(Chocolate yoghurt cake with sticky caramel figs)
A few days ago, a high school friend sent me an email. She was out of town, her fig tree was heavy with fruit, and did I want to go pick some before the birds got to them? It took me all of two seconds to say, heck yes. I mean, free fruit.. who (except the sugar deniers) would say no? Plus, I happen to also own a potted fig tree and it has all of two leaves left hanging for dear life on a singular branch. Sometimes I feel that branch is pointing accusingly at me for not being a better amateur gardener. Naturally, I wanted to see this bountiful tree of hers.
So now I have a small basket of doesn’t-get-fresher-than-this figs and have been experimenting with different ways of using them. A few were sliced, rolled in sugar, kissed with a blow torch, and served with a sort of Eton Mess. If you don’t have a blow torch because somehow Amelie and the whole creme brulee craze remains a complete mystery to you, then here’s another amazing way to treat figs : Melt a few spoonfuls of sugar in a sauce pan and heat to make a golden caramel. Toss in fig halves, stir gently to coat them in the caramel, then deglaze with Banyuls or balsamic vinegar to form a bit of a sauce. The whole process takes just a few minutes and the end result is sweet and slightly sour figs you can spoon over ice-cream, or serve with a simple chocolate cake such as this one.
This chocolate cake is a take on Tartine’s devil’s food cake, made with yoghurt instead of buttermilk. It’s one of my favourites because it has the depth of flavour of a chocolate fudge cake without being dense or stodgy.
Chocolate Yoghurt Cake :
115g unsalted butter, softened
235g caster sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
100g Greek yoghurt
125g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
60g cocoa powder
Grease and line a 9″ round baking tin. Preheat the oven to 175′C.
Cream the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until completely incorporated. Combine the yoghurt and milk and add this to the butter mixture. Sift in the flour, cornflour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder and fold to incorporate. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before covering with ganache or serve simply dusted with icing sugar and eaten with a generous scoop of Greek yoghurt.
Tags: cake, caramel, chocolate, figs, ganache
(Pickled peach and blueberry shrub)
A few Saturdays ago, I was on the early morning train headed to work. As you do, when you work in a bakery. The first train of the day is pretty special particularly on weekends, since it’s typically filled with people getting home after a big night out. That morning, one such person wanted to know where I was going, because “You don’t look like you’ve been out all night”. I told him I was off to work, to which he replied without a hint of irony, “The weekend pay must be great!” When I told him that the weekend pay was unfortunately exactly the same as the weekday pay, he expressed amazement at the idea that anyone would work on weekends without getting compensated for it. We then proceeded to have a conversation about early morning cartoons (apparently they’re not as good as they used to be, and I’m missing out for never having watched Pokemon), before reaching my stop.
I guess many people probably think Chefs lead a charmed life. All that creativity, cameraderie, hilarious stories of hijinks. For the most part, it is. But let’s face it, it’s also a job that’s basically manual labour in a neat starched uniform and a funny looking tall hat.
For awhile I believed the hype and chased the dream of the perfect cooking job; always ending up feeling mildly discontented. After watching other people go through the motions of behaving badly, hating their job and making life miserable for everyone around them, I gradually came to realise several things along the way : That every job involves a certain amount of repetition and flirting with boredom. That being good at your job means being able to produce consistent results regardless. That team work means everything in your job. That you don’t have to like everyone, but you should be able to work with everyone and treat them with respect. That this isn’t unique to the hospitality industry, but holds true to pretty much any job in every other field, and that once you’ve realised all this, you can get over it and get on with the rest of your working life.
By all accounts, this coming Summer is promising to be a scorcher. I’ve been in many hot kitchens before, but am wondering how well I’ll truly survive this time round. There aren’t enough ice cubes in Antarctica to stop anyone from melting while working next to 300′C ovens. The above pickled peach and blueberry drink, mixed one warm Sunday afternoon, is somewhat similar to a shrub and is the perfect mix of slightly sweet, slightly sour, very cold and very refreshing. One to get me through the Summer. If you’re interested in making something similar, why not try Anna’s Watermelon and Mint Shrub.
This coming October, I’ve been invited to participate in the second annual Food Writers’ Festival. The line up of speakers include Belinda Jeffery (one of my all time favourite cookbook authors) and one of the best chefs in Sydney, Peter Gilmore of Quay. Needless to say, I’m absolutely terrified of being amongst such esteemed company and the very idea of public speaking fills me with gut churning anxiety not dissimilar to that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’ve eaten too many pork buns.
Which is why I have agreed to do it. Conquering demons, constantly seeking new ways of self improvement and all that kind of stuff.
My presentation will be about this blog and my use of social media. Kind of amusing in a way, given I’m secretly pretty technologically challenged. However, not a day goes by that I’m reminded of how much of an influence social media has had on my life. At the most personal level, B and I met online 17.5 years ago. When he travelled to Tokyo recently for work, I asked an Instagram friend for some shop recommendations, and he managed to bring back a few pieces from a place we would never have otherwise known about. See, the Internet is not just about Grumpy Cat and Gangnam Style!
(Ceramic pieces from Chidori, a shop recommended by Chika)
One of my current projects for work is looking into the possibility of creating a pork bun recipe using sourdough or a preferment. Despite owning hundreds of cookbooks, I ended up with the best first-attempt success via several food blogs. For those who regard the majority of food blogs as self indulgent rubbish, well it turns out self indulgent rubbish can often be quite useful afterall. If you want the recipe, I think it’d be best if you go read a few food blogs
(Steamed buns made with sourdough)
PS: If you’re interested in attending the festival, to listen to Paul Allam and David McGuinness of Bourke Street Bakery talk about the Bread & Butter project, or hear Belinda Jeffery speak about cookbooks and successful recipe writing, or even to heckle me, you can get more information and tickets here.
Tags: Food and Words, Not Grumpy Cat, pork buns