Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas and the Crazy Cake

You might want to know that there is a pre-Christmas market at EPIC on Thursday 23rd, and then a break until 15 Jan. And despite the rains, there's still plenty of cherries to be had.

And the day is nearly here. This year it's a really weird one for me. Hardly any cooking - no relatives visiting; and we're going to a friend's place for lunch, then going to Sydney to spend some time with B1 & M. I have made a cake, and in a vague effort to get in the spirit, I made a turkey risotto tonight. Though with pre-cooked turkey breast from Woollies, and packaged stock it is nowhere near as awesome as a proper leftover feast.

There have been work Xmas parties - three, count them: my unit, our group and the whole institute. And there were musical events - my teacher's studio concert, and the St Phil carols. I've contributed cookies and fruit plates and cakes and pies, and eaten mince pies and old-fashioned white Christmas, and some amazing coconut sticky rice (Maneerat has promised to give me her recipe for that.) The tree is up and the kittens, now small cats, have pulled off the first decorations to roll round the room.

The piccie here is of a "Crazy Cake", cut up and decked with fruit ready for the supper at St Phils. It's a strange recipe, that I couldn't resist trying out. I don't even remember how I found it, but the recipe comes from a vegetarian site. Maybe one of my facebook friends mentioned it, or something. It has no egg and no dairy, and was apparently a depression era invention.

Recipe: Crazy Cake
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sifted good quality cocoa
1 very high heaped teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 pinch salt
150g chocolate flakes (Dutch dark vlokken)
5 tablespoons rice bran oil
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cold strong brewed coffee
1 tablespoon icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180C (170 fan-forced)
Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and bicarbonate of soda.
Mix the water, oil, vinegar, vanilla and coffee together.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix well.
Pour into a baking-paper lined 22cm square cake tin.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a test skewer comes out clean.
When cool, dust with icing sugar to serve.

Seriously, amazing. It works. The vinegar is important to react with the carb soda for leavening, it does not end up tasting vinegary. It's an American recipe, so the tablespoons are 15ml. (And the flakes weren't in there originally. I guess they were about 3/4 cup.)

If you look at the original recipe you'll see I have changed a bit, using coffee instead of water, a different type of vegetable oil and vinegar, a lot more cocoa, chocolate flakes, and a smidge less sugar and salt. And I lined the tin - and would recommend that strongly.

But I've got nothing on the commenter who said "1)I used whole wheat flour, 2)I used applesauce instead of oil, 3)I used a cup of sugar-free raspberry preserves instead of sugar, 4) I used rice milk rather than water, 5) I added 1 cup of Sunspire Grain Sweetened Chocolate Chips to the batter, 6)Rather than greasing the pan, I lined my cake pan with Reynolds Release Non-Stick Foil, which worked perfectly" I mean, is that even remotely the same cake?

If you do read the comments, you'll notice lots of other variations, and a couple of things that worried me - some said it was dry and tasteless. Well, lots of extra cocoa would have sorted the tasteless. I suspect it might go dry if you leave it in the oven too long? Anyway, mine came out moist and very fluffy. I may have overdone the bicarb. It actually seemed better the next day, when it had settled and solidified just slightly.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

A quick plug:

Traditional Kings' College Style Xmas carols and lessons at St Phil's, O'Connor, Sunday 7.30pm. Plenty of old favourite singalong carols, and some very interesting and fun choral pieces. Supper in the courtyard (weather permitting). I will be singing. Come along! All welcome, and it's free!

Note that - also in wonderfully traditional style - our local government has decided that NOW is the perfect time to resurface the driveway leading to the church parking area! I mean, who would be wanting to use a parking lot at Christmas? So, it's street parking only, and in O'Connor at that. Bicycles and feet are highly recommended as transport.

PS to those unfamiliar with church vocab: "lessons" means readings from the Bible, not actual lessons in, say, Latin grammar, or how to do long division. I must admit that there is a *little* bit of Latin, but I promise there is no quiz.

(No actual "read more" content, it's buggy. I'll fix this one day. Next year when the moon is blue.)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A big day

I had a big day of cooking today, turning out 2 dozen molasses cookies, an impossible pie, a pot of poached apricots, an arrabiata pasta sauce and a roast chook for dinner. The cookies are for a work morning tea on Tuesday, and I'm hoping the pie will freeze well, so I can take it to a Friday evening Xmas thing.

The pie is from a Kerry Greenwood book - if you don't know these already, I highly recommend her as a writer of delightful Melbourne based cosy mysteries. In the Phryne Fisher series, it is always and eternally 1928. Private detective Phryne is a poor girl turned rich, with sound feminist, socialist and anti-racist sentiments, and a love of fast cars, fine food and beautiful young men. The Corinna Chapman series is set in modern times, and stars a baker of ample size who lives in the a classical themed apartment complex with many other interesting characters. Several books feature recipes at the back. This impossible pie is from her latest, Dead Man's Chest.

Recipe: Kerry's Impossible Pie
1/2 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup coconut
1/4 cup flaked almonds
4 eggs
vanilla essence to taste
125g melted butter
1 cup milk
extra 1/4 cup flaked almonds to sprinkle on top.

* Mix everything together thoroughly.
* Pour into a greased pie dish, and sprinkle reserved almonds on top.
* Bake at 170C for 35-45 minutes, or until it seems all just set.

If you have too much to go in the pie dish, the remnant can be baked in a ramekin or two. I did one today - you can see it sitting there on the festive green and red silicon baking sheets. This is a good idea anyway - that way you can have a test serve and check out the taste and texture before taking it to the party it's planned for. For me that's next Friday night. So I really really hope it freezes well! Serve this warm or cold, on its own or with some stewed fruit - perhaps poached apricots? Yes. By the way, poached apricots are very nice with a dash of rosewater and a sprinkle of toasted flaked almonds.

The molasses cookies were also nice and easy, and a great success. They're sweet but with complexity from the molasses and spices. I got this recipe from an American blog called "Not Martha". She has some wonderfully gorgeous stuff there, like mini gingerbread houses for perching on the side of a mug of hot chocolate, and miniature fruit pies.

Recipe 2: Sparkling Chewy Molasses Cookies, by Not Martha.
2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
3/4 of a 250g packet salted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses, blackstrap works well here
about 1/2 cup demerara sugar

* Beat the butter, sugar, egg and molasses together well.
* Sift the flour, spice and baking soda together.
* Add the flour to the butter/sugar mix and mix well.
* Spoon out tablespoons of dough at a time, roll to balls in your hands.
* Roll the balls of dough in the demerara sugar.
* Lay them out on a baking tray, about 5cm apart.
* Bake at 170C for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are firming up.
* Let cool on the tray for a few minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

this is American, but keeping the same proportions is OK. Although I used an Australian tablespoon, and this may be why mine cracked more than the picture in the original. I also baked 2 trays at once in my convection oven. I made 2 dozen (yes, two are missing from the picture, how odd!), and froze the third dozen unbaked.

I have removed the salt, but used salted butter; and I used cassia, which is commonly used as cinnamon in the US. It's a bit hotter than true cinnamon.

Molasses is available from health food shops, or you could use treacle. Microwaving your jar of molasses for 20-30 seconds makes it easy to pour.

Demerara sugar is a light brown sugar made to a larger crystal than regular raw sugar, but you could use raw sugar if demerara is hard to come by.