Wednesday, 29 June 2011


I know this is another lemon themed bake but it is the reason I made lemon butter in the first place. 
A friend had asked
me to provide a plate of goodies for an afternoon tea over the weekend. So wanting to do something a bit special, both for the afternoon tea and to give myself the pleasure of baking them, I decided to revisit the lemon meringue cupcakes which I had made for mothers day  morning tea back in May.

The last time I made them I did everything on the one
day, beginning with the lemon butter, which made it a full day by the time I had finished the meringue.  At the time, because I didn't want to get up early on mothers day myself to  make meringue, I chose Italian meringue because of its stability.  This means the meringue would still look good the next morning.
 As strange as it might seem, I enjoy the ritual/intricacy of making Italian meringue. Somehow the extra attention to a more challenging recipe is therapeutic.  Okay, not when it is a disaster, but still you learn from everything.

So after making the lemon butter last week, I did the batter for the cupcakes.  Although I have a few recipes for cupcake batter which I really like, for expediency this time, I used the basic batter from the chocolate layer cake, (see post)  with the addition of a good amount of zest and some leftover whipped cream I didn't want to waste.
This batter keeps well in the fridge for several days so that meant all I had to do was scoop it into patty tins Friday night and bake, leaving Saturday morning free for meringue making and filling the cakes with lemon butter.

Saturday morning the weather was much warmer than it had been for the previous week and I was able to throw open the  windows whilst I began my final preparations. 
 At the same time I needed something for morning tea the next day and knowing there would be a surplus of meringue, chose the apricot meringue slice from the Womens Weekly Biscuit Book.  This is a great book and although I haven't tried all the recipes, everything I have tried has worked well.
With apricots simmering on the stove and the base for the slice in the oven, I began the procedure of the sugar syrup for the meringue.  It is a bit tricky to get it all timed well as the egg whites have to be whipped to soft peaks and then a bit more firmly before pouring the syrup in.  The syrup also needs to reach certain temperatures so dodging between both can be challenging.
All went well with peaks and temperatures and the machine beat busily away while the mix cooled.  In the meantime I am spreading cooked apricots onto the slice base.
 I return to the mixmaster, the mixing bowl is still hot but the meringue doesn't look as silky as a few moments beforehand.  When the mixer is stopped and I lift the beaters, I realise that I have overbeat the meringue and it is quite brittle.  aaarrrggghhh!!  oh well. 
It did not pipe as smoothly onto the cupcakes or spread as well onto the slice but it tasted fine and I was probably the only one who was concerned. 
 Next time I will watch it more closely.I actually forgot to take a photo of the apricot slice.  I had to rush and go to the airport that afternoon so that's my excuse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have been taking most of my finish photos in front of a large window in my kitchen which provides lots of light and also using a book by Mary Moody called 'The Long Table"  -  'my love affair with food '- which has delightful photographs also providing a lovely backdrop.  I have tried to use only the ones that have no people in them

The Italian meringue recipe I used comes from:



Thursday, 23 June 2011


Today I decided to make lemon butter.  What's not to love about lemon butter?  Tangy, smooth, buttery, delicious spread on just about anything including as a filling for little cakes, big cakes, tarts, the list goes on.

I have been using my mum's recipe for lemon butter for over 30 years now. Every time I make it I feel as though she is just in the next room.  The wonderful thing about handing down recipes is that you have a piece of that person with you each time you use it even when they are not around any more.

 when I first began using the recipe I was living in Townsville where we had a lemon and a ruby grapefruit tree, providing us with an abundance of fruits which required a variety of recipes to make use of this abundance in an effort to avoid wastage.

That was the only time for years that I had a good lemon tree
and even though I have had one in my current backyard for some years, due to the nasty little orange bug that loves citrus and which returns persistently despite regular attacks with the appropriate spray, I have had little to no fruit.  Last March I sprayed the tree with white oil which had been recommended by a garden centre and this seems to have done the trick.  It has needed respraying but if I get a bumper crop of lemons it will be worth it.

I simply can't manage without lemons.  they are vital to so many recipes, sweet and savoury.  Only if they are really expensive do I not have ANY in the fridge and if I am able to access them from someones tree I am delighted.  When using only the juice, if the rind is fairly unblemished I throw it into a bag and freeze it as grating frozen lemon halves is easy and that way I haven't wasted it.  You do get cold hands but it is a small price to pay.  There are so many recipes that call for a teaspoon of lemon rind and it is very annoying not to have it.

check out the colour
Just lately I have had access to home grown eggs and the difference in the colour of the yolks compared to store bought eggs is remarkable.  The colour of everything you cook with them is enhanced 100%.  Even the fact that they are sometimes dirty doesn't take away the pleasure of knowing they are so fresh although I do wash them all before I use them as it just puts me off otherwise.  I admit I'm a sook.

rind, butter, sugar, juice
Some of today's batch is destined as a filling for lemon meringue cupcakes which I am making for an afternoon tea on Saturday.  I plan to make a batch of plain batter enhanced with a good dollop of lemon zest and topped with Italian meringue.
More on that another day.

4 medium lemons
2 cups sugar
125gms butter
5 eggs
1 tablespoon plain flour

*finely grate rind and juice lemons
*place rind, juice, sugar and butter into bowl over simmering water
*stir frequently till butter is melted and sugar dissolved - this can be done in the microwave on low if you prefer.
*whisk eggs well with flour
*add to other mix an stir frequently over water until thick
* have ready clean and sterilised jars
*pour into jars, seal and cool
*makes about 700 mls
ready to spread, fill or just pour!!



Monday, 13 June 2011

End of the Fortnight Soup!!

For me, cooking is all about sharing.  It is not much fun to cook just for yourself  as most of those who live alone will tell you.

Veggies ready for the pot
While I always find joy in cooking, knowing I am going to share it with those people I love gives me more satisfaction.  Even if I get frustrated and end up with an enormous mess in my kitchen, more often than I care to remember,  I know I will be pleased when it is finished to present the end product to others.
 Today however, I decided I needed to write a grocery list which led me to the fridge, which led me to the realisation that it needed tidying up and cleaning out which is where the soup came. 

The end of the fortnight always leaves you with vegetables that are getting to the 'past their best moment' but as I was brought up to be thrifty and I hate waste in general, I usually find a use for them.  Today it was soup.  I love soup and one of the reasons I look forward to winter is knowing it is definately soup season.  The other is that I prefer the cold.  

Although the day dawned bright and sunshiny after a fairly cold , grey weekend, soup is one of those dishes I love making at any time.  It is just nicer when you know it is going to warm you up inside while outside is miserable. 

I just love a big variety of vegetables in my soup

In the freezer, which I also tidied, were 2 chicken carcasses that I had saved from roast dinners.  So along with my vegetables - the very necessary onion, celery, carrot and parsnip - went pumpkin, garlic, potato, turnip, broccoli stems that were also tossed into the freezer a while back to live another day in another dish, a little bit of capsicum and some sweet potato.

tie up the chicken carcasses well so no bones escape
My method of cooking soup, unless strictly following a soup recipe which isn't often despite my best intentions, is to chop all vegetables roughly, I don't peel potatoes, saute onion and garlic if using, toss the rest of the veg in, put on the lid, turn down the heat to just above low and let them cook for about 10 minutes.  Then the water, bay leaves and peppercorns - another two essential ingredients - are added plus whatever is being used for stock.  I almost always use at least some bacon bones, sometimes the chicken carcasses or wings, which my mum always favoured, occasionally if I think ahead or an am being extravagant, an actual whole chicken.

The first soup of the season was made with the ham bone left over from Christmas dinner.  I always look forward to this soup, it's almost as if you are putting some of the joy and warmth of Christmas and summer into your first winter soup.
before blitzing

Of course there wasn't a lot of summer warmth this year, with both Christmas and New Years weekends inundated with unprecedented rain in QLD.  However, it is usually a nice vision to have when putting the bone into that pot of water and vegetables, leaving it to simmer away so that the flavours can develop.  Yum!

As I'm not crazy about bits of inedibles in my soups, I wrap the chicken carcasses up in a piece of muslin. After the soup is cooked you can then place this into a bowl and when cool, squeeze gently so as not to miss any of the juices, untie the bag, throw out the bones and wash the muslin.  Occasionally I remember to put the bay leaves and peppercorns in as well.  Because I like my soups thick I usually blitz them with the hand blender once cooled.  Today I have added barley as  I Iove the nutty flavour and
thickness they provide, not forgetting they are so nutritious.

Pearl Barley

Not only is barley a great fibre source it also has phosphorous, selenium, manganese and copper.  It can help lower your cholesterol, increase the level of friendly bacteria in your gut and help reduce risk of Type 2 Diabetes.  Of course, one serve a year won't help with any of these so regular serves every week is the idea.

How do you like to cook your soup?

Although it looks like pumpkin there will be lots of other flavours

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Winter has arrived!!!

Monday was a glorious day.  Windows and doors were flung open to let  the crisp, sparkling air pervade the house and trick it into thinking it was still early autumn.  Perhaps even spring.  At any rate it was as though we were being reminded that even though winter was peaking round the corner we could treasure the memories of those days that made you think that it was a perfect world after all.

Tuesday arrived.  Overcast, dull, almost bleak looking.  Not so cold but it wasn't the day before either.  The forecast was for a cold change the next day and a cold, windy, wet long weekend.  I have always found that the cold hits after the June long weekend.  This year it has arrived early.  Since Tuesday night though, the forecast has changed a tad and they have pushed the rain back a few days.  Subsequently, as I write, the sun is shining brilliantly and the sky is an uninterrupted sea of blue but the wind has a decided bite to it. 

Winter is actually my second favourite month of the year. Autumn is the absolute best. 
 Crisp mornings.  Gorgeous colours in the liquid ambers which are my very favourite trees.

 Anyway, on to the cooking.  I have an order for a fruit cake that needed to be covered with fondant mid June so early in May I set about the ritual of putting my own special mix of dried fruit into a bowl with a good slug (or 4) of rum, stirring really well with my hand, which I find separates the pieces of fruit so that they can all soak up the liquid individually, covering it well and tucking it away to brew and plump up.
Every so often I pull it out and give it a good stir with a metal spoon.  Many times I do forget this process especially when doing the batch for Christmas cakes.  I tend to put this together some considerable time before Christmas which ensures that I forget about it.  This doesn't really matter if it is initially well stirred but it is like touching base with the mix and ensuring that it is really going nicely.  I haven't begun talking to it yet but it's always on the cards.
So, this one only had 3 weeks to brew before I pulled it out and began the next process of making the cake.  The recipe is one I have been using for over 30 years.  It was given to me by a girl I worked with in my very first full time job.  Her mother made this cake all the time for her family.  There were six children so I guess the cake tins needed to be kept filled. 

 Although it is a simple boiled fruit cake and the only one I have used in that time for all fruit cake needs including any wedding cakes that have been covered in fondant well ahead of the day, I spent about 15 of those years experimenting with the types and amounts of dried fruit that appealed to me.  There is no strict rule about which fruit has to have the upper hand, it is more a personal taste thing.  The reactions of people eating my cakes influenced me greatly and as I don't like mixed peel they didn't get a look in.  Instead I use grated fresh lemon and orange rind.
I find the process of making a fruit cake one of those timeless tasks that link me to every woman over the centuries who has carefully prepared her fruit for a special cake.  Some of them would have had very limited resources, the fruit they were using having been carefully saved, dried and sometimes pitted from their summer harvest. Butter had to washed, I don't know why, sugar cut from loaves. We are so lucky in the time we live in, perhaps too lucky.  Off to the shops we go when it is time to bake and carelessly  pluck packets off the shelves, rarely giving thought to how they got there.  I know there is a growing slow food movement now which will make those of us who are interested more aware but on the whole I think we will continue to expect the provisions and take it for granted.

But back to the cake!!!  I did some research on the history of fruit cakes.  It is amazing how something that something that is so much a part of certain celebrations comes about.
Apparently the earliest mention of fruit cakes come from the Egyptians who placed a version in the tombs of loved ones, perhaps as nourishment for the afterlife! 
It was not common however, until early roman times when pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, raisins and barley mash were mixed together to form a ring shaped dessert.  Due to it's ability to remain edible for long periods, roman soldiers often took fruitcake with them to the battlefields. During the middle ages preserved fruit, spices and honey were added to the mix, gaining popularity with the crusaders.

In the 1400's dried fruit from the Mediterranean became available in England and these were added to the fruit cakes, beginning a love affair for the English which continues to this day.
During the 16oo's when the colonies (also known as America!!)  were able to provide cheap raw ingredients, fruitcakes soon contained sugar which contributed to it's density.  Nuts also soon found their way in this mixture which was becoming heavier and richer by the century!

Slices of the cake used to be handed out to poor women who went from  house to house in the bitter winter nights before Christmas, singing carols.
In Europe a fruit cake  was made with nuts from the recent harvest  for the winter solstice and kept till the beginning of the next harvest in the hope this would ensure another good harvest.

The early 18th century saw the cake outlawed in Europe as it's 'sinful richness" was seen to be far too  decadent.  By the end of this century there were laws restricting the use of "Plum Cake" as it was also known. 
Fruit cake really took off early 1830's and no Victorian afternoon tea would have been considered complete without this

 It was also the custom to put a slice from a wedding cake under your pillow if you were unfortunate enough in that era to still be single, thus giving you a dream of your future spouse.  This was still popular when I was quite young and I can assure you it didn't work!!!!!

Even so, it remains popular for wedding cakes along with the more contemporary dark, white and caramel mud cakes, carrot, banana and others. 

Keeping the top tier of your wedding cake for either your first anniversary or the birth of your first child was a tradition which has mostly fallen by the wayside from what I can gather.  Fruit cake would be the only sort that would keep unless you froze other flavours.
Regardless, the cake I made turned out well and has 4 weeks to brew before it is eaten. 

I'll let you know the what the verdict is when it is finally eaten.

Have you given any thought to putting some dried fruit into a container, preferably porcelain, well sealed, well moistened with some alcoholic beverage of your choice, of which there are many, and leaving it to brew for several months before Christmas? 
If you haven't tried this before, look out your favourite recipe, buy your fruit and try it.  I can guarantee you will enjoy the results. 

Here is the basic recipe for:


*125gm butter
*750gm mixed fruit - soaked in alcohol at least overnight
*1 1/2 cups brown sugar
*1 cup strong hot coffee
*1 tspn mixed spice
*1 tspn vanilla essence
*1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
*2 tblspn golden syrup
*grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 orange
*125 gms of nuts of your choice

*combine mix and bring to the boil
*let simmer for about 10 minutes
*take off heat and stir in bicarb
*the mixture froths up quickly so make sure
  that your pot is big enough to not spill over
*cool then stir in the rinds

*Beat in:

*1 1/2 cups self raising flour
*1 cup plain flour
*chopped nuts that have been lightly dusted in some of the      flour
*2 eggs

*Mix well, using your hands with fingers spread toward the  end as this ensures that any lumps of flour aren't missed and enables you to get into the corners of the pan.
*Grease and line  a 25cm tin - this size may vary depending on the shape of your tin and on whether you want to make several smaller cakes
*I always wrap several layers of newspaper around my tins to help prevent the outer edges becoming overcooked.

*Bake for 30 minutes on 160 deg C
*Turn it down to 150 deg C and check after an hour if in a large tin
*If not cooked by this time check every 15-25 minutes, depending on how firm it was the first time.

*Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then pour over 1/4 - 1/2 cup, depending on the size of the cake, of the same alcohol you used to soak the fruit in.
*Leave to cool in the tin and if keeping for some time, leave wrapped in the lining paper, plus gladwrap and then foil, storing in a cool, dark place.
*You can give it several small drinks of alcohol if you plan to keep if for 3 months or more.

Till next time, enjoy your kitchen