My life in 5 (cent) pieces


(Banana, cashew and sesame flapjacks)

Recently while trying to reduce the clutter in our house, I found the coin pig which B keeps his change in. He has a thing for not carrying spare change around. I have a thing about clutter. We don’t actually own that much stuff (aside from (ahem) cookbooks) but the truth is, my brain has a crazy way of coping with stress. When stressed, some people shop. I declutter.

So I made it a mission to get rid of every single coin and for the past week have been walking around with an extremely heavy wallet, slightly fearing that I would be caught out on a lie if anyone were to ask me for spare change. Interestingly, I’ve discovered that :

1) A friend will hear of my plan for total spare change dissipation and call it crazy. Why don’t you just take it to a bank? Well I could.. but how boring is that?

2) Twenty 10-cent pieces buys you a pretzel from the Swiss Bakery on Oxford Street. But I have a strange propensity towards apologising when paying in small currency (why? It’s still legal tender) so I’ve given up buying pretzels for the time being.

3) The local newsstand seems to welcome spare change, so I guess I’ll be getting the newspaper from them more often.

4) When a scruffy lady approaches you with a request for a donation to a charity you hadn’t heard of before and you offer her your 5-cent pieces, she will say no thanks and walk away. B says this only further confirms his theory that carrying too much spare change makes you a social leper.

5) Twenty 5-cent pieces also buys you bag of rolled oats from the supermarket. But the lady behind the counter will inspect every single coin closely and hand back to you the rogue New Zealand coin lying innocently in the pile. Once you’ve gotten over the embarrassment however, you can use the bag of oats to make Dan Lepard’s halva flapjacks. Trust me, after you make these, you’ll never use or want another flapjack recipe ever again.

For my flapjacks, I used roasted cashews and whole dried bananas (chopped) instead of the dates and walnuts. The lovely sesame flavour and chewiness of these flapjacks reminded me of Jupiter Caramel Bars (for those of us who are of an age substantial enough to remember those..). Spare change never tasted so good.

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This week, this life


(Italian chocolate-almond torte)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a baker in possession of a surfeit of eggwhites must make macarons.

While at times I have adhered to this rule, it is my preference to reject such truths. I enjoy taste-testing everything I bake, and macarons just don’t rock my sugar addicted taste-buds the way cakes and pastries do.

This dairy-free and gluten-free cake from one of my favourite baking books, is so delicious that I wish I had excess egg whites lying around more often. Surprising to think that it took me awhile to finally try this recipe, even though it had been recommended by others many times before. The idea of egg whites, sugar, chocolate and nuts had me initially envisioning some sort of meringue cake which I’d once made and disliked. This one however, tastes exactly like how you would want any good chocolate cake to be. Softly yielding, rich but light. So. Very. Chocolate.


(Banana, yogurt and mesquite cake)

In case popping up after more than a month of not blogging comes as a complete surprise, I plead exhaustion and lack of time. At my current job, I’ve been working fairly long hours. That’s more of a statement than a complaint. In fact, I’m enjoying working in a kitchen more than ever. Long peppers, liquid nitrogen, toasted barley, preserved lemon meringues, caramelised milk crumbs and blistered buttery wafers now count amongst some of my favourite things.

Aside from perhaps too many conversations about cars and sports (football being the exception), I don’t mind the blokey atmosphere either, even if sometimes I’m tempted to request a token conversation about makeup and ‘feelings’.

As often as I can, I’ve been supplying this kitchen with snacks such as banana cake, to show my appreciation. Most people I’ve worked with, both past and present, often express complete surprise that I would spend my days-off baking. If you work 80+ hours on a regular basis, I probably wouldn’t either. Not only because it’s the cooking equivalent of taking your work home with you, but there’s probably nothing in the fridge at home anyway. Not even a carton of milk past it’s due by date. While I’m willing and able however, there will always be cake.

The idea of pairing banana with mesquite flour came about from a conversation with Kerry. Mesquite flour, from the bean of the mesquite plant, has a very distinctive sweet and spiced caramel flavour. It is especially good in chocolate chip cookies or even cookies such as these. Generally speaking, when using, I like to substitute up to 20% of the flour content with it.

Below are the recipes for both cakes, which I’ll hope you’ll go on and make to share with others. If you’re willing and able.

Italian chocolate-almond torte :
(Torta Cioccolata; recipe from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich)

1 cup (140g) unblanched or blanched whole almonds
200g unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 large egg whites (1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 175′C. Grease the sides of a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with baking paper.

Combine the almonds, chocolate, 1/2 cup of sugar and the slat in a food processor and pulse until the almonds and chocolate are very finely chopped but not completely pulverized. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to beat until the egg whites are stiff but not dry. Add one third of the nut mixture to the egg whites and fold in with a large rubber spatula until nearly incorporated. Fold in half of the remaining nuts, then fold in the rest of the nuts.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake until the torte has risen and is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, or with a little melted chocolate, 25 to 30 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the bottom of the pan and then the baking liner. Turn the cake right side up and cool completely. Cover or wrap tightly, and store for up to 3 days at room temperature.

[Note: if you can't get a hold of unsweetened chocolate, use the darkest chocolate you can buy eg. 70% or 85% and reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe]

Banana, yogurt and mesquite cake :
(based on Pichet Ong’s banana cake recipe, as appears in The Sweet Spot)

78g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g plain flour
30g mesquite flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
85g honey
72g light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
228g roughly mashed bananas
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
130g full-fat plain European style/Greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 175′C. Lightly butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan.

Sift together the flours, baking powder and baking soda and set aside.

Put the butter, honey, sugar, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the mixture on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the bananas and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until the mixture looks lumpy, about 1 minute. The bananas should be smashed, with a few small chunks remaining.

Turn the speed to medium-low and beat in the egg until incorporated. Gradually add the sifted flour mixture, mixing just until no traces of flour remain, about 10 seconds. Fold in the yogurt gently. At this point, you can also fold through a handful of cocoa nibs if you wish.

Transfer the batter to the greased pan. Bake in the center of the oven until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool completely on the rack.

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Survival Guide

BananaPiloncilloCake

(Banana, piloncillo and buckwheat cake, coconut lime sorbet)

I have a new little helper at work. She has been struggling a little bit, since she is relatively new to this kind of job. As a consequence, I have been putting in extra hours and trying to be more patient. Over time, I hope the patience pays off and that she is able to step up and exceed expectations. With a team consisting of just two people, there is no where to hide and no one to hide behind.

Since I’ve been observing her for the past couple of weeks, I have started to reminisce about what it was like for me when I started out. It hasn’t been a very long travelled road of manning pots and pans or whipping egg whites, because I started cooking later than most. Armed with just a desire to learn how to cook, and knowing nothing at all about the industry, I remember rocking up to my first kitchen trial without any knives or uniform. Pretty naive of me, now that I think about it.

Shuna of Eggbeater has written more comprehensively about such things before. However, it still got me thinking about the things I had learned/realised (mostly in retrospect) along the way.

First and foremost (and as cliched as it sounds), you have to really want the job. I remember the head chef saying just that to me during the interview for my previous job. I also remember thinking at the time, what a ridiculous statement. Of course I want the job! I’m applying to work with one of the most amazing pastry chefs in the country. What’s not to want?

That last job was one of the hardest and best experiences of my life. Every day for the first month or two, I wanted to give up. I saw more people come and go than I could remember faces and names. Some packed up and disappeared in the middle of a busy service. Others just didn’t turn up one day. A few were courteous enough to give notice.

Once I just faced facts and accepted that it’s going to be hard, I kept my head down and worked as hard as I could. Tears might happen and defeat might appear imminent, but know that it is worth it, if you stick with it. Some of the most talented chefs I know are a little cocky and arrogant. A little self confidence helps when you are captain of a big ship, but when you’re starting out with a new crew, you have to be prepared to swallow your pride a little.

You should be the first one in and the last one out. Do more than is expected of you. Ask questions, but know when the right time is to ask them. Invest as much time in the place as the place is investing in you. If you contribute enough, you will find that people around you are more willing to share their knowledge. In a busy kitchen, no one has time for you unless you are useful to them. In a busy kitchen, you are either going to be chewed up and spat out, or you will gain an experience you will treasure for the rest of your life. The outcome, is up to you.

But, you really have to want it.

(Recipe to follow)

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