It’s Moving Day

Hello everyone!

I’m so sorry it’s been such a long time since I’ve been around. With the Easter break and busy days at work, I lost track of time. I’ve also been distracted trying to finish off a little Sweet Peas and Green Tea project. But finally, it’s done! I’m so excited I can hardly wait to share: Sweet Peas and Green Tea has moved! I can now be found at www.sweetpeasandgreentea.com. I do hope you’ll come and say hi xo

Sweet Tart

Food writers and bloggers often talk about cooking phobias – that invisible line in the kitchen that you absolutely will not cross – perhaps it involves using yeast or fish or deep frying. I’m generally pretty fearless in the kitchen. I cook with yeast, I love fish and I don’t mind deep frying (sometimes I do all three – hello fish and chips! – people you can’t say I don’t live life on the edge). But one thing I hate making is pastry. A few years ago I made a pear and almond tart for my mum’s birthday. The frangipane was delicious but the pastry was so dry and tough I should have served dessert with steak knives. Or a saw.

But this long weekend I’m staying in Canberra with family. I’ve got lots of spare time and I really wanted to make dessert. On top of that, for some crazy reason I was totally taken with the idea that my pantry would not be complete until I bought a set of little tart pans. I really don’t need more stuff to cram into my kitchen but I bought them anyway. And besides, it could have been much worse. It could have been a bread maker. Or an Elegant Banana Hanger.

The stars were aligned and there was nothing left to do but conquer shortcrust pastry. So that’s exactly what I did.

Sweet Tart Pastry (recipe from Smitten Kitchen)

This recipe produces a fantastic sweet short crust pastry – it’s buttery, tender and, as Deb notes, it shrinks very little, if at all. Even better, it could not be easier to make and it holds up really well as you’re lining the pastry cases and removing the tarts from the oven. This recipe is ideal for just about any sweet tart. It’s going into my favourites list immediately.

Makes enough pastry for one 23 cm/9 in tart or 10 small tarts.

1 1/2 c plain flour

1/2 c icing sugar

pinch salt

135 g very cold unsalted butter, cubed

1 egg

1. Sift the flour, icing sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse briefly to combine.

2. Add the cold, cubed butter to the food processor and pulse until the butter is roughly cut into the flour. It’s ok if there are still a few large lumps of butter scattered throughout.

3. Add the egg and pulse until it is incorporated into the flour. The mixture will come together in big soft clumps. Remove the mixture from the food processor and place on a lightly floured work surface (your kitchen bench, baking paper or even cling wrap). Gently bring the dough into a ball with your hands. The dough should be quite moist so that it will come together with only a little kneading. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least two hours.

4. When you’re ready to use the dough, place the dough on a floured work surface. Roll out the dough until is about 4 mm thick. Cut the dough into rounds about 12-15 cm in diameter.

5. To line your mini tart pans, gently press a round of dough into the mini tart pan. Remove excess pastry, leaving about 5 mm of overhang. Fold the overhang in and press down gently to make double-thick sides. Pierce the crust with a fork a few times. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

6. To bake your tart crust, preheat the oven to 190’C/375’F. Butter enough aluminium foil to line your tart pans. Remove the tarts from the freezer and press the buttered side of the foil tightly against each tart shell. Place the tarts in the preheated oven and bake for 8 minutes, or until the tarts and just starting to turn golden. Remove the foil. If the pastry has puffed up, press it down gently with a teaspoon. Bake for a further 2-3 minutes, or until the pastry is an even gold in colour. It should be the colour of a crusty white loaf of bread rather than the colour of burnt caramel.

7. Remove the tarts from the oven and allow to cool before proceeding with your recipe.

Notes

  • If your tart pans are non-stick, there’s no need to butter them before lining them with the pastry. However, if yours aren’t non-stick, line them generously with softened butter.
  • For instructions on how to use this pastry to make a large tart case, Deb’s instructions are great.
  • I filled my tarts with this lemon curd. Lebovitz instructs you to stir the mixture over low heat until it begins to thicken and just bubble. For me, this took about 7 minutes, stirring continuously.
  • I filled my little tarts higher than Lebovitz filled his large one. I spooned a couple of tablespoons of curd in each tart and baked them in a 180’C/350’F oven for 5 minutes. When I took them out of the oven they were just beginning to set at the edges and were still wobbly in the middle.

Lately

Sydney gave us a substandard summer this year (rain, rain and more rain, barely a handful of days above 25’C). But I’ll take an average summer if it means a perfect autumn and, so far, autumn has been truly glorious – blue skies, warm days and crisp nights. I’ve been reminded what a beautiful city Sydney is, something that is easy to forget when you don’t live on the water and every day involves facing a bus ride down Elizabeth St during peak hour.

I went for what was probably the last swim of the season over the weekend and, as I didn’t have to work today, I started the day by walking over the Harbour Bridge for the first time since I was a child. Working 9-5 gets is exhausting sometimes but I’m grateful for the fact that it makes me more appreciative of the spare time I do have.

  • I followed up my walk with a stop at Haigh’s Chocolates, my favourite chocolate shop (the chocolate sparkles are like crack to me!). Thank you Easter for making it justifiable to spend $30 on chocolate in one hit.
  • Am I the last person to see The Artist. Honestly, I went because my mother enjoyed it so much I think she was going to disown me if I didn’t see it. It was absolutely worth it though. It’s true that the plot isn’t very complicated but the acting, music and design more than make up for it – the film bubbles over with emotion and sucks you right in.
  • Dinner on Saturday night was this artichoke tart with polenta crust – highly recommended! I’m also thinking about making this roast chicken. The idea of roasting a chicken in milk sounds really strange but the review is so glowing I think it might be worth a shot. Has anyone out there tried it before?

Happy Monday! I hope everyone has a great week. And Happy Easter too! Xo

The (Near) Perfect Banana Cake

You have to let people see what you wrote. It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring. — Tina Fey, Bossypants (2011)

I tend to agree with Tina Fey. What’s the point of carrying on if perfection has been and gone? If you don’t believe that the best is yet to come? But I make an exception for this cake – when it comes to banana cake, I’m stopping here and hoping that I don’t get bored.

The recipe originally comes from Mix & Bake by Belinda Jeffery, a book I would highly recommend. I’ve found Jeffery’s recipes to be pretty much fail proof. They’re unfussy and delicious, but also elegant. Her date scones are some of the best things ever to come out of my oven (credit goes to my sister for uncovering the recipe).

Unfortunately, this banana cake recipe has to be the exception that makes the rule. The first couple of times I made this cake, the finished product was sumptuous. However, getting there drove me to breaking point. Jeffery instructs you to combine mashed bananas, eggs and sugar. You then beat cubed butter into the mixture. This proved to be difficult with a stand mixture and utterly impossible by hand – the butter just wouldn’t cream. Though the finished cake was great, I was determined to find a better method. Next time I used wholly melted butter, which was much easier but the cake was too dense.

Finally, I gave up on Jeffery’s recipe and went back to the traditional way of baking cakes by creaming butter and sugar. And I have to say, this produced the best banana cake I’ve ever made (or even eaten!). The cake is moist but not squidgy (technical term, that) and the flavour is sweet and heady with banana. There list of ingredients is rather paired down – no secret ingredients here – but the finished product is much, much more than the sum of its parts.

(Near) Perfect Banana Cake (adapted from Mix & Bake by Belinda Jeffery)

125 g butter, cubed and softened

1 1/2 c sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 large bananas, mashed

100 ml full fat greek yogurt (or buttermilk)

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 c plain flour

3 tsp baking poder

1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350’F. Butter a 20 cm cake tin with a thick layer of softened butter or line with baking paper (I like to line my pans with butter and then coat with sugar – see here for instructions).

2. Place the butter and sugar in a stand mixer. Beat until pale and creamy. Add the vanilla extract and beat until incorporated.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well combined. Add the bananas and yogurt and beat until combined.

4. Remove the bowl from the stand mixture (it’s easier to do this last part by hand). In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and a pinch of salt. Sift this over the butter mixture and stir gently with a wooden spoon until just combined.

5. Pour the mixture into the lined pan and bake until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Jeffery says that the cake takes 30-35 minutes to bake but I find it takes up to 45-50 minutes in my oven.

Notes

  • The top and sides of this cake brown quickly. Usually this results in a hard, dry crust but for some mysterious reason that doesn’t happen here. Instead, the crust is perfectly chewy, especially if you line the pan with sugar.
  • Don’t be put off by the large amount of baking powder in this recipe. The finished product does not have even a hint of that metallic taste sometimes found in scones and other things with lots of baking powder.

Whistles

Where do you stand when it comes to online shopping? I have to admit I’m well and truly a convert. With the exception of shoes (like these!), the majority of my clothes I buy online. Not to mention books and gifts. The range online is huge and the quality is much higher (I just bought this silk dress for a steal!). Of the many (many!) things I’ve bought on the net, my favourites are all from Whistles. They make wonderful work dresses and the sales are amazing*. At the moment I’m lusting after this jumper. If only my bank account could keep up with my spending …

* I won’t lie – it doesn’t hurt that Kate Middleton is often photographed wearing Whistles.

Rum Balls

So many of my memories are intertwined with food, such that they can’t be separated: my mum’s poppy seed cake and dinner parties, my dad’s fish and chips on the weekend, a chocolate cherry coconut tart the first time I stayed out at night drinking coffee with friends in high school (there was no actual coffee – not for another seven or so years – but that tart tasted intensely of freedom).

Rum balls also pop up in my childhood memories. I liked them the first time I tried them, a fact that slightly horrified my mother (and led me to believe that I had a lifetime of alcoholism in front of me).

But they’re not the kind of thing I’ve been able to find in Sydney for years. A couple of months ago my housemate baked a big batch of red velvet cakes. We couldn’t get through them fast enough so when they’d become too dry to eat, I looked for a recipe for rum balls. Despite being an Australian classic, recipes are hard to find: it seems they belong in bakeries in sleepy country towns where rock cakes, finger buns and peppermint slices are easy to come by. Nevertheless, I eventually found a recipe here.

It’s at this point you’ll think that I’ve gone completely mad (or had too much to drink?) because the recipe is clearly lacking in rum. As I went to make these the first time, I realised I had only brandy, no rum. I went with it, and I have to say, I’m glad I did. The brandy hints at the heady booziness of a well-soaked fruit cake, while moist chocolate takes centre stage.

Rum (or brandy) balls 

Cake mixture

1 1/2 c cake crumbs (see note below)

1/4 c icing sugar mixture, sifted

1/2 c almond meal

2 tbsp brandy

75 g chocolate, melted (I’ve used both milk and dark)

milk, as required

Icing

1/3 c icing sugar mixture, plus extra for dusting

2 tbsp butter

30 g chocolate, chopped

2 tsp brandy

milk or hot water, if needed

To make the cake mixture

1. In a bowl mix together cake crumbs, icing sugar and ground almonds. Pour in the brandy and stir through.

2. Add the melted chocolate to the cake mixture and stir through. I found that my mixture came together well at this point and was moist enough to hold together. If it is still looking dry, add milk, starting with 1 tbsp and going from there. The mixture should be wet, rather than moist, and should all hang together in one ball.

3. Roll heaped tbsp of mixture into balls and place on a baking tray or plate lined with baking paper. Put in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours.

To make the icing

4. Once the balls have been in the fridge for a couple of hours, start the icing. Melt the butter and chocolate together (I find the microwave is the easiest way to do this). When it is melted, stir to combine.

5. Add the icing sugar and then the brandy. Add just enough hot water or milk to make the icing the thickness of pure cream. Dip the balls into the icing one at a time and return to the same tray. Sift over some more icing sugar (or cocoa powder) and return to the fridge to set for a further two hours before eating.

  • Store in a airtight container in the fridge. Makes approximately two dozen.

Notes

  • I’ve made this cake using red velvet and butter cake crumbs. I imagine a chocolate butter cake would be fine too (amazing even!). Steer clear of anything too moist – a flourless chocolate cake or mud cake, for example.