Chewy, gooey, crispy, crunchy..


(Hazelnut meringue with chocolate cream and cherries)

Well, it’s been a bit of a mixed year, hasn’t it? If the Mayan apocalypse doesn’t ruin all our plans for the 25th, I’d like to wish everyone reading this, Merry Christmas!

We had friends over for dinner the other day as part of a pre-Christmas catch up. Put two teetotallers and two vinous aficionados at a table and you would think it’d be a recipe for disaster, but it was so much fun. If it takes an occasion like the holiday season for people to finally get together, then so be it. In light of recent bad news happening around the World, I’m reminded of how lucky some of us are to live happy, (relatively) uncomplicated lives and to be surrounded by loved ones, or at least be connected to friends near and far away.

At the end of the evening, dessert was brought out with a bit of a disclaimer. This recipe was new to me and I didn’t know if it would turn out well. What is it meant to be like, they asked? I’d hoped it would be chewy, gooey, crispy and crunchy.

And it was.

The recipe for the meringue comes by way of the brilliant Ottolenghi cookbook. A sweet way to end a meal, Christmas or otherwise.

Hazelnut meringues :

100g egg whites
180g sugar
generous pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 110′C.

In a bowl, whisk the egg whites, sugar and salt together just to combine. Warm the mixture in the bowl over a bain marie until it feels warm to touch, stirring at all times. Transfer the contents of the bowl to an electric mixer and whisk on high until the mixture has cooled down and you have a firm, shiny meringue. Swirl in the chopped hazelnuts and cocoa powder.

Place large spoonfuls of the meringue onto lined baking trays. Bake for about 2 hours or until the bottoms of the meringues feel dry.

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Nutella chocolate cake


(Cracking fresh Yarra Valley hazelnuts)

After our recent trip to Shanghai, I feel the need to slow down again. Shanghai was a blur of crowded streets and brightly lit concrete towers by night. By day, the streets remained crowded, while sunshine sifted valiantly through pale dusty skies. I remember the sounds – of street karaoke, car horns and bicycle bells, of people having animated discussions on park benches, and the shout of street sellers hawking their wares. All overwhelming and exciting at the same time.

My favourite moments were visiting Fuxing Park for a bit of people-watching, and strolling through Dong Tai Road, admiring the collections of objects on display at the antiques market. Quiet little moments you would not expect to experience in such a bustling city.

And now I’m back, incidentally also armed with a few new baking tins that I bought at a massive kitchen warehouse in Shanghai. They’ll be put to use eventually.

This Nutella cake comes via Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess” and was made after something moist and very chocolate-y was requested for dessert. It reminded me of the chocolate orange cake from one of the House of Flour stores in Shanghai. I had not intended to seek out cake during that trip (why would you, when there are so many dumplings and crispy duck bits to be eaten?) but after spending the whole afternoon negotiating the perils of being a pedestrian and getting intermittently lost, it was somewhat comforting to spend just half an hour contemplating nothing more than a piece rich chocolate cake and a cup of tea.

As luck would have it, we bought fresh hazelnuts from a farmers market in Melbourne recently, so these were shelled and ground into meal for the cake. In hindsight, we should’ve bought a bigger bag of nuts and then I could have made my own Nutella too. Maybe next time. Melbourne’s not that far away afterall.

If you don’t have the book, her recipe is also online here. Now I’m off to enjoy another quiet cake-filled moment.

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Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons


(Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons)

The best things I ate this week? Juicy, dribbly, sweet and sour West Indian cucumber pickles, straight from the jar. Plump steamed dumplings stuffed with barbecued eel and spring onions. Misshapen blue corn tortillas piled high with ceviche, pickled jalepenos, avocado, chilli and lime. And this lamington. Turns out the best things in life aren’t necessarily always the prettiest.

My favourite things act as antidotes to the melancholic nature of a season. August feels less friendly when you’ve misplaced a favourite woolen blanket or feel too keenly the cold creep of kitchen tiles on bare feet. Sometimes, it’s also just about wanting a little bit of cake, nothing too heavy, preferably chocolate flavoured, maybe with a sprinkle of coconut and some brown sugar as well, thanks…

Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons :

For the sponge :
6 eggs
140g brown sugar
pinch of salt
125g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

chocolate sauce for dipping (recipe below)
250g dessicated coconut

Whisk the eggs in an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and salt and continue whisking for a few minutes. Sift the remaining dry ingredients over the egg mixture and fold in gently but thoroughly. Transfer this mixture to a greaseproof paper-lined 8″ x 12″ baking tray. Bake in a preheated 175′C oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Once the cake is cooled, peel away the baking paper. With a serrated knife, trim the edges of the cake (or leave it if you don’t mind slightly rough edges on your end product) and split the sponge in half lengthways. Spread filling of your choice on one half of the sponge. Here I’ve used a salted caramel sauce but you can also use cherry jam, chocolate custard or whipped vanilla cream. You can also skip this step if you want unfilled lamingtons. Sandwich the sponge back together and cut into as many squares as you like (12-16 squares, depending on how big you want each portion to be). Dip each square in chocolate sauce and dredge in dessicated coconut.

For the chocolate sauce :
(You can use a more traditional recipe for chocolate frosting, but I prefer this one because it has more depth of flavour and is less sugary. It doesn’t set the way the frosting recipes do, but the sauce soaks in a little and sticks well to each sponge square.)

200g brown sugar
120g cocoa powder
400g water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium pan, place the brown sugar and cocoa. Whisk in the water and vanilla. Bring to boil, stirring. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened. Strain and leave to cool before using.

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