Saturday, 20 July 2019

Charcoal overnight sourdough bread

I think this might be the blackest post I have ever uploaded here.  And that was the dream.  Black as coal.  Black as velvet.  Black as night.  Not quite as admirable as Martin Luther King's dream.  But charcoal bread was something I have wanted to try for ages.  Well, ever since I saw my friend Yaz's black ravioli with beetroot filling.  I was amazed and delighted at just how black it was.

Before starting to make this charcoal bread, I did a bit of reading.  It scared me.  People were talking about charcoal sucking out the nutrients and not being suitable for anyone on medication because it might make it less effective.  It seems this charcoal packs quite a punch.  I wondered if I should add more water or oil because it might dry out the bread.  After reading some recipes, 20g seemed a reasonable amount to add to my regular bread recipe, which makes 2 loaves, or more usually 1 loaf and 8 rolls.

When I added the charcoal, it looked like dirt and I had to stir it well to make sure there were no lumps.  It was blacker than my wildest dreams.  Just look at these photos of the mixture.  I use fine semolina for shaping the dough and it does give a light dusting.  When I showed my mum the photos of the bread she said it looked like Collingwood bread (that is black and white stripes for anyone not familiar with AFL football).  But I couldn't think of alternative flours to use.  Ground black sesame seeds occurred to me but I am not sure if it would work.  And the semonlina did not take from the blackness.  A colleague asked if it was hard to check if it was baked because you would not see it go golden brown. But with the semolina you could see a tiny bit of colour.

One note to make about charcoal powder is that is can leave colour behind but not much.  If you get a bit of the powder on your hands and wipe your face you will look like a chimney sweep.  When I hand kneaded it, the colour washed off my hands.  I had worried it would leave colour on my table but it didn't.  The main residue left was a tiny bit of grey at the bottom of my old mixing bowl where the glaze has thinned.

I often make one loaf and then rolls so we put the rolls in the freezer for lunches.  When the bread came out of the oven I was so pleased I took a couple of warm rolls over to a friends to eat with cheese spread for lunch.  Then I took a fresh roll to Sylvia to eat before gymnastics.  And the rest went in the freezer.

I was really chuffed by the results of my charcoal bread.  It was still lovely and soft.  I was not sure if it dried a little quicker than my regular bread or had a tiny bit of grit or if I was just being paranoid.  I have shown photos of it to quite a few people and did show and tell with my bread at work and gave some to a colleague to taste.  Everyone was amazed.

As well as eating it with cheese spread, we had it with stew for dinner, Sylvia ate it in a fried egg sandwich, I had some with nut roast.  One of the most interesting ways to eat it was spread with vegemite.  I was fascinated to see that compared to the black of the bread, the vegemite looked brown.

Charcoal bread is not quite as impressive as the first landing on the moon (hard to believe it is 50 years ago today and still blows my mind) but this is definitely a great small step for me!

More overnight sourdough bread recipes:
Carrot, onion and poppyseed bread
Chocolate, cranberry and apricot sourdough bread 
Malted loaf with chocolate, figs and brazil nuts
Overnight sourdough bread with mashed potato
Savoury monkey bread
Sourdough fruit bread with poppy seeds
Sourdough cheesymite scrolls

Charcoal overnight sourdough bread
Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe
Makes 2 loaves or 16 rolls or a mix of both

300g of bubbly starter
570g water
20g activated charcoal powder
18g salt
950g of flour

[A few hours before making the loaf, take sourdough starter out of the fridge and feed it so it gets nice and bubbly.]

About an hour before going to bed (or first thing in the morning) mix everything together.  It is easiest to mix everything except flour first and then add flour.  (Make sure you stir in the charcoal well so there are no lumps.)  Use hands to mix if required.  Set aside covered with a tea towel for half an hour.  Knead in the bowl for about 15 seconds.  Cover with greased clingwrap or a bowl cover and leave at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.

Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured board.  Shape into a loaves (or cut and shape into rolls - if doing rolls I let them rise in the casserole as they don't need much in the way of slashing but slashing loaves is hard in the casserole).Place on a floured surface and cover with the lightly greased clingwrap or beeswax.  (I used semolina here.)  Set aside to rise for 30 minutes.  While the loaves rise, preheat oven to 240 C.  I use enamel casserole dishes and don't heat them but used to heat them when I used ceramic casseroles.

Slash the loaves and put in the heated casserole dishes with lids on (or on a tray or in a tin).  Bake for 20 minutes with lid (or foil cover) on.  Remove lid/foil and bake another 20 minutes.  Then reduce oven heat to 180 C .  Bread is ready if it sounds hollow when tapped.  If needed, return to oven for another 10 minutes to make sure the crust is crispy and sounds hollow.  Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing.

On the Stereo:
So Frenchy, So Chic: the unofficial soundtrack of the French Film Festival

Sunday, 14 July 2019

School holidays and Vegan 365: Vietnamese cafe in Coburg

The July school holidays end today on a wintery wet windy day.  It seems to have been a quite holidays here with lots of rest, tv, knitting and drawing.  But upon reflection we were out quite a lot with lots of meals out and some fun times.

I haven't knitted for years but as a student I loved to knit and made myself a few jumpers.  Then lately I decided to knit a patch for a jumper that was falling apart.  I decided to knit more.  A friend gave me some unused wool.  Firstly I made a beanie and decided to make more.  We have been watching Line of Duty on Netflix late at night when I have made some good progress in my knitting (amazing albeit disturbing police drama).  Meanwhile I have shown Sylvia how to knit so she can make a scarf.

At the start of the holidays we went to Olivia Spring cafe (637 Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds).  Sylvia enjoyed wrapping her spring rolls in lettuce and mint leaves.  I had the turmeric noodles with lemongrass tofu, seaweed crisps and heaps of salad.  It was quite spicy for my chilli-avoiding palate but very nice.  It's a shame so much of the menu has mock meat but it is still a nice vegan place to visit.

Sylvia had a week of playdates and staying at my parents before I was off work for a week.  However she did find time to paint my nails.  I can't remember the last time I painted my nails.  Probably sometimes before I stopped knitting.  The photo here is of a vegan sauce in a bun covered with cheese from Bakers Delight.  It was still warm out of the oven and a delicious breakfast while I was out of routine with no child at home.

Actually I had to change a day from my week off to the first week.  It meant I spent the first day of my holiday week at work while Sylvia went to the Cat Cafe with E.  On my day off in the first week while Sylvia was away, I met up with a friend Jane at Gopals.  It is a long time since I have been there but it hasn't changed much.  E and I went a lot before Sylvia was born and it was a challenge to take a pram up the stairs.

Jane and I were over ambitious with ordering the Feast menu for about $12.  It was indeed a feast with lentil soup, kofta, korma curry, 2 salads and a sticky date pudding with custard (out of a squeezy bottle).  I also had a dark green apple and wheatgrass juice which I enjoyed.  It is a great place for cheap hippie food and it is all vegetarian.

My workplace is a fine place for good food.  We had a few farewell lunches before I went on leave.  I really loved the pasta and lentil soup at TiAmo.  I have been to TiAmos many times but this is the best meal I have had there (although maybe it was just perfect because I had been feeling unwell).

The above dish is the Bun Chay (tofu and vegetables on vermicelli with spring rolls $14.50) from Dumpling 88 (88 Grattan Street, Carlton).  It was delicious and so were the vegetarian dumplings.  I figure that this place much be well regarded as we ran into another group from our workplace when we were there.

I went to Purple Peanuts with Sylvia after she got back from my parents' place.  It does such nice Japanese food.  I bought a onigiri rice ball which was lovely but not appreciated by Sylvia.  For myself I had the Japanese vegetable curry.  It was fantastic.  The tofu was nice and crispy.  The rice, the almonds, pickled veg, carrot, potato and rice were delicious with lots of sauce that was spicier than other curry don bowls I have had.

My dad organised for Sylvia and her cousins to go ice skating in St Kilda.  I refused to ice skate after a bad experience years ago.  Sylvia managed to get around the rink.  My brother Paul and niece Ella had a great time on the ice and were reluctant to leave.  Sylvia and I shared a cheese and tomato toastie at a cafe in Acland Street.  She now keeps craving cheese and tomato toasties.  Then we went to the South Melbourne market for churros with chocolate.  It was a cold day and the warm crispy churros were so so good.

I went to the Vegie Bar in Fitzroy with Faye for dinner on a cold wet weekday night.  The sort of night I expect no one else to want to go out. But it was packed and we could only find a couple of seats on the communal table.  We both had the Better than a Big Mac: "Two house-made 100% no-beef patties, special sauce, iceberg lettuce, vegan cheese, pickles & onion in a three-part brioche bun. Served with golden potato fries. $18"  It wasn't quite as amazing as my first time.  The burger patties seemed slightly mushier with less structure.  But it was so fantastic.  I really love a burger I can pick up and eat, and it does imitate the iconic Big Mac of my teenage years.  We also had wonderful crispy rice balls with satay sauce.  But it was too filling for us to have time for dessert.

Being on leave did not give all the time for cooking and blogging that I had hoped.  However I did make two things I had been wanting to try for ages.  I made Smitten Kitchen's Mom's Apple Cake.  It uses an impressive 6 apples and bakes for 1 1/2 hours.  I didn't have a big enough ring tin so I used two loaf tins, and I used lemon juice instead of orange juice.  It was absolutely delicious with a layer of soft apple in the middle and on top but it was rather overbaked around the edges.  My mum says the shape of my tin was to blame.  But it is worth trying again (perhaps with a double lined tin).  I also  made a nut roast for a roast dinner.  More about that later.

We enjoyed seeing Yesterday at the Westgarth Cinema because we had some vouchers left from my birthday.  Firstly it was a pleasure to go to the old Valhalla Cinema where I used to go as a student (and my dad went weekly when he was a kid).

With regards to the film, I feel we (and Justine Clarke) have done a good job in Sylvia's musical education that she is quite familiar with the Beatles.  The film is about a struggling musician who wakes from an accident to find he is the only person in the world who remembers the Beatles.  There is a theme about fame and how it changes him.  But the Beatles huge influence on music/fashion/cultural history is too big for the film to really grapple with.  It does raise an interesting idea to ponder.

We had a day where Sylvia had a haircut, we went to Vegan 365, had cake next door at True North and then went for a swim.  I have wanted to go to Vegan 365, a Vietnamese cafe in Coburg that opened earlier this year.  Inside are tiled walls, plants on table, laminated pictures of the meals and vegan posters (stay calm and go vegan).  It is clean and neat.  Upon arrival we were given a thermos of green tea.

Sylvia ordered spring rolls which came with lettuce and Vietnamese mint $9.  They were piping hot and very good.  I asked for soy sauce instead of the vegan fish sauce.  The staff member nodded and brought her fish sauce without chilli.  Sylvia was disappointed she could not push out the middle easily.  She enjoyed her custard apple smoothie ($6.50) because it tasted of coconut milk and was sweet.  Whereas I enjoyed the spring rolls far more than her drink.

I think I would prefer Vegan 365 in summer.  The dish I really wanted to try is the Vermicelli Dry Noodles with the noodles, tofu, spring rolls and salad.  But it was just too cold and wet.  I needed something hotter.  The noodle soups and curry had mock meat in them.  So I went with the Pancakes (tofu, varieties of mushroom, carrot and bean sprouts, served with Vietnamese mint, lettuce and vegan fish sauce $12.80).  It was really nice, though I not familiar enough with it to know how to eat it neatly with lettuce and mint.  Like Sylvia I was not a huge fan of the fish sauce, something that I am not familiar with.

I would return to try the vermicelli noodle dish.  Next time though I will take cash as the only other option was a bank transfer and mine was playing up so I had to go and get cash to bring back.

Finally I forgot my phone today when we had a ride down the Upfield Bike track so I have a photo of the wonderful street art near Tinning Street from a sunnier day.  It is such a beautiful image of Jacinda Adern comforting a community member after the Christchurch bombing earlier in the year.  If only we had more images of compassion throughout the city.  We were on our bikes to go to Barkly Square for shopping but stopped at Lord of the Fries for a burger and hot dog.  Sylvia got out her drawing book and I got out my knitting and we decided we would make fine crazy cat ladies!

Vegan 365
2 Munro Street, Coburg
Tel: +61-475752121
Opening hours and prices change next week
Happy Cow listing

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

In My Kitchen - July 2019

In my kitchen it is winter.  That means the heater is on because it is so cold outside, it means snuffles and sickness, it means stews and soups.  Despite just wanting to hibernate inside until it is lighter and warmer, life has been very busy.  Work continues to be crazy busy with a new manger, a restructured job and school holidays.  I have some leave this week and hope for some lazy days but I am sure we will get out and about.

Above is my chopping board when I was making split pea soup a few weeks back.  Perfect winter fare.

Winter is also great for baking bread.  Well it means that I don't mind turning on the oven but it does mean the dough rises so much slower.  Above is my latest discovery with my overnight sourdough bread.  It is a scraper I found in my drawers.  Great for cutting dough into smaller pieces.  And when I finish and have to clear up, it is useful for scraping all the semolina into a pile for disposal.

A favourite winter purchase is my Thermos for soups and stew.  I wanted to take soups to work but was fed up with my tubs leaking.  This container keeps the soups and stews warm as well as not leaking.  After sitting in my bag for 4-5 hours the food is nicely warmed but does not retain the really hot state they are in when I pack it.

The Thermos kit comes with a lid and a little bowl on top.  What I really love is the spoon which folds up and clips on top of the lid.  It is such a good spoon that I love to marvel at the ingenuity of the design.  Here you can see some tangine with chickpeas and Israeli couscous in the Thermos.

Here is a piece of artwork that Sylvia did at the local library craft classes in book folding.  I had never heard of book folding before.  If you google it, you can find some amazing artwork.  And I guess if you are in a library, you are not short of old books to use in craft classes!

We bought these vegetarian marshmallows at Aunt Maggies on a wet cold weekend, when Sylvia and I were out giftshopping for farewells at work.  I had a terrible lunch that day at a Fizroy cafe.  Imagine a plate of salad with a piece of onion pie dumped on top of the salad.  Who puts pie on top of salad!  We fared better at dinner at home.  It was only baked beans and fresh bread but for dessert we made chocolate pudding and cooked it topped with these marshmallows.

I have made a few other purchases from Aunt Maggies lately.  This chocolate caramel popcorn with cashews was very good.  The squares of chocolate cookies were ok but a bit bitter and crisp for my liking.  I loved the caramel popcorn with cashews.

I also bought some Truffle paddock black truffle and black garlic salt.  Very fancy and very pricey.  I confess I haven't really used it yet.  It would be very good on some roast potatoes.

This is a few goodies from Aldi.  If we are nearby, we sometimes peruse the middle aisles for bargains.  Most times we pass on everything.  Occasionally we are tempted enough to justify queuing at their registers (the queues there try my patience).  On this occasion we got a cat scratching set (not pictured), charcoal flour, choc chip brioche and lattice crisps.  Also pictured is potatoes from the farmers market.  I am yet to try the flour but the brioche and crisps have long gone.

Years ago I was fascinated by brussels sprouts still on the stalk in British supermarkets.  Now they are appearing in our supermarkets this winter.  I am not sure if it is the time of year or the stalks but they have been perfect tight green sprouts.  I tried to cut up the stalk for the worm farm but it was tough going.  This month our council are starting a trial run of accepting food scraps in the compost bin so I will be able to dispose of the stalk that way.  I like the idea of the scheme and hope it is a success.

At work we have had quite a few people bringing foreign food home after travels.  I brought home a few of these tamarind sweets from China.  They are very soft and not too sweet.  I quite liked them but they did not go down well at home.

My old phone that I bought in 2013 is still hanging in there.  I was reluctant to buy a new phone case but the old one was falling apart.  I hope the phone will keep working a little while longer to make the purchase worthwhile.

Charcoal is all the rage lately.  You can tell that a product is popular when the risk-averse multinationals embrace it.  When I saw this charcoal toothpaste on special, I was curious.  On the brush, it looked like a humbug boiled lolly with the black and white stripes.  The taste was fine.  I didn't notice any difference to my teeth with the charcoal.  Curiosity satisfied.

Sylvia decided she was in need of a new apron which she saw this cute pussy cat apron.  It hasn't had much of a workout yet.  I take some of the blame as I have not have much time and energy for baking lately.  Not unless you include bread and pizza which still are appearing regularly.

Finally I finish with a picture I took of my food photo set up for my macaroni cheese with broccoli.  Winter is presenting many challenges with taking photos of food in natural light.  When light is drawing in early, a favourite place is by the back door.  I often share the space with our cat Shadow who loves to stand at the flywire door to sniff the fresh air or demand to go outside.  Well, we are past the winter solstice and have lighter days ahead, albeit chilly ones.

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event, that was started by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial,  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to peek into more kitchens. 

Thursday, 4 July 2019

10 American recipes for Independence Day in the USA

It is that time of year when bloggers everywhere pay homage to the USA.  To celebrate Independence Day, I have delved into my blog archives to find what seem to me to be quintessentially American recipes.

I do not claim great authenticity as an Australian who has only visited America a few times (and you can see from the sub-par photos in above collage that it was some time ago).  However Australia has drawn greatly on American culinary traditions because like America we have a fine magpie approach to traditions.  As settler societies, we have brought our immigrant traditions and adapted them to a new country.  For the USA, think pizza, tex-mex, pretzels, apple pie, pancakes and scone.  Americans have taken these foods and made them their own.

Before I began blogging I thought I was pretty familiar with American cusine because we had so much of it here: think fast food, hot dogs, apple pie, bagels, chocolate bars.  But as a blogger I became curious about the American that we didn't see so much in the rest of the world: think spoonbread, grits, biscuits and gravy, fried plaintains, Graham crackers, Brown Betty, key lime pie, rice krispy slice etc.  So today I share 10 American foods that comfort and amaze me.

 Five Savoury American Recipes

1. Baked beans
If I have just one thing to thank America for, it would be baked beans.  We always have a tin in the cupboard.  I also love making a big pot of baked beans from time to time with a more traditional flavours of mustard and maple syrup that hark back to cowboy days.  It took me years to discover that baked beans didn't come from a tin but now I like them any way they come.

2. Burgers
Long before I had even heard of MacDonalds style fast food, my dad was ordering the burger with the lot from the local fish and chip shop in a quintessentially Aussie fashion.  But it seems the the idea for putting a meat patty between two buns was popularised in America, even though the original idea is claimed by many.  I have eaten many burgers both with meat and vegetarian in my time, I can tell you what is in a Big Mac and I have experimented a lot with making vegetarian burgers on my blog.  

3. Waldorf salad
Ironically I learnt about Waldorf salad as a kid from a British comedy (Fawlty Towers) but as an adult learnt it originated in a fancy hotel in New York. Apparently it was first made for a charity ball at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1896.  It is a fine simple salad of apples, celery, walnuts and mayonnaise that must have appealed to high society in the last nineteenth century for requiring the fresh ingredients.  (Apparently grapes too but they never mentioned that on Fawlty Towers so I am never sure it is true.)

4. Reuben sandwich
I've never had a traditional Reuben sandwich with corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing but I have had a few vegan versions.  A few years ago I made a great vegan version with vegan swiss cheese, beetroot, sauerkraut, apple and a tomato/mayo/pickled dressing.  It was not at all traditional but I loved it.

5. Stuffing
I confess that the American idea of stuffing remains as mystery to me as their Thanksgiving.  I have tried stuffing once but it didn't work as I expected.  The main problem though was that the chunks of bread are no match for my memories of my mum's breadcrumb and sausage meat stuffing of my childhood.  However I do love how the Americans incorporate lots of other add-ins to their stuffing and still harbour dreams of discovering just how it should be.

Five Sweet American recipes

6. Brownies with peanut butter
Brownies are another recipe for which I am forever grateful to Americans.  A good brownie is my idea of heaven.  I love my chocolate cake on the rich and dense side of the spectrum.  I am sharing a brownie recipe with peanut butter here because although I grew up loving peanut butter on toast, it seems particularly American to add peanut butter to sweet foods.  It not something I bake often because since making this recipe, my daughter has been diagnosed with a peanut allergy but sometimes when I am out I eat a peanut chocolate bake.

7. Chocolate chip cookies
It took until I was an adult and started to eat freshly baked choc chip cookies to appreciate how good they are.  When you have biscuits that are chewy on the outside and soft inside with melting choc chips, it is such a joy.  What a gift Ruth Graves of the Toll House Inn gave us.

8. Doughnuts
I had to include doughnuts for personal reasons.  While they were not invented in America, they were certainly popularised there. And my daughter went through a phase of being fascinated by doughnuts.  We baked lots and ate lots.  But my love of doughnuts started many years earlier.  From my early childhood we used to visit the American Doughnut Kitchen Van at the Queen Vic Market.  They do the best jam doughnuts ever!  My dad though will buy jam doughnuts anywhere - at the footy, at festivals and at a food van.  So you might say doughnuts are from American but they are part of my family.

9. Oreos
When I watched Sesame Street as a child, they would talk of milk and cookies.  It always seemed foreign to me.  I never drank milk by the glass and we never used the term "cookies" for biscuits.  One of the American biscuits that I really love are Oreos because they are so intensely chocolatey and because they are fun for decorating novelty cakes.

10. S'mores
We had lots of bonfires as kids where we toasted marshmallows.  Occasionally we even baked bananas and chocolate in the coals.  But never s'mores.  I confess I still find the idea of melting chocolate and marshmallows on Graham crackers a mystery.  Last year we made Graham crackers and s'mores.  And I made a s'mores slice to play around with the components.  I am all for the crispy toasted marshmallow coupled with melted chocolate even if putting them together is not something I learned to do as a child in America.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Irish Tea Cake, Bloomsday and traditions of baking

When I saw that bookclub fell on Bloomsday (16 June), an Irish contribution to the afternoon tea was in order.  It was time to try Adam Liaw's Irish Tea Cake that was garnering such good feedback.  And it seemed fitting to make one long challenging cake for the day that celebrated one of Ireland's most long and challenging novels, Ulysses by James Joyce.

I was lucky enough to be in Ireland for Bloomsday many many years ago so commemorating the day is a nice way to remember a fun day of travelling around Dublin in the steps of the hero, Leopold Bloom.  It also is a way to remember my honours thesis which looked at literary relationships including the one between Joyce and Sylvia Beach, who was brave enough to publish his difficult book in Paris when lawsuits were being issued elsewhere for obscenity.

Like Ulysses, Irish Tea Cake is not a quick fix.  It requires time and patience.  The fruit is soaked the night before, the cake baked the next day and then it is wrapped for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.  I like to eat cakes warm from the oven so this did try me.  Also I was involved with another book, Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton.

Boy Swallows Universe is a fine poetic slice of life in 1980s Brisbane that I highly recommend.  I almost missed bookclub as I had been too busy to find a copy of the book.  Then I bought it just a week before bookclub.  And what at first propelled me to read it late into the nights was the thought of someone else telling me what happened before I read it.  The the joy of reading took over and I was hooked.  I was glad I finished it.  Even though it meant reading late into the morning and barely having an hour to wrap the cooled tea cake before taking it to the bookclub.

Hence I was pretty proud of myself for arriving at bookclub with my tea cake wrapped in beeswax and the book read from over to cover.  The tea cake was a fine conversation piece and went down very well.  We ate it with slabs of butter, with everyone going back for seconds and one person asking for the recipe.  I had made two smaller cakes so I had one at home to take to work in slices each day for morning tea.  It was wonderful with the fruit soft and melting in the cake.

My mum had made it and told me it was just like the barnbrack or tea brack that you buy in Ireland.  (Cakelaw also sang its praises.)  This was a recipe that is drawn from traditions but is continuing to develop with our modern traditions.  In quite a few parts of the recipe I was uncertain.  It made me reflect on how I learnt to bake with my mum saying "a bit of this" and "a bit of that" which helped develop my confidence in the kitchen.  It is so much harder to learn to bake from a recipe.

So here are my questions:
  • Firstly I could not help but notice the "anachronisms" in the recipe - teabags, clingfilm and even a fridge might not have been part of traditional Irish baking, but then again I reminded myself that traditions have always changed over time and generations.  After all, once upon a time, any dried fruit would have been a luxury in Ireland.
  • How important is it to keep the soaking fruit in the fridge overnight.  Usually I keep soaking fruit at room temperature.  Does it make a difference? 
  • And does the fruit being in the fridge make a difference to the baking?  Advice on recipes often says to keep eggs at room temperature or they will make a difference to baking time.  Does the fruit go in the fridge to slow down the baking.  (Or to imitate a cold Irish kitchen?)
  • What consistency should the batter be?  Adam Liaw says it should be "pourable".  Mine was creamy but clung to the spoon rather than being pouring consistency.
  • Adam Liaw says that the skewer should not be "wet" when testing the cake for doneness.  Well a skewer is often damp from the steam of the heat so this confused me a bit.  Does he just mean no uncooked cake mixture clinging to it (which is my usual way to check)?
  • Why are we asked to make so much glaze?  After lots of experimenting with hot cross buns I have decided one lick of glaze is enough (especially as my mum warned me the glaze could be a bit damp).  So then 1/4 cup of liquid and 1/4 cup of sugar makes a lot of glaze.  Hence I decided to half mine and even then had some over.  Was it meant to be thicker glaze or brushed over until it was used up?

I wish I had the answers to these questions.  While recipes can be harder to follow than cooking with someone with more experience, I think at least being able to have conversations online can help give guidance.  And despite my questions here, I highly recommend this cake to all but the fussiest of kids.

More Irish-inspired recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Guinness chocolate cake
St Patrick's soup and sweet potato soda bread
Irish no knead bread
Seeded soda bread
Shamrock cupcakes

Irish tea cake
Adapted from Adam Liaw in The Age Good Weekend

Soaking fruit:
1 Irish breakfast tea bag, or other black tea (I used Yorkshire Gold)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup dried prunes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries - I used sultanas and a few more apricots

Cake batter:
225g plain white flour
2 tsp baking powder
150g soft brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg

2 tbsp castor sugar
2 tbsp soaking liquid or water

The night before baking the cake, make up tea with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and the teabag.  Cool and add fruit.  Chill in fridge overnight.

The next day when you are ready to bake the cake, drain the dried fruit and keep the liquids.  Grease and line a loaf tin and preheat oven to 170 C.  (I used two smaller 20.5 x 10.3cm loaf tins but one tin would have meant more rise.)

Place flour, baking powder, brown sugar and spices into a large mixing bowl.  Sir in egg, drained fruit and as much of the soaking liquid as is needed to make the batter easy to stir (ie mine was soft and creamy but not a pouring consistency).

Scrape the batter into prepared tin and bake for 75 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean (and not damp).  My cake started to get a bit brown so I covered it with foil after about 30 minutes.

Once cake out of oven, make glaze by simmering sugar and soaking liquid if you have any (or water if you don't) just long enough to melt the sugar.  I did it stovetop but think microwave might be easier next time.  Brush over cake(s) once to give them a shine.  Cool cake(s) on wire rack.

Wrap cake(s) in clingfilm or beeswax for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.  My cake lasted a week easily.  I suspect it would last longer but enjoyed it too much to trial this.  It is excellent spread with butter or eaten plain.

I forgot to cool the tea before adding the fruit.  Perhaps this meant it took longer to cool.  In hindsight I would have added an iceblock or two as I had very little liquid leftover and could have used it in mixing the batter or making the glaze.  I think the beeswax was a sturdier wrap and would use this again over clingwrap (as well as being better for the environment).  If I had cranberries I would be happy to substitute these for sultanas but either seem to work.  This cake is oil free unless you slather it with butter!

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