steeped fruits. Taste to see if you think it needs a bit more of any of the spices – and also just because the batter tastes really good, and you deserve it – and then spatula it all into the waiting cake tin. Even out the top, and then bake for around one and a half hours, or until it’s no longer jiggly when you carefully prod the centre, and a skewer comes out more or less clean. You may want to cover it loosely with tinfoil halfway through, to prevent burning (I did!) Check after an hour, but be prepared to bake it for closer to two hours, it being a very dense mixture.

7: Remove the cake from the oven, spoon over the remaining tea/rum liquid, and allow the cake to cool in its tin. Once cool, carefully remove it and transfer to an airtight container till required. This gets better every single day, although I haven’t had it last longer than a week so I can’t say for sure how far ahead you can make it, but if you keep it in an airtight container still wrapped in its paper, it should be good for at least that long, and surely longer still.

Notes:

  • If you need this cake to be alcohol free, replace the rum with more tea, and I would definitely go for a chai/rooibos blend here rather than black tea. I would add an extra dash of vanilla and maybe an extra quarter cup of brown sugar too. It occurs to me now that the carbonation of the Guinness helps aid the texture of the cake, so try a good ginger beer or ginger ale in its place instead.
  • If you can’t get hold of orange oil, add the zest of a large orange instead.
  • If you lack dark rum, you could use bourbon or a decent-ish brandy – either of these would be preferable to white rum, but golden rum would work in a pinch, and spiced rum is obviously not going to do any harm.
  • You can quite reasonably use just sultanas and prunes if you don’t want dried apricots in it. These are the only concessions I will concede!

P1200069

Also, if you really hate fruitcake but seeing the word “cake” has triggered a response in the brain of your taste buds, I recommend this perfect mocha cake (go for the fudgy icing variation) or this molasses loaf which I make roughly once a week, it’s incredibly good and slightly more chill with treacle instead of molasses, too. 

music lately:

Lovely Head, by Goldfrapp. My dear friend Charlotte and I once listened to this song on loop for literally forty minutes – it was also about 1am – and this is exactly how you should listen to it too, and don’t even click through unless you’re prepared for that commitment.

Where Do We Go From Here? by Death. Where, indeed? This is sludgy yet crunchy, like a smashed car windscreen falling into your porridge (or vice versa, I guess.)

A Perfect Relationship by Judy Holliday from the film (based on the Broadway musical) Bells Are Ringing. She was so deadpan hilarious and yet there was something so heartbreaking and tremulous about her. This song, however, is very cute, and in theory is not at all heartbreaking.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan Piña Colada Loaf Cake

P1190983

“Is that coconut I taste in this food you’ve cooked?” Yes, probably, I’m vegan. With this loaf cake I decided to take the obvious and go large with it – you’re definitely supposed to taste the coconut. In fact, it started off in my head as just a coconut loaf – admittedly, I was thinking about how cute the toasted coconut chips would look against the white icing more than anything else, but in my defence these days you have to be aesthetic-forwards or no one will grant you their precious attention span on the timeline, let alone care how passionately you write. And a coconut loaf cake on its own would’ve been great, but there was pineapple juice in the fridge leftover from another recipe, and I have a lot of rum in my wardrobe (as in, that’s where I have space to store it, Wardrobe-Rum isn’t a weird bartender quirk, it doesn’t enhance the flavour or anything.)

And who is better friends with coconut than pineapple and rum? I mean, to answer that question honestly as a vegan, I’d say there’s not much that I can’t make play nicely with coconut, but in a traditional sense, rum-coconut-pineapple is a classic, an iconic marriage of sweet and rich and zingy. My piña colada loaf cake recipe celebrates this magnificent trifecta – with an added friendly dash of lime – in an easy, one-bowl affair, which is chill enough to eat in the morning, yet elegant enough to eat at night.

P1190985

That SPF 50 flavour comes from using three different kinds of coconut – the sandy desiccated stuff in the cake batter, coconut cream in the batter and icing, and a generous handful of coconut chips on top. The rum is optional – but it makes things taste like rum, which is undeniably positive – and the pineapple, one of the most hardworking flavours there is, gives us juicy sourness, golden sweetness and a certain beachy hopefulness. The thing is, a piña colada wouldn’t really be my first, second or third choice of drink (and I’m so glad I retired my practice of naming blog posts for corresponding song lyrics so I don’t have to acknowledge that song) but in loaf cake form, it’s sublime. Is that coconut you taste? Hell yes.

P1190981

Piña Colada Loaf Cake

One-bowl, pineapple-coconut-rum magic. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream or full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup rice bran oil, canola oil, or similar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (or lemon)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Icing

  • 2 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Jamaican rum (or rum of your choice, or an extra tablespoon pineapple juice)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut cream
  • 2 tablespoons pineapple juice
  • 1/3 cup coconut chips/flakes

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a loaf tin with baking paper. Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda and desiccated coconut together in a mixing bowl.

2: Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and tip in the pineapple juice, coconut cream, oil, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Fold it together till it forms a thick batter. Spatula this mixture into the loaf tin and spread it evenly. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. If it looks like it’s getting too brown on top, cover it with a sheet of tinfoil.

3: To make the icing, mix together the rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice and icing sugar. Toast the coconut chips (I did half and left half raw) over a low heat in a frying pan till they’re just browned, and quickly remove from the heat.

6: Let the cake cool somewhat before icing – it can still be a little warm, but if it’s too hot the icing will slide right off. Spread the icing thickly over the top and then sprinkle with the coconut chips.

Store in an airtight container.

Notes: If your coconut cream is the kind that separates itself out in the can, make sure it’s the thick, creamy stuff that you’re using, and not the more watery part. For added flavour, you can jab the cooked loaf cake with a skewer in several places while it’s still hot and pour over a tablespoon or so of either rum or pineapple juice.

P1190987

music lately:

Song For The Sun by Swans. Yes, I like their more difficult stuff, but sometimes it’s nice to reward yourself with a straightforwardly wonderful song like this, and even if the melody is fantastically uplifting, the poetically miserable lyrics are there to grab you by the ankle and make you fall to the floor.

Dashti by Hayedeh. That contralto!

Ever New by Beverly Glenn-Copeland. Simply one of the most gloriously beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, I urge you to listen to it! For your health! Prioritise your health and listen to this song!

Next time: something savoury.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan Lemon White Chocolate Slice


P1190935

There are numerous ways in which New Zealand aggrieves me, both on a macro and a micro level, but on a very micro level, something that makes me wildly irate is how expensive vegan white chocolate is here. And should you forgo paying the rent, or feeding your family, to instead spend that money on a bar of vegan white chocolate: it doesn’t even taste that great.

Today’s recipe doesn’t solve this problem. But it is white chocolate inspired and, I would say, evokes it with success. Whether or not you agree on the degree of white chocolate evocation in this recipe, we can all agree that it’s nonetheless amazingly delicious.

The key ingredient is cacao butter – a relatively specialised item, I grant you, and I’m sincerely sorry! Whenever a recipe implies a secret ingredient I’m always like, “please let it be flour, or water, or air,” and it’s always instead something like $400 worth of macadamias. (For what it’s worth, I found raw cacao butter quite reasonably priced at the Pukekohe Bin Inn and I believe it’s becoming available in supermarkets.) Cacao butter is simply the extracted fat from the cocoa beans, and it’s the most beguiling stuff – it has the texture of chocolate but it tastes like nothing. There is perhaps the faintest echo of chocolate flavour but otherwise it’s just an inoffensive waxy vibe, and yet – I freely admit – I found myself continuously compelled to eat it, on its own, to marvel at that dichotomy of mind-blowing texture and utterly absent flavour.

P1190932

Anyway, adding cacao butter to a sweetened mixture of cornflour-thickened lemon juice and almond milk, along with the tiniest, barest pinch of cocoa to help things along – it creates a filling for the slice which is velvety-textured and creamy, and flutteringly white chocolatey, while also being pertly zingy from the lemon. As is so often the case with the real thing, this white chocolate mixture graciously takes a back seat to the lemon’s snappy tartness.

The base – dense and slightly fudgy – somehow adds to the white chocolate vibes with the oaty nuttiness and caramelly brown sugar. You can always replace the oats with more flour if you don’t have the means or the will to get out the food processor, but for what it’s worth I think they add to the slice’s excellence, and if you give the food processor a quick shake after blending the oats – it’s basically clean again. I should also point out that the recipe does look extremely wordy, but that’s only because I am a real over-explainer and want to make sure you have all the information; the whole process is really quite straightforward.

I have not yet tried making this without any distracting citrus factor, but would be interested in pursuing it, along with seeing how cacao butter fares in other baking, sauces, ice creams, and indeed, if something that properly tastes like a bar of white chocolate can be made from it – but till then, this slice is an incredibly delicious starting point.

P1190939

Vegan Lemon White Chocolate Slice

A recipe by myself.

Base:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling:

  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour (or cornstarch as it’s called in America)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (two medium-large lemons should do the trick)
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon (as in, a tiny tiny pinch) of cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao butter, roughly chopped
  • lemon zest, to serve

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a regular brownie tin (either 20x20cm or 27x17cm or thereabouts, one of those ones) with baking paper. Blitz the oats in a food processor until they are ground fairly finely (it’s okay to still have some bits here and there.)

2: Mix the powdered rolled oats and flour in a mixing bowl then sieve in the baking powder and baking soda and mix again. Add the sugar, coconut oil, salt, milk and vanilla and mix until it forms damp crumbs. Press the mixture in an even layer into the base of the brownie tin, stab a few times with a fork (this prevents it rising unevenly) and bake for about fifteen minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly while you make the filling.

3: Whisk the almond milk, cornflour, and lemon juice together in a small pan, making sure there are no lumps. It sometimes helps to mix a little liquid into the cornflour first and then stir that into the rest of the liquid. Continue stirring the mixture over a low heat until bubbles just appear at the edges – at this point, remove it immediately from the heat and keep stirring for a bit to cool it just slightly.

4: Either microwave the cacao butter in 20 second bursts or melt it in a bowl resting on top of a small pan of simmering water. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into the almond milk mixture and stir it in along with the vanilla, then gradually, very slowly, add the melted cacao butter, stirring till it’s incorporated before adding in more. It will take some definite stirring to bring it all together, but if it looks like it’s really not mixing in, sift in some extra icing sugar, a teaspoon at a time – this gives the oil something to “cling” to.

5: Spread the filling evenly over the base, sprinkle with the lemon zest, and refrigerate until completely cooled. The filling will be thick, but not solid. Slice into squares.

Notes: You can use refined or unrefined coconut oil successfully here. If you don’t or can’t have almond milk, rice milk would be my second choice – both have a neutral, slightly sweet flavour that’s ideal here.

P1190941

music lately:

Chest, by FRIGS. This song has everything: tempo changes, a pervading air of hostility, Hole-style yelling, more tempo changes. I love it.

Riot by Basement Five. Excellent, and best served as loud as it is fast.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

 

incredibly delicious mocha cake

P1190870

I went back and forth several times but there’s no real way to make this opening sentence any more thrilling, and even if it’s not thrilling, it’s true: I’ve really been getting into square cakes. They go so much further than a round cake, the relative shallowness of the tin takes the edge off worrying about how tall the cake will rise, and there’s no dicking about with layers. It’s the practicality that particularly appeals to me – a round cake, sliced into wedges, is gone so soon! But a square cake – well, that’s absolute days of coffee-or-tea accompaniment quite sorted. Partway through my writing this, it was announced by the government that New Zealand will be moving into Level 2, significantly lifting the lockdown we’ve all been in for what feels like forever now. Certainly puts the buzz of a square-shaped cake into perspective.

P1190875

But as much as a cake can be exciting either on its own terms or in relation to COVID-19 this one has it covered – moist and springy, delicately rich with cocoa-tinted coffee flavour. It’s plain, yet hints of effort, mellow yet intense, sweet, but with the bitter full-stop of caffeine. I’ve made it twice now and imagine there will be several more iterations to come. I used a different icing both times: first, an ermine frosting – which is where you make a roux of milk and flour and beat it into butter, which sounds terribly unlikely but it’s a traditional American recipe where you end up with a silky coating as glossy as a buckskin Akhal-Teke horse. Lovely though this was, I prefer my second go, where I made a quick emulsion to imitate butter and then added icing sugar, it was densely granular and fudgy and wonderful.

P1190877

After the swaddling-tight restrictions of lockdown I’m illogically a tad wary about moving into comparatively carefree times, though there’s no kidding ourselves that whatever we considered normal is going to return – especially considering every other country in the world is having its own personal battle with COVID-19. I’ve been extremely lucky and I’m so grateful for it, which is not to discredit any anxiety, but it does put me in an okay position to deal with it. I keep trying to remember what I told myself near the start of all this: one hour at a time, one day at a time. At least with this cake I know where I stand, which is a start – it’s wonderful, and delicious, and the knowledge of its existence, patiently waiting for my next cup of tea, comforts.

P1190872

Incredibly Delicious Mocha Cake

A recipe by myself.

Cake

  • 2 and 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 heaped tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain oil, such as rice bran
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or similar, eg maple syrup)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup cold water

Icing Option 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 7 tablespoons (roughly half a cup) vegan butter/margarine

Icing Option 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft coconut oil (refined or regular, either is cool)
  • 2 tablespoons oat milk or similar
  • 1/4 teaspoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Note: if you don’t have instant coffee but you do have plunger coffee or similar, you can use that instead of the cold water (just leave it to go cold, too) or as well as for extra coffee boost.

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a 22x22cm cake tin with baking paper.

2: Place the flour in a large mixing bowl, then sieve in the baking soda (to ensure there are no lumps and to make the mixture rise evenly) then stir in the cocoa, coffee powder, and sugars.

3: Make a well in the centre by pushing a hole in the flour with your spoon, then tip in the remaining cake ingredients and stir to combine into a thick cake batter. Spatula this into the cake tin and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the top is springy. This is your cake and you may have it and eat it too as it is, or proceed to the following icing recipes once it’s cooled.

Icing 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

1: Whisk together everything except the butter in a small saucepan. Cook this mixture over a low heat until it becomes thick and almost gluey, removing it from the heat as soon as it starts to come away from the sides. Keep stirring it for a minute or two once it’s off the stove, just to prevent it burning in the residual heat of the pan. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.

2: Using electric beaters, a stick blender, or a small food processor, whip the vegan butter for a minute, then continue beating while adding small spoonfuls of the room temperature coffee-flour mixture. Keep going in this manner until it’s entirely beaten together, by which point it should be thick, glossy, and smooth. Spread evenly over the cooled cake. You will need to store the cake in the refrigerator if you use this icing.

Icing 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

1: Using a stick blender or small food processor, blitz the soft coconut oil, milk, vinegar and golden syrup together. You’re essentially making a quick emulsion in the manner of homemade butter here. Transfer this mixture to a larger bowl and gradually stir in the coffee powder, cocoa, icing sugar and salt until it forms a thick, dense icing. You may wish to add another splash of milk but do so carefully, as a little liquid goes a long way. Spread over the cooled cake.

P1190880

music lately:

Houston in Two Seconds, by Ry Cooder. A long, slow sunset in music form.

Teardrops, by Womack & Womack, a shining star of the “incredibly sad lyrics to an upbeat melody” genre and possibly one of the best songs of all time. I know I say that a lot on here, but the reason is just that I have incredible taste in music! That’s all!

Being Alive, Bernadette Peters. I can never, ever get sick of Sondheim’s musical Company but her version of its closing number is – transcendent. Her voice is so delicate but so hefty, like a rhinoceros in ice skates and whatever emotion there is left to be wrung from this admittedly over-performed song, she finds it and drop kicks it into your very soul.

Next time: I still haven’t made ice cream!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Marmite Babka

P1190862

Yes, as you can see from the photos, I burnt this a little. But you won’t! At no point in the instructions do I tell anyone to burn anything. Admittedly, I didn’t tell myself to burn anything and yet here we find ourselves. But I hate food waste, and the recipe did work perfectly well, the variable factor was me, putting something in the oven and then promptly forgetting about it. In fact, I hate wasting food so much I wrote an essay about it for Tenderly, which was spurred on from an extremely disastrous cake I tried making last week. The premise was: wasting food sucks anyway, but during COVID-19 lockdown it feels appallingly guilt-ridden. If I’ve learned anything from attempting to monetise my every complete thought, there’s no better way to process an emotion than in essay form! I’m not even being flippant – because I wrote that whole essay, I was so much more quickly able to be pragmatic about this burnt babka.

P1190868

Babka is a traditional Jewish dessert – often more of a leavened cake than mere sweetened bread – and this recipe, with Marmite swirling through the dough, is obviously deeply untraditional, though made with great reverence for its provenance. If you’re unfamiliar with Marmite, it’s a black, salty, vitamin-enriched yeast spread, which I concede sounds horrific, but as with most foodstuffs based on sodium it’s super compelling to the taste buds. There are variants, which inspire vehement allegiance from some – for example, Vegemite, or the Marmite you get in the UK, which curiously, tastes exactly like Vegemite. Despite their being so closely aligned in spirit, Vegemite tastes utterly disgusting to me, but if it inherently appeals to you, then by all means make this recipe using it instead. I don’t want it near me, but I can understand how someone would feel the same way about Marmite.

P1190865

Non-stop caveats and burnt bits aside, how does the Marmite Babka actually taste? Amazing! The dough is soft and feathery with a light, crisp pastry-like crust, and as you can see from the photos, a gratifyingly perfect swirl of Marmite throughout. Salt being the dear friend of sugar, the Marmite naturally pairs wonderfully with the sweetness of the dough, and the finished babka is barely savoury – I’d happily eat it for dessert. This is partially due to the coconut oil and tahini I added to mellow out the salinity, and honestly, it was a struggle to not simply eat the filling mixture on its own. I also can’t emphasise enough how half-hearted the dough-twisting process is for such good-looking results.

This is really not a practical recipe – it takes forever to make, though little of that involves effort from you, and once it’s baked the twisted pull-apart nature of it means it’s quite easy to make a whole loaf disappear in one sitting. But I woke up with the strong urge to make this idea which came into my head, and since having drive to do anything seemed like an avenue of joy rather lost to lockdown, I had no choice but to act upon it. If you want something more sensibly utilitarian to put in the oven, I recommend my Social Distancing Bread.

P1190863

Marmite Babka

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 3 cups high-grade/bread flour
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (brine from a can of chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Marmite
  • 2 heaped tablespoons coconut oil, softened
  • 2 heaped tablespoons tahini

1: Place the yeast, sugar and water in a large mixing bowl, swirl the bowl to combine them, and leave to sit for five minutes to get a little bubbly.

2: Stir in 1/4 cup of the flour, and sit for another five minutes.

3: Tip in the remaining flour and the aquafaba and stir to form a shaggy dough. Now, knead in the olive oil – drizzle some oil over, pull and push with your knuckles and the heel of your palm, and repeat until the oil is gone. The dough will be dense, and not particularly springy, but should be a fairly cohesive and smooth ball by the time you’re done.

4: Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (sorry!) and leave in the refrigerator for six hours, or overnight.

5: Once the time is up, remove the bowl from the fridge and let it sit for about an hour to get to room temperature (I recommend setting your alarm early, staggering out to remove the bowl, and then going back to bed.) Don’t worry if it hasn’t risen dramatically, as long as it’s bigger than when it went in.

6: Mix the Marmite, coconut oil and tahini together in a small bowl.

7: Take the dough and roll it out to a large, even-ish rectangle about 1-2cm thick. It helps to do this on a piece of baking paper, which you can then use when you bake the bread.

8: Spread the Marmite mixture evenly over the entire dough rectangle, then roll it up from one side into a long cylinder. Slice this cylinder in half lengthwise, then twist these two halves around each other by lifting up one piece and shuffling the other underneath and so on. Don’t overthink it.

9: Transfer the dough into a baking-paper lined loaf tin – I just lifted up the piece of baking paper that it was sitting on and transferred the whole thing into the tin – cover again and leave to rise again for 40 minutes.

10: Bake at 180C/350F for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Check regularly to make sure it’s not burning – like mine did!! – and place a piece of tin foil over the loaf if it looks like it’s browning too quickly.

11: Leave the loaf to rest for a few minutes and then eat the lot.

Note: this was based on a recipe for babka I made for Tenderly which has photos of the rolling/cutting/twisting process if that’s helpful.

P1190869

music lately:

Rumble, by Link Wray. One of those perfect pieces of music you can listen to and feel the approaching shadows of so many songs to come since.

Ladies Who Lunch, performed by Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski and Meryl Streep yesterday, live-streamed from their respective houses for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday celebrations. This should be too much – the three of them performatively drinking for the camera, singing Sondheim’s sardonic song disparaging rich women while very much being rich women during a global pandemic. But it was just right, and deliciously so – a demonstration of what real performing is, and how it doesn’t always need a stage. The whole concert itself was incredibly moving in places, a little not-for-me in others, but this was certainly the most instantly memorable part.

So What’cha Want, Beastie Boys. I love this song so much, I love them so much, and I want that lumbering drumbeat to follow me around everywhere.

Next time: I totally forgot that I was going to blog about pesto seitan! After spending so long asking the universe for a good seitan recipe! You can really see how I could accidentally leave a loaf of bread in the oven too long, huh.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

a low-key handful of recipes: mushroom stroganoff, gumbo-esque stew, mince on toast, chocolate pear pudding

We’re about three weeks into lockdown here in NZ but for me it’s been a full month since I’ve left the house – even to go outside at all. I had romantic notions of reading and knitting in the yard but every time you open a window wasps and mice and flies pour in and though it gives the vibe of living in a Southern Gothic novel it’s also massively off-putting. I generally regard the outdoors with suspicion anyway so I guess this is simply the universe reinforcing my assessment of it.

If you’re reading this I certainly hope things are as close to your current working definition of “okay” as possible. I personally cannot complain too much (and yet!) but I do find myself increasingly quick to irritation as a result of all this repetition. People trying to be funny online annoy me, people trying to be heartfelt annoy me, if you say something inane, that’s annoying, if you say something deep, that’s super annoying, if you mention hanging out with your partner, it’s plumbing the very teeth-eroding depths of intolerable. Oh, don’t worry, I find literally everything I say and do annoying too – and then comes the guilt at being so grumpy at everyone, guilt for not being a fountain of perky positivity – even though I’ve always been irritated by fountains of perky positivity whether or not there was a pandemic closing in on us. Then, just as it feels like my skin is going to fall off from sheer, resentful aggravation – I stand up and do some form of cardio exercise. And afterwards, even if I only exerted myself for ten minutes, and if I’m honest it’s seldom more than ten minutes – afterwards I’ll feel benign, positively magnanimous. Everyone is excused, everyone is clearly doing their best in these trying circumstances!

And then I get annoyed at the exercise, for being so maddeningly effective. Why can’t I get my endorphins from sitting down?

As you can see this blog post is a little different from usual; despite having all the time in the world I have a lot less focus – and I didn’t have an abundance to begin with – and while I’ve been cooking food I haven’t exactly been making specific recipes. I was about to give up on the notion of writing this altogether to sit and stew in my own pinging, directionless ire, when I realised I could still talk about what I’d cooked, and perhaps, collectively, it might be of some use. Each recipe is, as you can see, open to tinkering with – indeed, each one of them was the result of me meandering about, hoping what I was cooking would meet the image in my mind. The stroganoff is rich and creamy and lush (and don’t skip the cayenne, it might be that there is very little going on in my life but for days after I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfectly a pinprick of pepper brought the whole stroganoff to life.) The gumbo-esque stew was inspired by a Bryant Terry recipe, in that I looked at it and then ignored pretty much everything he suggested, but I would absolutely not have had this incredible dinner without him as a starting point. Mince on toast is pretty self-explanatory but I am keen to champion Chinese Five-Spice to anyone who will listen; and the pudding is even more self-explanatory: pudding is nice.

You may notice I haven’t mentioned garlic at all in any of the savoury recipes: it’s not that none was used – quite the opposite – but I also assume you each have highly specific opinions on what constitutes a suitable quantity and so I’m going to trust you to follow your instincts there. And once again – I really do hope you’re all okay, whatever okay is!

Mushroom Stroganoff

Slice enough button mushrooms for however many people you’re serving. If you don’t know how many mushrooms to serve people, just slice up every mushroom you have – they shrink in the pan and if you have leftovers, so be it. Fry a chopped onion in plenty of olive oil till softened, then add the mushrooms and continue stirring till they’ve collapsed and browned. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, one heaped teaspoon paprika, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a spoonful of whatever mustard you have, along with two tablespoons of flour. Add a splash of whatever wine you’re drinking, if you have it – red or white, doesn’t matter. After stirring this around for a minute or two, slowly pour in coconut milk (or almond milk/soy milk/whatever) continuing to stir as you pour, and then let it simmer away, stirring, until as thickened yet saucy as you want it to be. Feel free to add more coconut milk and make it really saucy, and if you only have a little milk to hand you can top it up with water. I am going to assume at some point you’ve added salt and pepper. Taste to see if it needs more of anything, then serve over rice or mashed potatoes with chopped parsley. Of course you can use portobello mushrooms or fancy mushrooms or a mix but, button mushrooms will do the trick just fine.

Gumbo-esque Stew

I say Gumbo-esque because this lacks the requisite filé powder (though if you have it, go ahead) and other signposts of a classic gumbo. It tastes magnificent though, and it’s even better the next day. Roughly chop a generous handful of greens per person: spinach, kale, silverbeet, cabbage, whatever you have. It’ll shrink down in the pan, so don’t hold back. Finely chop a large onion, one or two sticks of celery, and a green capsicum (bell pepper for the Americans.) Heat four tablespoons olive oil and half a cup of flour together in a large pan, stirring over a medium heat for at least ten minutes, or until the flour is a rich golden brown colour. Then add the onion/celery/capsicum mixture and cook until the vegetables are a little softened. Add two teaspoons paprika, a good pinch of cayenne, a teaspoon of sugar (or maple syrup or molasses or whatever) and then slowly stir in about four cups of strongly seasoned stock/broth (I like vegan beef stock here for the flavour), followed by a drained can of black beans (or whatever beans you like, and you can add more beans to feed more people) as well as any extra chopped vegetables you want – carrots, kumara, etc. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then add the greens. Simmer for about 20-40 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more of anything (including stock) until it’s the taste and texture you want. If you have some good vegan sausages, chop them up and add them to the simmering pot too. And if you have a bay leaf, now would be the time to throw that in. Once it’s done simmering, stir in plenty of fresh thyme leaves and a splash of any vinegar you have before serving over rice or simply as is.

Mince on Toast

I mean like: cook mince and put it on toast, but also: fry an onion and a few chopped button mushrooms, add your vegan mince, stir to let it cook through, then tip in a quarter to half a jar of tomato relish and a good teaspoon of Marmite, add a splash of water/red wine and let simmer. A pinch of Chinese Five-Spice always makes everything delicious. If you don’t have vegan mince to hand, a mixture of fried mushrooms, chopped walnuts and chopped sun-dried tomatoes is really good.

Chocolate Pear Pudding

This is based on a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s, which I made vegan and more chocolatey. If you have fresh actual pears – which we did, and which was what prompted the making of this – then slice them up and arrange them in the baking dish and pop them in the oven as it heats up while you make the batter. Otherwise, as is more likely the case, simply drain two tins of pears and arrange over the base of a baking dish. Melt 1/3 cup coconut oil (though you could use margarine) and stir in 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds mixed with 4 tablespoons of water (mix the flaxseed and water first and leave it to sit while you mix everything else.) Finally, stir in around 3/4 cup soy milk or whatever milk you have, until the texture is thick yet softly spreadable. Chop up about 50g-75g dark chocolate and sprinkle it over the pears, then spoon the batter over the top, smoothing it evenly with a knife or the back of a spoon. It will only just cover the pears, so try not to eat too much while you’re making it. Bake for about thirty minutes at 180C/350F. Serve as is, or with cold coconut milk or ice cream.

music lately:

Lungs, by Townes Van Zandt, from his Live at the Old Quarter album. That final line, “we’ll tell the world we tried,” I just!

Yon Ferrets Return, Neko Case. Possibly the most fiercely joyful song ever written about the ferret, and #14 in another playlist I made for Tenderly, this time about the less-celebrated members of the animal kingdom.

I’m Going Home, from the 36th Annual Sacred Harp Convention. Turns out you can get your endorphins sitting down: listening to this – and I recommend headphones – is even more rewarding than cardio. I mean, everything’s more rewarding than cardio to me, but this really does approach similar levels of busting through the hardened plaque built up around one’s brain.

Next time: photos, I promise! It’s my birthday tomorrow (the 17th) so I’m aiming to cook something cool for dinner and will report back here. I mean, there’s not much else I can do for a birthday in lockdown, but fortunately cooking dinner is pretty much all I ever want to do anyway.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.