12 Weeks Of Christmas | Week 1: Streusel-Topped Rosemary Loaf Cake

20141009_124943

So here it is! The first in my 12 Weeks Of Christmas series. I’ve started with a plain cake- something that’s not overly fancy, not overly sweet, and definitely not cute like a gingerbread man. But I think you’ll like it…even if it isn’t all pretty and frosty. It’s the kind of cake you’d like to sit down to after dinner with a cup of coffee. The kind of cake you’d like to have with your post-breakfast coffee. The kind of cake you’d want to have because it’s raining or cold, or because you’re walking past it.

I’ve probably read the recipe for rosemary loaf cake in Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess a hundred times. The idea of taking rosemary, an herb used in savoury cooking, and baking it into a cake seemed….well, a little out of place. Rosemary and potatoes, to me, seemed like the perfect match- rosemary didn’t need to be anywhere near a cake. Just sit tight with your starchy spud-pal!

But then I began to think about all the desserts I like which have a sweet + spicy/savoury pairing.

♥ Chilli & chocolate…

♥ Salt & caramel…

♥ Strawberry & basil…

So why not combine rosemary with a little sugar? I was just being stupid, wrinkling my nose at the thought of rosemary in a cake. Continue reading

Recipe Reading, Headnotes & Nigella Lawson’s Gateau Breton

http://instagram.com/p/qlrYGCuIYc/

If you pick up a cookbook in my house, you’ll find many recipes dog-eared or marked with a Post-It. A recipe that turns out well will always be dog-eared, with worn margins: smudges of chocolate, a dusting of flour, translucent dots where melted butter has splattered onto the page. And then there are recipes which have been thumbed through merely because I love reading them, over and over again.

Yes, you can absolutely read a recipe for pleasure. It is rather like reading a story, as described in this piece in the New Yorker, which is what inspired me to write this post. Fiction is described as the “narration of imaginary events,” and a recipe is a narration of little tasks that culminate in a dish on the table. There certainly is a fiction-like quality to it; except instead of characters and plotlines there are ingredients and steps. You don’t form an image of the protagonist on our head…instead, you imagine the ingredients in your hand; you picture the concoction bubbling away on the stove; the flour disappearing into the butter and eggs, the soft plop of the cake batter as you spoon it into a loaf tin. Then you see yourself tap it against the counter, twice. Just to make sure it’s evenly spread out.

I love the rhythm. I love reading descriptions of how a dish is taking shape. How a cake should look when it’s done, even if it’s just the plain old instructional of “the cake is done when it’s golden brown on top or when a skewer inserted comes out clean.”

I’m also a big headnote fan. I rarely buy a cookbook without headnotes. I somehow feel cheated. The title of the recipe followed by an ingredient list below feels…impersonal. Like the author doesn’t have anything to say. Like they’re just putting it out there, the rest is up to you, good luck!

Some readers prefer getting straight to the recipe, but I enjoy a backstory. I enjoy knowing what inspired the recipe. When the author first made it or ate it. What makes the recipe different, something that went wrong when the author first tried it, a note on an unusual ingredient. Just to let us know that they’ve got our backs, you know?

I don’t own any of her books, but I believe Dorie Greenspan writes wonderful headnotes, as does Melissa Clark. I own Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and her headnotes, while not anecdotal in nature, act as a guide- written in the voice of a teacher who is there to make you learn, and learn the right way. David Lebovitz’s recipe headnotes from The Sweet Life In Paris all have a fun story, plus a good where-to-eat recommendation or how-to-make tip. Amanda Hesser, in Cooking For Mr Latte, gives the reader some information on the source, some instructions on how to make the recipe better and what to avoid. Since it is a memoir with recipes, the storytelling is done in the chapter itself, like so:

http://instagram.com/p/hAST7nOIQz/

Felicity Cloake in her book, Perfect, gives a long, detailed introduction rather than a headnote. The book is inspired by her “How To Make” column in The Guardian, so the notes preceding the recipe are observations, tips and tricks about what brought her to the ‘perfect’ recipe she is sharing.

http://instagram.com/p/lrr57LuIae/

Closer to home, Ritu Dalmia’s headnotes, too are a pleasure to read. A little history, a bit about the friend whose recipe it is, a trip she took when she first ate or cooked the dish- fun banter that keeps you engaged. Pooja Dhingra’s headnotes, while pithier, also give the reader a peek into the soul of the recipe, and what inspired it.

http://instagram.com/p/ptzfqVuIXA/

                                                                    From Ritu Dalmia’s Diva Green

Which brings me, finally, to the recipe writer I want to talk about today: Nigella Lawson. (I know I’ve been trolling on about her a lot!) I find her headnotes quite delightful. They range anywhere between 3 lines to half the page! But I love her little notes. The inspiration behind the recipe and the sugary language. And I like the fact that she continues the conversation in the recipe, too, when she’s giving directions on how to make it.

Maybe it’s the fact that she is a home-cook, rather than a professional chef. The instructions are descriptive, yet light-hearted, coming from someone who understands the limitations of a simple home kitchen. Take, for example, this paragraph from her recipe for Turkish Delight Syllabub (pg 207) from Nigella Bites:

“Combine the Cointreau, lemon juice and sugar in a large bowl (I use the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer) and stir to dissolve the sugar, or as good as. Slowly stir in the cream then get whisking. As I said, I use my freestanding mixer for this, but if you haven’t got one, don’t worry- but I would then advise a hand-held electric mixer. This takes ages to thicken and doing it by hand will drive you demented with tedium and impatience. Or it would me.”

This is someone who understands that not everyone has a KitchenAid. Someone who makes the recipe more fun than just “In the bowl of a freestanding mixer or using a hand-held electric mixer, whisk A, B & C till stiff peaks form.” That’s the kind of line one would tend to take for granted and just skim over.

It’s a similar conversational tone that drew me to her Gateau Breton in How To Be A Domestic Goddess. In it, she describes the lattice design one has to make with the tines of a fork on the surface of the cake before it’s put in the oven.

“For reasons I am not technically proficient to explain, sometimes the tine marks leave a firm, striated imprint (a bit like the lines which drive Gregory Peck mad in Spellbound); at others, as with the cake in the picture, they barely show once the cake is cooked.”

A recipe and a Hitchcock reference: how many cooks do that? And as someone with a love for Hitchcock, I had to bake it. I had limited egg yolks, so I halved the recipe and made a mini version instead, baked in little tart moulds. I went out and bought the best best butter I could get my hands on, since the recipe calls for it. I went ahead and splurged on President butter. But it was so, so worth it! The texture really is like a cross between shortbread and pound cake: dense and crumbly at the same time.

http://instagram.com/p/sholLEuIUV/

 

NIGELLA LAWSON’S GATEAU BRETON (From How To Be A Domestic Goddess)

INGREDIENTS

For The Cake

  • 225 g plain flour
  • 250 g castor sugar
  • 250 g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 6 large egg yolks

For The Glaze

  • 1 teaspoon of egg yolk from the 6 eggs yolks
  • 1 tablespoon water

METHOD

  • Preheat the oven to 190 C
  • Butter a 25 cm round cake tin/Springform tin and keep aside
  • Seive the flour into a large bowl, stir in the sugar and once those are well combined, add the butter and egg yolks.
  • Using the dough hook attachment of your handheld mixer/standing mixer, slowly mix until you have a smooth golden dough. This can also be done by hand- combine the dry ingredients, make a well in the center, add the yolks + butter and knead into a smooth golden dough on a floured surface.
  • The dough will be quite sticky. Scoop it into the tin, dust your fingers with flour, then smooth out the dough with your fingers so it’s spread evenly.
  • Brush the dough with the water+yolk glaze, then make a lattice design using the prongs of a fork.
  • Bake at 190 C for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180 C and bake for 20-25 mins more or until the top is golden and firm to touch.
  • Cool completely, cut and serve.

Nigella Lawson’s Baby Bundts + Making Allowances

Does the world need another recipe for a lemony cake? I suppose not. But is this one worth sharing? Yes. I think all cake is worth sharing!

I’ve been baking quite a lot from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess over the past two months. It’s a book I’ve owned for over 2 years, but it’s only now getting some quality time in the kitchen.  I’ve made a few of her recipes before- cherry-almond loaf cake, store-cupboard chocolate orange cake, Victoria sponge cake, and some others, with pretty good results.

The new cover  image courtesy | nigella.com

The new cover
image courtesy | nigella.com

The old edition, which I have image courtesy | unibooks.co.au

The old edition, which I have
image courtesy | unibooks.co.au

The thing with me is, I try new recipes often enough, but when it comes to baking something for a potluck or dinner party, I always end up baking the same few recipes over and over again. There’s Nigella’s chocolate olive oil cake, a simple vanilla sponge cake, or a lemony loaf cake. I get nervous about busting out something new that I’ve never baked before.

I am also hit with a slight sense of anxiety: invariably, there will be someone in the party who detests a particular flavour; and it is near impossible to please everyone. When I bake, I pretty much choose between two broad categories: is it going to be a chocolatey cake, or a fruity one? (This could be anything from a citrusy oil-based cake to banana bread or a strawberry/apple cake.) If I decide to make a fruity cake, there will be someone who detests Granny Smith apples, cannot stomach strawberries or hates bananas.

And with chocolate- yes, there are plenty of people who really do not like chocolate. Being a chocoholic myself, I used to find it absurd. I couldn’t understand how people could dislike the taste of chocolate, or caramel, or dislike dessert altogether. I’d feel bad if someone passed up dessert, or said, “I don’t eat chocolate, I’ll pass.” Even though they had a perfectly valid reason- I’d still feel a bit let down. They don’t like cake. They don’t want my cake. When cooking and gathering around the table to feed friends and family is your happy place, you have a tendency to be blind to smaller appetites and cautious eaters.

And then I looked at my own eating habits. I am not a big meat-eater. If there’s mutton masala, fish curry or fried prawns on table, I’ll eat a small amount. I usually don’t take seconds, and even with biryani, I end up taking a single piece of chicken or meat, while the rest of the party is digging in for more. Being less enthusiastic about non-vegetarian food- this behaviour could very well be perceived as strange by the host/hostess, right? S/he could be thinking: Meenakshi doesn’t like my mutton masala.

So when it comes to personal taste, one really can’t judge.Some of us don’t enjoy meat. Some people just really.hate.chocolate. And while my 20-year-old self would have gotten all high-pitchy with a chocolate-hater and argued “How can anyone NOT like chocolate?,” now I’ve learnt to just let it be. Create with love and serve everyone: if they enjoy it and get themselves seconds, wonderful. If they’d rather not indulge, it’s all good. Make allowances. Be accepting of tastes not aligned with your own.

http://instagram.com/p/qoXcxMuIbr/?modal=true

This recipe is also about making allowances. It’s a recipe for baby bundts- except I don’t have a bundt pan, baby or XL. I do own a mini donut tray, so I used that instead. So it’s not a baby bundt- but maybe we can pretend it’s a baby ring cake?

We had a family potluck last month and I decided to make this instead of my standard chocolate cake or fruity loaf. I figured it would be easy to eat and portion out or carry home. And if someone didn’t like it too much- they’d have to endure only 3-4 bites in total!

The way the ingredients are mixed is muffin-like: wet and dry mixed separately, then combined. Considering the amount of yoghurt in the batter, I expected a moister cake, but this one was quite springy. The glaze, of course, helped. All in all it’s a fun and agreeable little cake- not too fancy, not too shy.

I don’t have a picture of the glaze- but don’t leave it out- it’s not as nice without it 🙂

NIGELLA LAWSON’S BABY BUNDTS (From How To Be A Domestic Goddess.)

INGREDIENTS

The Cake

  • 125 ml natural yoghurt
  • 75 g butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 150 g flour
  • 125 g caster sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt

The Glaze

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 200 g icing sugar

METHOD

The Cake

  • In a measuring jug or bowl, mix the yoghurt, melted butter, eggs, and lemon zest until combined.
  • In a separate larger bowl, lightly whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, folding until everything is combined.
  • Pour the batter into baby bundt moulds (in my case, mini donut moulds!) and bake at 170 C for 25-30 minutes.
  • Once cooled, ice the cakes with the sugary glaze.

The Glaze

  • Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, and slowly pour in as much lemon juice as you need to make an icing that is thick enough to hold shape but drizzle down the sides.