Bagels and schmear.

(Bagel with a pickled onion and herb schmear)

All it took was a 10,000 mile trip to New York and a feet stampingly cold day. A fleeting moment during our two week stay made mostly memorable by that wonderful balance between plate gazing at fancy restaurants and sky gazing up at iconic buildings that once belonged only in the realm of books and movies.

It took just one afternoon as we sat in the park with friends and ate plump chewy bagels smeared with cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon. I recalled dogs on leashes drifting past in coats thicker and fancier than mine. I even remembered declaring before the first bite, that I’d never really been a fan of bagels (beagles on the other hand..!). Amazing how time and place can change your mind.

Ever since that day, I’ve longed to relive our New York experience. The current cooling weather has me yearning for another return trip. This time I want to taste ALL the amazing apples at the markets, and we have yet to try a hot dog from Grays Papaya or a pizza from Roberta’s. I also need more Reubens and pickles in my life, and bagels with schmear eaten while perched on park benches.

In the mean time, I have this recipe to use whenever I’m feeling nostalgic, enjoyed with repeat applications of schmear of course. The schmear is basically good quality cream cheese mixed with whatever flavours you fancy and mine is a mixture of many things I’m currently obsessed with.

Pickled onion and herb schmear :

1 block (250g) cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 tablespoon pickled onion juice
2-3 pickled onions, chopped
1 handful of mixed herbs or peppery leaves (eg cress, radish leaves, parsley, chives) chopped
pinch of chili powder
pinch of sea salt

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process briefly until smooth. Apply thickly on sliced bagels, toast or plain crackers.

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Beetroot cake with cream cheese frosting

(Beetroot cake with cream cheese frosting)

My favourite baking pan is not some third generation heirloom treasure but a ten dollar bargain I once purchased from the department store. As with most things, time will eventually allow that attractive patina of age to settle into it’s spring form frame. In the meanwhile, I’m rather enjoying the fact that nothing whatsoever sticks to it. Not even a batter, sticky with threads of sugary beetroot or slightly singed and caramelised raisins.

I baked this cake a few days ago and several days later, only a small slab of it remains on the kitchen counter. Testament to our greed and the cake’s deliciousness. The recipe is based on Joanne Chang’s classic carrot cake recipe from Flour. If you don’t like beetroot, make it with carrot, and be sure to make it in your favourite baking pan.

Beetroot cake with cream cheese frosting :

2 eggs
200g light brown sugar
150g vegetable oil
3 tablespoons yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
160g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
260g peeled and grated raw beetroot
80g raisins

Preheat the oven to 175’C. Butter and flour an 8-inch cake pan.

In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger.

In a stand mixer, whisk the eggs and brown sugar for about 3 to 4 minutes until light and thick. In a small jug, whisk together the oil, yogurt and vanilla. Slowly pour the oil mixture into the egg mixture, mixing on low speed.

Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture, until just incorporated, then fold in the grated beetroot and raisins. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack before removing it from the pan and covering it in frosting.

For the cream cheese frosting :

250g cream cheese, at room temperature
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g icing sugar, sifted
pinch of salt

Place the cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and salt in a bowl of a mixer. Beat well until smooth and creamy. Set aside until ready to be used.

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A holiday and a carrot cake.

(Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting)

The boy and I are both on holidays this week. It’s one of those unusual occurances normally reserved for a handful of days over the Christmas period. A rarity, in other words. Which also meant that I had really been looking forward to this week.

Unfortunately, I have not been feeling well – one blood test and a CT scan later, and it still remains a mystery. Due to the visits to the doctor etc, we had to shelve plans to do a bit of travelling. This was disappointing not only because I love road trips, but also because I was harbouring daydreams of the two of us renting a little cottage somewhere, walking around in our jammies all day and eating steak with our fingers. Not that we couldn’t have done that at home, but like they say, it’s all about location, location, location!

Still, we are having a ball, lazing around at home. Yesterday we spent the evening watching old episodes of 30 Rock, eating large slices of mince tart and talking general rubbish, as we’re prone to do. All washed down with hot cups of bancha. The mince tart was inspired by the cold weather and some dried fruit marinated in leftover Guinness. The general rubbish was inspired by non-leftover Guinness. Or perhaps not.

This had been a vacation not just from work, but from the things I normally bake too. I’ve been embracing more time-consuming recipes such as puff pastry and breads which we’ve been enjoying for breakfast. Maybe more on those, in a future post. I also took a holiday from my favourite carrot cake recipe, to make Claire Clark’s very carroty and very delicious carrot cake. Worth going on holiday for!

Carrot Cake :
(from Indulge by Claire Clark)

250g wholemeal flour
25g baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
125g dessicated coconut
5 medium eggs
250g muscovado sugar
185ml vegetable oil
500g carrots, grated
125g Californian raisins

For the cream cheese frosting :
125g cream cheese
375g icing sugar, sifted
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
a capful of vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Grease a 25cm deep, round springform cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg together, then stir in the coconut so it does not clump together. Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar and oil together until the mixture becomes pale and has doubled in volume. Gently fold in the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix and lose volume. Finally fold in the carrots and raisins. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

To make the frosting, simply beat all the ingredients together until pale and fluffy.

Turn the cooled cake out of the tin and using a long serrated knife, slice it into 3 layers. Sandwich them together with the cream cheese frosting and spread a third of it over the top.

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