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Entries in travel tales (13)

Thursday
Jan162014

lavandula in bloom

Sweet wishes for 2014 to you and your family.

I'm thrilled to be free to blog again. And what better way to celebrate than a return visit to delicious Daylesford in country Victoria. Outside Daylesford at Shepherds Flat the lavender is ripe for the picking at Lavandula Swiss Italian Lavender Farm. In fact their Annual Harvest Festival took place last weekend. You might remember my last visit there, Alla Wolf Tasker's fabulous Lakehouse lunch & the beautiful photos my sister Lise captured. 

Revisiting Lavandula, whether in person or in pictures is always good for the soul. 

Down the road from Daylesford in the town of Musk Vale lives Kate Ulman. I was thrilled to read that Kate of Daylesford Organics & Foxs Lane blogspot recently gave herself 6 months off to road trip around Australia in a vintage caravan. Her family's inspiring story and farm is featured in this January's Country Style magazine. Bushfires, floods and locust plagues just can't keep a good Aussie down. Certainly not when there's a dream to catch. We love your spirit Kate & your new book too  'Vantastic' .

For me 2014 will bring some freedom to catch dreams too. I'm finally able to enjoy online jottings and lots of zesting & bottling.  As always the citrus at Weka Weka just can't ripen quick enough for me and my jars. The trees are heavily laden with green fruits. I've used the last of my Ruby Red Marmalade and Preserved Lemons :-( but won't be long before there's more. Thank goodness for Grandma's Salad Dressing & plentiful stocks of Red Wine Chilli Jelly and Tomato Relish for that summer entertaining. Just let me know if you've run out. Happy to post some to you.

Can't wait to connect more regularly with you my MFK friends. And the new local businesses that have popped up during my absence in corporate coffeeland. Lovely stores like Paint Me White in Mudgeeraba village. That Annie Sloan Chalk paint is truly fab. No priming, just swish it on your special timber pieces and hey presto!  

My sincere hope is that you've had time to stop and smell the lavender over the holidays, bake and even perhaps restored a treasured piece of old furniture. No resolutions at this end, just a plan to invest more time in preserving the seasons, my girls, new friends and the sanctum of kitchen & garden spaces. That's where I'll be. Perhaps back at our local Farmers Markets too, selling my wares. I'll keep you posted on that one.  

Warm wishes. I look forward to talking and sharing with you regularly throughout the year. Don't forget to take the Pavlova with you this upcoming Australia Day weekend.  Whether at the beach or out in the countryside, may you enjoy our beautiful sunburnt country. Happy Australia Day.

quintessential aussie bathing sheds at Mornington, Vic. a recent holiday stop

Saturday
Oct062012

delicious daylesford

It's Springtime in Daylesford, Victoria. From lovely Lavandula - the Swiss Italian Lavender Farm at Shepherds Flat, 5 minutes from Daylesford.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Macaroni Factory, Australia's first macaroni factory and oldest Italian building and Villa Parma, Peppers Hepburn Springs

Red Beard Bakery - unbeatable organic sourdough bread & goodies in the town of Trentham.

 

 

Alla Wolf Tasker's enchanting Lake House in Daylesford is a true labour of love for over 26 years. Lake House is regarded as one of Australia's very best restaurants.

Images courtesy of Lisa Murray. Lise, I hope you'll always be 'official photographer' on our foodie trips. Thanks for your talent and sweet company.

The local growers, vignerons, provedores, chefs and restaurateurs of Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges are an inspiring group. There's good reason why we've been reading all about this region in many gourmet food and travel magazines lately.

Those of you who live in a sub-tropical climate (like us here in South East Queensland) no doubt jump at the opportunity to travel south and really appreciate the four seasons in all their glory - especially Spring.  This time last year I headed to springtime Bowral. Perhaps you'll remember my specculaas recipe, droolings and ravings of tulips and Southern Highland towns in NSW.

This Spring I’ve landed even further south in Victoria's Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges, just over 1 hour north of Melbourne. If you haven't already, I hope you'll soon have the opportunity to explore delicious Daylesford, its lake and superb surrounds. 

A visit to Lavandula Farm at Shepherds Flat (pictured above) inspires a more frequent use of culinary lavender in our everyday cooking. For example the tips of freshly picked lavender added to a batch of scone mixture make a delightful difference.  Of course in Southern France, lavender plays an important role far beyond the reaches of potplants and window boxes.  It was suggested to us at Lavandula that we should consider lavender in more of our favourite dishes, as a culinary substitute for rosemary. 

I’ve visited many lavender farms around the world and often felt sad to find lavender fields without flowers out of season. No such feelings here at Lavandula, for you'll be mesmerised by flowering rosemary, 19th century stone buildings, a barnyard with extensive retail therapy, lush picnic spots, a huge pizza oven and good coffee with homemade cakes. 

There's also the unique history of the place - back to the mid 1800’s, when 2500 Italian men immigrated to this region from the Swiss Italian areas of Lake Como, Locarno & Lugano. They settled in the Daylesford region, unknowingly panning for gold despite the best of the gold rush years already behind them.  Some still struck it lucky with smaller nuggets and parcels of fertile land. It's another little gem in our lucky country I hope you'll enjoy as much as we did.  

Please don't miss a meal at The Lakehouse, where violet and licorice ice-cream competes with lemon curd mouse, shavings of meringue and caviar. Alla Wolf Tasker really is the queen of Australian country kitchen, her kitchen gardens bursting with farm fresh flavour, dainty micro herbs & edible flowers. 

Another must-eat is sourdough from Red Beard Bakery. A bakery has operated continously in this Trentham location from at least 1892 until 1987. The towns bread was baked in its enormous Scotch oven, one of only a handful of Scotch ovens now remaining in Australia. A once common type of commercial oven with a huge, domed brick structure found throughout the British Empire.  Word has it that by the 1960’s most had been destroyed by the large flour millers to eliminate competition for their new supermarkets breads.  Argh!!! 

This bustling bakery was restored in 2004, its historic oven still in surprisingly good condition.  In 2005 the Reid Brothers stumbled across the renovated bakery and have been producing high quality, organic sourdough bread and other goodies using time-honoured techniques ever since. Bakery Workshops and tours are available. We hadn’t booked one but the friendly owners were more than happy to share their passion and knowledge with us. Handshaped loaves are leavened with a traditional wild yeast culture and later loaded into the woodfired Scotch oven, just as was done over a century ago. If only I could bottle that aroma of freshly baked sourdough... along with fragrant rhododendrons, daffodils, hyacinths and crab apple blossoms. Enjoy every Springtime day MFK friends. More recipes soon...

Friday
Aug312012

welcome spring 

When I think of Spring I often remember our national treasure, Margaret Olley and her amazing work. Olley, our skilled Australian painter is prized and noted for her vibrant still-life paintings and intimate interiors. Her paintings of florals and fruits epitomize Spring;  vibrant azelias, citrus, cyclamen, cornflours, calendulas, daffodils, lily sprays, pears, poppies and pomegranates, quinces and tamarillos. Not to mention her gorgeous jugs, pots, vases, tablecloths and incredible Sydney vistas.  

Olley is also well known for her organised clutter of artefacts from around the world and her furniture. In Olley’s own words she ‘painted what was around her because it was easy to get at’.  I guess in the same way we enjoy cooking and creating using fresh seasonal produce that’s all around us.

 

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Tuesday
Aug072012

sunday drives - a little gourmet trail in byron hinterland nsw

One of my favourite local trails is a drive around the Byron Hinterland, 50 minutes south of the Gold Coast in New South Wales. Just 30 minutes down the highway from home, we often first jump off at the coastal village of Brunswick Heads, where there's plenty of good coffee, shopping and unspoilt natural charm. Last time we tried Pantry No.8 - good Merlo and a quaint ambience. The kids love the inlet park at Brunswick, to stretch their legs and burn off some energy. Personally I love the retro Second Hand Rose Emporium, 2 doors down from Pantry No.8, where I could happily browse for hours.

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Saturday
Jun232012

mulled wine in snowy river country

Hi MFK friends, I'm back. Noone broke a leg on the slopes (phew!) and we've fallen head over heels in love with Australia's alpine region aka Snowy River Country.  What is it about old stone cottages, freshly chopped wood piles and snow capped mountains that dare us to dream? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday
Apr222012

little lemon and rosemary syrup cakes

I‘ve made lots of little syrup cakes over the years, with (you guessed it) citrus. Top favourites include; gluten free lemon polenta cakes, a luscious lemon ricotta square and many 100’s of light lemon syrup friands.  Each recipe is moist and more-ish, thanks to an even and generous soaking of sweet syrup.  Do you have a favourite? 

In case you haven’t tried infusing your lemon syrup with herbs, especially freshly picked rosemary, thought I’d best share this subtle little secret with you. 

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Friday
Mar232012

roman rosemary potatoes

Updated on March 24, 2012 by Registered CommenterSusie

Let’s get some fantastic veggies in the picture before the sweet Easter treats take over.

This is my staple vegetable dish, by far the easiest and most understated recipe in my journal. Humble family opinion rates it right up there with British Cauliflower Cheese browning under the grill and the best Baked Eggplant Parmigiana to come out of Italy.  These three veggie classics do constant battle for top billing in My Farm Kitchen.  All go hand in glove with a Roast Chook or a lovely Leg of Lamb or Beef.

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Wednesday
Mar142012

spaghettini alla bottarga

Sorry to be absent this week.  No, I haven’t been away anywhere exotic, except in my dreams. But ‘Fine Food Queensland’ at the Brisbane Convention Centre was fun and provided loads of gourmet inspiration. 

I’ve been busy with my daughters and helping with an ‘autumn clean’ at Weka Weka too. Still fighting a ½ acre of weeds and lots of fruit picking.  My fruit bowls are piled high with freshly picked chillies, ruby red grapefruit and loads of limes. But there’s plenty of time for all that loveliness later in the week, isn’t there? Gotta show you the rubies though...

To top it off I just couldn’t make up my mind what to share with you next? Finally decided to surprise you with something from left field that’s neither sweet nor baked. An unexpected dish using a little known ingredient in South East Queensland that's coming into season very soon.  Or perhaps I should say swimming in.

The contestants on Australian ‘Masterchef’ created a lobster dish a while back using Bottarga, a seafood delicacy in many parts of the world. Simply put it’s sun-dried mullet roe. They complicated things (as per usual on that show) with a dozen different ‘elements’ to finish. My pet peeve! Bottarga isn’t meant to be a complicated dish. Gourmet Traveller got it right with their recipe. Hats off to them for keeping it so simple.  

What’s all the fuss about you ask? Please read on. This simple traditional recipe for Bottarga uses only five added ingredients; thin spaghettini, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, lemon and Italian parsley from your garden. It’s divine, something very different and should only take you ten minutes tops to prep and another ten to cook.

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Sunday
Mar042012

persian love cake

Updated on March 14, 2012 by Registered CommenterSusie

One of my oldest and dearest friends does a lot of gluten free cooking for her family, some of whom are coeliacs and real foodies. Many years ago, when I first started baking like a woman possessed, she shared her gluten free Orange & Almond Cake Recipe with me. You know it, the popular one made from boiled pureed oranges and almond meal. No doubt you’ve seen it in many cafes in one version or another. Winter mandarins can be used too.  Once discovered, this wonderful world of flour-less baking is easily embraced. This superb gluten free recipe requires no lengthy boiling of fruit, no involved prep time, no fancy icing and only takes 30 minutes in the oven. Super quick sophistication. Love the Love Cake.

 

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Monday
Feb202012

cavallucci - spiced cookies with candied orange and walnuts

I’m keen to share with you recipes and ramblings from sunburnt Siena. My favourite Tuscan meals, backyard Pizza oven stories and lots of digital photos are open on my Mac. But sitting in my lap is a journal filled with handwritten Sienese biscuit and cake recipes. Sweet turmoil. Where to start? And the winner is ... ahh, surprise surprise. Sweet tradition.

Sienese Cavallucci (Spiced cookies with candied orange and walnuts)

Ingredients

200 grams 1 cup Caster sugar

6 tablespoons good quality honey

200 grams Walnut pieces, chopped

85 grams of Candied Orange Peel, finely diced - store bought or home made

½ teaspoon freshly ground aniseed

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

500 grams 4 cups plain flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

plenty of icing sugar for dusting

Makes approx. 26

Methods + Tips 

Place sugar and honey in a saucepan with ¾ cup of water. Heat gently, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved.  Bring to the boil and simmer for approximately 5 minutes until temperature reaches ‘thread stage’.

Remove pan from the heat. Stir in chopped walnuts and diced orange peel.  Preheat oven to moderate 180°C (350°F). 

Sift the flour with the baking powder and spices into a large bowl. Pour in walnut/peel mixture and fold into the flour with a large stainless spoon. Knead the dough just a little and roll into generous sized balls whilst still warm.  Place on prepared baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, until puffed and set but not browned. Dust with lots of icing sugar and serve.

These crunchy aniseed cookies are a Sienese specialty, along with Ricciarelli - a soft almond cookie and all those lovely P’s; Panforte, Panpepato, Panettone and  Pancioccolato - steeped in centuries of tradition. They are surely linked to the Palio horse race and/or the servants who worked in the stables of Italian aristocrats. 

When I arrived in Siena I didn’t know Cavalli was Italian for horses. Or that you could make anything small and cute in the Italian language by playing around with the word endings e.g ‘inni’ & ‘ucci’.

Don’t expect these to taste like a melting moment or other butter type Aussie cookie. There’s no butter here. It’s a crunchy biscuit on the outside with a soft centre that leaves a lingering fusion of citrus, aniseed and walnut in your mouth.

Traditionally these biscuits were eaten after a meal, often dunked in red wine or sweet vin santo.  I also love dunking them in a good espresso. When I make them they remind me of ‘brutti ma buoni’ another Italian biscuit that’s famous for its ugly look but great taste.

If you have time to make your own candied citrus and pound anise seeds in your mortar and pestle - it is well worth the effort. If not, don’t stress. You will still enjoy the results immensely.

Travel Tale

If you have a recurring dream (asleep or awake) of living in a foreign country simply because you’d like to learn a new language, cuisine and culture, DO IT!  Follow your heart.   

This IS reason enough to pack up your life for a little while. Spend your hard earned savings. And be prepared - for when you get there your heart will burst and your soul will fly. 

My recurring dream was to learn Italian in bella Toscana. I chose Siena for its two great language schools; Dante Aligheri and Universita per Stanieri (The University for Foreigners)  and also because the town seemed more approachable than its much bigger sister Florence. 

The gods were watching over me as my fellow students checked-in to their Sienese family apartments in town. Meanwhile, I was directed to the outskirts of town, ‘back down the hill to the train station and continue on past the local Coop supermercato’, directions given in Italian. I didn’t understand more than ‘grazie’ and ‘buongiorno’.

Eventually I found the supermarket and a little further along 'Strada del Paradiso' (apt beyond belief) was a long cypress lined driveway. It whispered 'picture postcard Tuscany' to me. My two backpacks, one on each sore shoulder quickly became light as a feather. I strolled up the shady track, past overgrown grape vines and olive trees to a large courtyard featuring the best backyard pizza oven I had ever laid eyes on. My host welcomed me in Italiano troppo rapido and presented a key to my heart. Actually it opened a well equipped kitchen and my Tuscan bedroom, complete with antique furnishings and a frescoed ceiling! Dreams really do come true.

All settled into my ‘villa’, I headed back into town to find ‘la scuola’ my new school and go ‘in centro’ the centre to see the famous Piazza del Campo. Lying stretched out on the cobblestones of Piazza del Campo is a terracotta dream with azure lining.  Add an IPod, ear piece and the voice of Tuscan born Andrea Boccelli to the mix - sublime.

The fiercest competition and tradition in Siena is the annual Palio Festival held on the 2nd of July and 16th of August each year. Unfortunately, or fortunately however you look at it, I arrived just after the August Palio Horse Race had been run.  But there is no escaping the importance of this event and the fascinating history of the Contradas - the 17 districts into which the town of Siena is divided. 

Other sacred destinations and magic moments are never far away in Siena. Just a minute or two from Piazza del Campo is Italy’s finest (in my humble opinion) Gothic Cathedral ‘Il Duomo’. If you have visited Siena you will remember it well - the Duomo’s unique black and white licorice all-sort striped marble belltower.

Its campanille dates back to 1313, not long before they started making these lovely biscuits in the 1500’s. The mind boggles - a 500 year old biscuit recipe. More stupenda (splendid) Siena another time. A presto!

Saturday
Feb112012

speculaas bowral style

My favourite Bakery in the Southern Highlands town of Bowral specialises in organic sourdough and sweet morsels. Lovely organic coffee too. It’s called Flour Water Salt . Over the course of a week I became utterly obsessed by one spicy treat in particular with a silky almond filling. They call them Dutch Speculaas. Normally a Winter/Xmas food in Europe I guess. But I call them the perfect coffee food and re-named them ‘Bowral Bliss’.  The guys at FWS wouldn’t give me their recipe. Bugger! However after three attempts and a little trial and error, I’m satisfied the recipe below is equally as blissful.

Dutch Speculaas (Bowral Bliss)

Ingredients

500 grams white plain (all purpose) flour ❤ 250 grams chilled unsalted butter ❤ 250 grams dark brown sugar ❤ 2 eggs, lightly beaten ❤ ¼ cup thickened cream ❤ a  generous pinch of sea salt 30 - 50 grams Speculaas Spice (ie. as much or as little as your nose & taste buds like - see tips) I use approx. 5 teaspoons of the mixed spice combination to a batch ❤ freshly grated rind of 2 lemons ❤ 1 teaspoon bi carb soda ❤ 1 teaspoon baking powder ❤ lightly beaten egg white for brushing

Almond Paste 

200 grams almond meal ❤ 200 grams icing sugar ❤ 1 egg, lightly beaten + 1 egg white, lightly beaten ❤ 1 tablespoon of Rose Water OR 1 teaspoon of almond extract 

Speculaas Spice

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon ❤ 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg ❤ 1 tablespoon ground cloves ❤  1½ teaspoons ground white pepper ❤ 1½ teaspoons ground ginger ❤ 1½ teaspoons ground cardamom seed

Method + Tips

It’s important to get the spice right first. Traditionally, Speculaas Spice included all six ground spices as above; cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, white pepper, ginger and cardamon. When I say tradition, I’m talking dating back to medieval times. Combine all 6 spices evenly in a small dish. In all honesty, I left the ground white pepper out last time cause I found it a little too much for my taste buds.

To make the Dough - Sift the flour, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda together. Add the brown sugar and combine well.  Using the dough hook of your mixer, processor or by hand, add the chopped butter and combine. Mix in the freshly grated lemon rind.  Lightly beat the cream and eggs together and add to the dry mixture. Dough will come together easily.  Do not overwork.  Flatten dough and cover in cling wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

Note: There should be enough leftover dough to make a dozen small speculaas cookies or ½ dozen large gingerbread men when you’ve completed this recipe.  Each layer (pastry & almond filling) is rolled about 5mm thick.

Make the almond paste filling by sifting icing sugar over the almond meal in a medium sized bowl. Gradually add the beaten egg, egg white and then the rosewater, teaspoon by teaspoon. You need the filling to be spreadable, not runny. Flatten and cover in cling wrap also and refrigerate overnight.

Next day or whenever you’re ready to bake the Speculaas, preheat oven to moderate 180°C (350°F). Grease and line your cake tin (23cm square) with baking paper.

Allow dough to sit at room temperature to come to workable temp. Divide the dough in half, knead lightly and roll out each portion on a very well floured bench or pastry sheet with well floured rolling pin. About 5mm/¼ inch thick. Drape first rolled portion into cake tin.  Cut or patch as required to make neat.  Roll out almond filling to same shape/size and place over the dough layer. Repeat by draping over the top layer of dough and pressing down around the edges to seal.

Brush generously with lightly whisked egg white.  Bake for 20 minutes until firm and rich brown in colour.  Cut as required. I like the long strips as pictured. At FWS they served them as very generous sized rectangles. Or in little fudge size bites on the saucer with coffee as a sampler. Brutal tactics. They go oh so beautifully with a good espresso.

Travel Tale

Truth No. 5. I have a serious new addiction that doesn’t involve food.  Namely House Swapping. Firstly, the activity of cleaning your home like a crazy mad person prepping for a real estate open inspection. Not so addictive. But secondly, the more joyful activity of stepping off a plane and into someones equally sparkling clean home in a foreign town. Thirdly, the overwhelming delight of trialling local restaurants, markets, coffee beans, shops, corner pub, sourdough bakery, the lot - on the good recommendation of your faraway hosts. Finally, not having a great big fat hotel bill added to one’s credit card before flying home.

I love my life but leaving it behind for a week or two to ponder what life in Town X would really be like is a very refreshing experience. OK, so one of my favourite movies IS ‘The Holiday’. But tell me honestly, who can deny Jude Law in picturesque English countryside isn’t its own special form of addiction. 

On one of our recent exchanges we visited the Southern Highlands.  Bowral was a destination that ticked all the boxes at once and with sudden rapid fire. Timing was perfect. The magnificent Open Gardens Scheme & Tulip Time Festival was underway. But even so, this region has much to offer without 1000’s of tulips. 

‘Our’ house was like stepping into the pages of Country Style Magazine . Or more specifically Highlife - the Southern Highlands glossy mag based in Bowral. 

It was the 51st anniversary of Tulip Time, one of Australia’s largest floral garden festivals. A feast for garden lovers and foodies, lasting two weeks each year at the end of September - early October.

We visited over a dozen open gardens. Milton Park and its 8 acres of formal gardens and 20 acres of lawns and informal areas was in its 61st year of opening its gates and raising money for charity.  Bluebells, daffodils, jonquils, 2000 tulips and snowdrops covered the glade. The ancient Rhododendrons were a colour palette of spring shades.

Corbett Gardens (the town's corner park) at the end of Merrigang Street was just the beginning. Freshly picked tulips, waratahs and warm baking screamed ‘take me home’ from all angles. Barbara’s Storehouse - and numerous other lovely stores - had the most fabulous array of inexpensive home wares I’ve seen anywhere.  

Further afield, Exeter General Store was a little jewel for lunch and local produce, with heaps of handmade confectionery, conserves and great coffee. And what a pretty drive to get there. The town of Berry, closer to the coast was gourmet shopping heaven.

The Southern Highlands slogan is perfectly apt - ‘the journey is just as impressive as the destination’.   I say, if you can’t make the journey right now, at least make the Speculaas.  Terrific preserves too.

Thursday
Jan262012

lemon sour cream cake

Hi MFK friends. Lemon, sour cream & pinenuts - we can't go wrong. It's a match made in heaven.

This one's adapted from an old Australian Women's Weekly Recipe. You can imagine my face when Signora Roma (my boss in Rome) greeted me at my first italian interview and proceeded to show off her entire collection of Womens Weekly Cookbooks posted all the way from Australia on international subscription. She had more of them than me and barely spoke English! Classic, triple tested for your success every time. Gotta love em.

Lemon Sour Cream Cake

Ingredients - 250 grams butter, softened ❤ 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind ❤ 2 cups (440 grams) caster sugar 6 eggs ❤ ¾ cup (180 grams) sour cream ❤ 2 cups (300grams) plain (all purpose) flour ❤ 1/4 cup (35 grams) self-raising flour ❤ 1/2 cup (80 grams) pine nuts ❤ 1 tablespoon demerara sugar ❤ 1/4 cup (90 grams) honey

Method + Top Tips

Preheat oven to moderately slow 170°C/150°C fan-forced (325°F). 

Grease your square cake tin 23cm or thereabouts. Line base and sides with baking paper extending paper 5cm over the edge to help lift this big cake out when baked.

Beat butter, rind and caster sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time - mixing only until just combined between additions. I add a little of the flour at this point to stop mixture from curdling. But don't fret, it will come together in a minute anyhow.  Fold in sour cream and sifted flours in two batches with a wooden spoon.  Spread mixture into pan and bake firstly for 15 minutes.

Combine pine nuts and demerara sugar in a small bowl. Remove cake from oven and quickly sprinkle evenly with nut/sugar mixture. Then return cake to the oven for a further 45-50 minutes.  It's a dense, high cake so this one is best tested with a skewer in the centre to see if it comes out dry. 

Stand for 5 minutes.  Heat honey briefly in a small saucepan or microwave. Drizzle warm thin honey over hot cake evenly.  Allow to cool before slicing and devouring.

 Travel Tale

I was talking Lemon Sour Cream Cake with Bev Ruskey the other day. She is the owner and dedicated chef at Spring Creek Mountain Cottages & Cafe.  

This amazing panoramic lodging is perched 1005 metres above sea level  - that’s high for us Aussies ok!.  It’s in a jewel of a spot called The Scenic Rim.  Australia’s most accessible World Heritage listed rainforests are located here, just 80 kilometres from Brisbane, Queensland’s capitol. 

It’s certainly not the traditional place you’d expect to find espresso and homemade cakes that are equally as good as the views. Peaks, low rolling hills and a valley plain stretching as far and wide as the eye can grasp.

My family were lucky enough to stay the night. We booked upon recommendation from a neighbour who had made the journey last year. So glad we stayed. Quaint cottage and Bev’s big breakfast was a stunner too. I’ve never eaten a mushroom, spinach and goats cheese omelette so packed with flavour. Will you share your secret Bev?

It’s hard to imagine but this beautiful region is fighting for freedom from mining - in particular from coal seam gas companies. Keep the Scenic Rim Scenic is a non-political community group standing against mining, coal seam gas and inappropriate development in the region. Now there's a fight worth having.

Killarney, 2.5 hours drive from Brisbane, is the nearest town. Best known Australia wide for its superb quality beef. No wonder. Check the guys out.  The fattest cattle in greenest pastures I’ve seen in a very long while. Memories of the English Lakes District flood in.  

 

In the valley below, a riverside track follows the Condamine River, crossing over it 14 times through the Cambanoora Gorge. With warning, high vehicle clearance only. Does that include a Nissan XTRAIL I ask my husband?  I wish the sign ‘Double Crossing’ had been on the incoming side of the river.  We didn’t have to get snatched and grappled out of there so it was a really terrific day.  Surpassed only by the beautiful Queen Mary Falls nearby and the Lemon Sour Cream Cake.

Thursday
Oct272011

torta della nonna (grandma's cake)

While on the subject of Grandma's - not my Aussie one but the equally dear Italian version 'Nonna' - I'd love to share this recipe with you first up.  For 3 reasons: 1. we gotta start somewhere, so many fantastic recipes and stories to tell you. 2. Torta della Nonna is one of my all time fav European cakes to eat. And 3. It's a supreme example of 'simple sophistication'. What I call a 'classic, classy cake'. It's exactly what this blog is all about. Inspiring you to bake with me, dishes that present beautifully, taste incredible and are simple to create. And re-create - whenever your heart desires. 

Ingredients

1 egg, lightly beaten ❤ 2 tablespoons pine nuts ❤ icing sugar for dusting

Pasta Frolla (for the Pastry) 250 grams plain flour ❤ 120 grams caster sugar ❤ 120 grams unsalted chilled chopped butter ❤ 1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk ❤ 1½  teaspoons baking powder zest of 1 lemon

Crema Pasticcera (for the Custard filling)

2 eggs, plus 1 yolk ❤ 100 grams caster sugar ❤ 50 grams plain flour ❤ 30 grams unsalted butter softened ❤ 250ml 1 cup milk ❤ 250ml 1 cup cream

Method + Top Tips

To make the pasta frolla, place four, sugar and a pinch of salt in a food processor or mixer. I use my Kitchenaid with the dough hook attached.  Add chopped cold butter and pulse/mix until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Then add egg and yolk, baking powder and lemon zest. Pulse or mix until pastry just comes together.  Don't overwork your pastry. Stop mixer immediately and transfer pastry to a large sheet of plastic wrap, shaping into a flat ball before wrapping and refrigerating for 30 minutes.   

To make the cream pasticcera, beat the eggs & yolk lightly. Add sugar, sifted flour, butter and a pinch of salt until smooth.  Place milk and cream in a saucepan, bring to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Remove from heat.

While beating continuously (I use an old fashioned hand held beater for this one), gradually add the egg and sugar mixture to the hot milk mixture in the saucepan. Combine well.  Return saucepan to low heat and whisk continuously for 3-5 minutes or until thick and smooth. I like to use a hand whisk & work briskly to avoid any lumps.  Remove from heat and cool.

Preheat oven to moderate 180°C (350°F)

Roll out two thirds of the pastry on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thick. Some baking paper is good for this as you can then flip it over easily into the flan tin.  Use to line base and side of a 23cm (9inch) tart tin with removable base. The ceramic tart tin pictured is an old fav of mine & 25cm in diameter, so this torta is not quite as high.  

Evenly spread the cooled custard inside tart shell.  Roll out remaining pastry and place on top of custard, pressing edge gently to seal and trim excess pastry.  

Brush with beaten egg, sprinkle with pine nuts and bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden. Serve at room temperature - lightly dusted with icing sugar. 

 

Travel Tale

When living in Rome, that mad, magnificent city of ancient treasures, I uncovered a ‘piccolo tesoro italiano’, a little Italian treasure you won’t find in any of the guidebooks. It’s this silky, lovable dessert you should definitely add to your cake repertoire.

Once back on home soil, recreating a favourite dish from your travels - in the familiar comfort of your own kitchen - becomes a magical, nostalgic event don’t you think?  Photos merely capture the scene. It’s the cuisine that transports us back with all our senses. Each meal, each recipe tells a story and unfolds a travel tale.

When I’m baking Torta della Nonna at home, I’m not present.  I’m somewhere lungotevere -  the tree-lined boulevard meandering Rome’s River Tiber, completely carefree. The only pressing decision afoot whether I should order my acqua gassata or naturale and have cappuccino or espresso. Perhaps detour and get lost in one of Trastevere’s winding cobblestone streets or hike up the Aventine Hill to marvel at the miniaturized view of St Peters through the Keyhole of the Knights of Malta.  Maybe join the crowds, people watch in Piazzo del Popolo, window-shop in famously expensive Via dei Condotti or seek out tourists at La Bocca della Verita to test the mouth of truth. 

Scusa! I'm back again. The Romans are the supreme rulers of making the most out of basic super-fresh ingredients. Us Aussies have certainly learned a lot from them. Ingredients that never failed to render me speechless in the narrow alleys of my local market. Produce grown in Lazio’s lush volcanic soil.  Reminds me of the soil in fertile Northern New South Wales near Mt Warning, Australia’s own caldera. 

I get the impression the best of Italian produce stays at home, strictly for personal enjoyment and that of loved ones. There's a lot to be said for that, don’t you think?

What a shame many Italians don’t make their delicious desserts at home. They have the recipes and the know-how but I discovered most prefer leaving sweets up to their local, highly skilled Pasticceria. There are several delectable versions of this torta across the ancient city’s pasticcerie and supermercati. Most often displayed in stylishly crowded shop windows and lovingly wrapped upon purchase. After all, it can’t just taste incredible. It must look the part too. Ready to make its grand entrance at pranzo - Sunday lunch with all the family. For all roads invariably lead home, to a long kitchen table bursting with vibrant faces, familiar flavours and rapid-fire conversations. All together at once, in local dialect, at break neck speed. Argh!

Taking sweets to an Italian lunch is a ritual far more meaningful than bringing along a bottle of wine, even when it’s an exceptional drop produced in Australia and lugged with care from the southern hemisphere. Taking wine to the Italians feels like carrying water to a well. I should have saved myself the trouble.

I was a little skeptical when I first laid eyes on Torta della Nonna. Would this dessert be just another custard tart - without the obligatory nutmeg sprinkle. No way! Torta della Nonna captures the senses at first bite. Its crunchy pine nut topping, light golden la pasticcera crema filling and perfectly fine pastry is buonissima!  Right up there with Zia Nadia’s Torta di Arancia, Sardinian Orange Cake. But that’s another blogging day.

Great with cappuccino in the morning, espresso in the afternoon or encore with Sunday lunch.  Attenzione! It's tough to stop at just one slice. I'm taking this one down to a friend's cafe in the morning. Safest bet.

'Amore, I'm just zipping down the shop for more pinenuts'.  Truth No 3. I have an unrequited love for old creme vespas.