No animals died in the making of my Christmas


DSC_0280Because I am in the process of moving I am using up all the ingredients in my cupboard so that I don’t waste them.  Most of my things have been packed away so what remains is whatever is in the fridge and the cupboards and lots and lots of packing paper which made a handy disposable table-cloth.

This Christmas I decided to go green.  While zucchini and four cheese tart is not technically a vintage cake I am very proud of it and it was the main meal of the day accompanied by salad.

Since baking a pie is well outside my comfort zone the path to success was smoothed by  keeping a bottle handy … to use as a rolling-pin of course.

DSC_0275The recipe for zucchini and four cheese wholemeal tart can be found in the Australian Home Beautiful magazine November edition page 168.  Try it.  It’s good kharma and pigs, cows, chickens and turkeys the world over will thank you.

DSC_0285My table setting included a collection of Lisiathus, family heirlooms and packing paper.  Just cos I’m packing is no excuse to drop standards.

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The vintage part of my christmas lies in the family heirlooms.

The crystal jug belonged to my grandmother.  When  I was young  I would stand with my eyes peering over the kitchen counter and watched as she measured two parts olive oil, one part red vinegar, salt and pepper and don’t forget to shake it.  And to think she always thought I never paid attention.


The silver spoons were a wedding gift to my parents more than 60 years ago.  When my parent were divorced (aged 5), my mother must have taken the wedding gifts as part of her one suitcase allotment.  One day, in one her junk clearing exercises, she gave them to me.  They were unused in their pink satin case, the ‘C’ engraved on their stems redundant to all parties concerned except to me

DSC_0284Finally we’re on to dessert and for this I made apple cake from The Primrose Bakery Book.  Since I am having my own junk clearing experience I had run out of most of the ingredients so had to improvise.  Despite this the cake was a resounding success, even Santa thought so.

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Country Style Christmas

52 Cakes
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Recently I have begun noticing the recipes in the Country Style magazine.  Normally I flip through the recipe section to focus instead on decor and gardens which is the reason I subscribe to the magazine in the first place.  A monthly spread devoted to heirloom recipes has captured my interest because of the preponderance of submissions from retired men.

Now I know men in the kitchen shouldn’t raise eyebrows since most celebrity chefs seem to be men but we are talking about a particular old school demographic which I find surprising.  The recipe for this cake was handed down through his family by Jim Gladders who learnt to cook and sew in the Royal Navy.  Jim, who recently passed away at the 82, had been making the fruit cakes for his family for the past 25 years.

It is Jim’s image you can see in the photograph below.

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This week’s christmas fruit cake smelt luscious from the get go.  It is so moist and dense it literally took hours to cool.  With a combination of whisky, rum and sherry as it’s liquid ingredients I would think twice about driving under the influence of cake.  Jim used to serve it sans icing sugar but with a slice of cheddar cheese and glass of brandy.  It’s a combination I wouldn’t have thought of but one  I aim to try when I can bear to cut into it.

The removal boxes and mounds of packing paper cluttering up my house at the moment offered a suitable background to this moist, masculinist and seriously yummy christmas cake.

The recipe can be found in the December Country Style magazine (Australia) pgs 80-81.



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Wishing you a merry Christmas and happy and peaceful new year everyone.

Candied lemon cake and lemon cupcakes

52 Cakes


I seem to be on a lemon theme. Today’s baking adventures were informed more by my bulging lemon tree than any desire to stick to a theme. I also thought I would like to bake something outside my comfort zone and the candied lemon cake was it. I’ve always been impressed by girls who could do twirly clever things with lemon rinds.

This cake is mix of a small amount of flour, almond flour and a large amount of egg white which gives it body and causes it to rise … and … rise … and … rise, and just when your heart is full to overflowing with the sheer joy of doing something useful on a hot saturday afternoon and saving the environment all at the same time, just when you’re listening to some moody jazz and planning your global eco-friendly lemon cake franchises, the cake falls, sighs or sinks … without warning. Right there in the oven before my eyes was a gelatinous, lemony metaphor for life.

I wouldn’t bake it again for two reasons. The cost of almond flour at $20 for a small bag caused my eyes to water and the incredibly moody and temperamental egg white made this a bad investment and does not lend itself to global franchises.

One good thing that came out of it was that I am well on the way to learning how to make marmalade because the candied topping and twirling lemon rinds feels and tastes exactly like it. So if you hate the cake, then scrape off the marmalade and toss the $20 organic almond meal in the bin. Or give it your neighbour, which is what I am going to do.


I was luckier with the lemon cupcakes which came out well considering I forgot to add butter to the mixture.

Both recipes can be found on the Taste website.


Gluten free lemon drizzle cake with mashed potato

52 Cakes

If you can’t imagine a cake made with mash then you need to try this.


Another light, wondrous cake which is very easy to make.


200 g softened butter (I softened mine in the microwave)

200g golden caster ( I used white)

4 eggs

175g ground almond meal( I used 200g)

250g mashed potatos

zest of 3 lemons

2tsp gluten free baking powder


Heat oven to 180C.  Butter and line a deep, 20cm round cake tin.  Beat the sugar and butter together until and fluffy and then gradually add in the egg – beating after each addition.

Fold in the almonds, cold mashed potato, lemon zest and baking powder.  Folding didn’t work for me. The mixture was lumpy and so I used the beater even though you are not supposed to beat cakes in case they don’t rise.

Pour mixture into the tin, level the top and bake for 40 – 45mins or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out of clean. Turn onto a wire rack after 10 minutes cooling.  I ignored this rule too and plopped it out breaking off a huge, moist chunk of cake.

Icing Glaze

I took the icing from The Primrose Bakery Book‘s orange cake recipe – but substituted lemon for orange.

200gm icing sugar sifted

2tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Drizzle over cake when it’s cold – but of course I ignored that too because I was impatient to begin my photo shoot.

Sprinkle with the zest of one lemon.  (I’ve always been impressed with people who can do magical things with vegetable peelings and now I can too.)

This cake is light, moist and delicious. Have fun telling your friends to guess the secret ingredient.  Nobody will think potato.




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White girl looking for velvet

52 Cakes


“Amy didn’t need money more than anything, especially since all she talked about was getting hold of some velvet.”

“What’s velvet?”

“It’s a cloth, kind of deep and soft.”


Twilight came on and Amy said she had to go; that she wouldn’t be caught dead in daylight on a busy river with a runaway.  After rinsing her hands and face in the river, she stood and looked down at the baby wrapped and tied to Sethe’s chest.

“She’s never gonna know who I am.  You gonna tell her?  Who brought her into this here world?” She lifted her chin, looked off  into the place where the sun used to be.  “You better tell her.  You hear?  Say Miss Amy Denver. Of Boston.”

Sethe felt herself falling into a sleep she knew would be deep.  On the lip of it, just before going under, she thought, ” That’s pretty.  Denver.  “Real pretty.”


Few writers move me the way Toni Morrison does.  Of all the tortured, thrown away characters that inhabit her novels it is the interaction between the white indentured servant Amy Denver and the slave Seth that sit with me and, years after I read the book, can still bring me to tears just by thinking about it.  Both women are on the run from terrible lives and yet find common ground in desperate circumstances.  Sethe is on run from slavery and Amy is heading to Boston in search of velvet and a better life.  Amy as the redemptive figure, saves Sethe’s life and helps deliver Sethe’s daughter Denver into the world.  And it will be Denver, the daughter, who will eventually save Sethe from the soul destroying wreckage of child loss.  Amy leaves Sethe on the river bank and disappears into the mists of our imaginations.  I like to think that she made it to Boston and lived a life that fulfilled her expectations.

As for me, I am happy to report that I did find my velvet.  Blue velvet.  And it wasn’t in Boston but rather, as the experts suggest (and mentioned in my post about the Smurf Cake) a combination of Wilton’s Royal Blue and Wilton’s Violeta (just a toothpick dab of the latter).  While the blue I achieved with these colours isn’t as deep as the Blue Velvet  I saw standing on the counter at Belles in Johannesburg, which also loomed large in my mind long after I left it.   Perhaps, as with most things, the shades of memory distort over time and distance.



These cupcakes were made using the standard red velvet recipe inclusive of the teaspoon of cocoa but substituting red with the Wiltons Royal Blue and a dab of the violet.  Now that the mornings feel tart and the leaves begin to wrinkle, my blue period comes to a close.

Quotations from: Morrison, Toni, Beloved, London, Vintage, 2005.

The Smurf Cake

52 Cakes


Don’t laugh.  This cake didn’t start out as a Smurf  It began with an image of a regal blue velvet.  Something coloured deep, royal and glorious like the coronation cape of the House of Windsor.  I’d seen the majesty of a true royal blue standing on the pristine marble counters of Belles in Johannesburg.  Three layers of deep blue with a clean line of white icing separating each layer and covered all over by stiff snow white butter cream icing.  Yum.  It was much too beautiful to eat.

When I returned to Australia I found myself obsessed by the desire for blue velvet.  I discovered that this is an elusive cake and the more elusive it became, the more I wanted it.  Not even Belles has a photograph of it so I couldn’t derive vicarious joy by going back to their website time and again to look at it.

I scoured the internet for blue velvet recipes but could find none that really lived up to the image cemented in my mind of that fine cake at Belles.  I found recipes for blue velvet with nuts or blueberries and other lumpy things but nothing that matched up to the streamlined majesty of the cake at Belles.  I truly believe in the philosophy of less is more, especially when it comes to cakes, and I wanted the stark simplicity of perfect texture and colour to speak for itself and not be distracted by cheap decoration and confections.  To add anything else, to give in to even the smallest twirl or creamy flourish, would be to destroy the elegance and symmetry of a perfect blue velvet.

All the recipes for Blue Velvet I did find contained one common warning about colour.  For a successful blue velvet, everyone strictly admonished, you must use Wilton’s royal blue colour paste and one dab, ONE DAB, of Wilton’s violet.  The dab must be small enough to sit on the end of a toothpick.

Problem one was finding the right food colouring.  The easily available Queens variety to be found on all supermarket shelves looks royal blue in a bottle but doesn’t have a matching violet mate.  Not only that but appearances can be disruptive.  Royal blue in a bottle without the teeny tab of violet, magically turns into turquoise in cake.

Problem two was texture.  The cake at Belles was so moist it appeared to glisten on the plate.  Eschewing the red velvet recipe because I didn’t want to use cocoa, I decided to wing it by using my white cake recipe.  Logic told me that if my white cake was successful, the addition of a teaspoon of food colouring couldn’t do it any harm.  I was wrong.   White cake doesn’t like to be blue – the texture was heavy and rock hard the following day.

Problem three was the icing.  It’s nearly impossible to whip icing in the 40 degree celsius day we people in Perth called summer.  Cookery books written in the Northern hemisphere don’t factor in ingredients which seem to separate as you’re whisking them.  My icing began to separate and the layers of cake that slid away from each other as the icing quite simply melted.  I resorted to strawberry jam as a type of glue hoping to cement the layers together so that I could ice the outside of the cake.

The strawberry jam only succeeded in making my Smurf look as if it was beginning to bleed.

When I realised I had failed in my attempt to produce the imposing blue velvet as seen at Belles, I opted for quirky and called this cake ‘Vintage Indian Tea Cake with strawberry and roses’.  I threw a dash of rosewater into the icing mixture because I was taken with the picture on the bottle.  I had idle thoughts of ladies in India sitting on large verandas pouring cups of tea out of transparent china.

My neighbour Fiona came to the fence to taste my vintage Indian tea cake.   I explained about the heat, the colour and the poetics of cake.  She liked the taste she said but all she could see was a Smurf.

This post is not to promote the virtues of the Vintage Blue Tea Cake but rather to offer an example of what happens to the colour if you don’t use the toothpick of violet.  I have now managed to get my hands on some Wiltons Royal Blue and Wiltons Violet food colour for another attempt at the elusive Blue Velvet.

Red Velvet with roses

52 Cakes

red velvet slice

Today I learned a lesson about salvage and patience.  I learned that with a bit of creative thinking badly broken things can not only be mended, but emerge with their own form of beauty.

For the post this week I had envisioned an entirely different cake.  I wanted a red velvet surrounded by roses to celebrate the 7th birthday of my niece Annie who lives in South Africa.   Because we live on different continents, I haven’t been able to spend a birthday with her so I wanted to post a picture of the cake.  It had to be perfect – and it was perfect until it was due for the photo-shoot.

As I carried the cake outside it slid off the plate and crashed to the floor where it lay strewn in mangled clumps of cream cheese icing and rose petals.  Every single rose was smashed and the cake was in several disintegrating bits.  I threw the whole lot into a plastic bag too depressed to even to consider salvaging it.

But not my friend who saw the damage as superficial.  While I was telling my neighbour the whole story he quietly put the red velvet back together again.

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2 1/3 cups plain flour

2 tbs cocoa powder

1 tsp bicarb

1 1/2 cups caster sugar

1 cup buttermilk

3/4 vegetable oil

2 eggs

3 tsp red food colouring

2 tsp white vinegar

Fairy Fives sprinkles to decorate

250g full cream cheese

100g butter

1 1/4 cups pure icing sifted

1 tsp vanilla extract.


Prepare oven – 180C

Prepare 2 x 20cm tins

Whisk buttermilk, oil, eggs, food colouring and vinegar in a jug until combined.

Sift dry ingredients together

Make a well and fold in wet ingredients remembering no man will ever love you if you beat the batter to death.  For a cake to rise it needs some air.

To make frosting use an electric beater.  Plonk cream cheese, butter, icing and vanilla in a bowl.  We don’t have to be precious about this – icing is something you can whip to death.  When it’s all soft and creamy apply to cake.

Open a bottle of wine.  You deserve it.


Annie birthday cake

Week 2 – The Blue Moon Birthday Cake

52 Cakes


Mulberries dropped thick and heavy from the trees.  The streets were purple with jacaranda petals.  In a kitchen in the city a young girl stood over a mixing bowl making her father a birthday cake.  This was to be a special cake because she hadn’t seen her father in years, not since the divorce.  The girl was so small she had to stand on a box to see over her mixing bowl which she held tightly against her chest in case it slipped.  She wanted a blue cake with a taste of peppermint.  Blue was her favourite colour and she remembered her daddy always carried a box of mint imperials jiggling in his pockets.

The girl was so excited she hurried through her preparation ignoring the admonishments of her grandmother to concentrate.   When she put the cake in the oven the girl sat on her haunches and stared at it through oven window, willing the cake to rise.  She sat with her nose as close as she dared without burning it.  Hurry up, she thought, hurry up!  Not only that, she was dying to ice the cake.  The best bit

‘You need to learn some patience’ her grandmother said, ‘don’t you know a watched cake never rises.  If you are too anxious the cake will be flat and no man will ever love you.’

Still the girl stared at the cake and first it bubbled then slowly began to rise.  Quickly she made the icing with a touch of peppermint.  She took the cake out of the oven using a pair of her grandmother’s oven gloves and was about to turn it out to cool when something terrible happened.  The cake began to sink in the middle as if it were letting out a huge sigh.

Seeing the girl’s distress, her grandmother quickly rescued the situation.  ‘Never mind’ she said, ‘we can cover the hole in the middle with icing – your father will never know the difference.’  And this in the end is what they did.  For good measure the girl scooped up a handful of jacaranda petals to decorate.  With the petals and the icing done it was impossible to tell that the cake was hollow in the middle.

Soon everything was ready.  The cake was set up in the garden under the tree along with the tea things.  The girl couldn’t wait for her father to arrive and taste it.  Already she felt warm as she basked in his love.  As the afternoon dragged on a big old summer storm rolled in over the mountains.  The sky grew dark and large drops of rain began fall.  ‘Quick!’ her grandmother said, ‘let’s get these things inside.’  The tea things were set up all over again on the dining room table.  It was beginning to grow dark and her grandmother turned on the lights.

The girl sat unblinking at the window watching the driveway as the storm washed the dust off the world and jacaranda petals floated down storm water drains on the road.  The same road her father would come down when he came.  But of course he didn’t.


For the Blue Moon Birthday Cake I used the Best White Cake Recipe from Robyn Stone’s blog ‘Take a Pinch‘ and modified it a little.


1 cup butter

1/2 shortening (I used oil)

3 cups castor sugar

5 eggs

3 cups plain flour

1/2 tsp baking power (I used 1 tsp and 1/2 tsp bicarb)

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.


Preheat over to 180 – if you have a knob with number on it

Prepare 3 x 22 cm cake tins

Cream together butter and shortening/oil until light and fluffy with an electric mixer. Slowly add sugar one cup at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each cup before adding another.  Add eggs one at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each egg before beating in another.  Now Robyn was very pernickity about this in a secret women’s business kind of way and her cakes look delicious, so be sure to do it exactly as she says.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to butter mixture alternatively with buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients (more secret women’s business stuff).  Add vanilla and beat cake batter on high speed for about 5 seconds to fully incorporate all ingredients.  Stop mixer and scrape down sides and bottom of bowl, making sure to have all ingredients mixed well.  (It all smelled so yumptious I just wanted to sick my head into it as if it were a trough.)

I should add two things at this point.  You know how they always tell you to dance like noone is watching because you might be dead tomorrow?  Well don’t.  Not when you have the electric mixer in your hand set on high.  Getting batter off walls is not only a ball ache, it’s a real timewaster.

Also, although I followed Robyn’s secret women’s business instructions to the whisk, I had the niggling feeling that I shouldn’t be beating the batter. My grandmother was of the view that beaten cakes were unhappy cakes.  One should fold and caress she said.

Dump the beaten batter equally in the prepared 3 tins and put in oven for approx 35-40 minutes.

Guess what.  Cakes didn’t rise.


In this type of crisis a lot can be done with icing.  Because Robyn didn’t give instructions for frosting I made vanilla butter cream icing from The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook.  It’s a fabulous book and I use it all the time. Every recipe I’ve used has been foolproof.


Happy birthday Daddy … wherever you are.

Week 1 – Red Velvet with Beetroot and Chocolate

52 Cakes

Before I begin I should explain a few things about my oven.

1. There is a gap in the door.

2. It doesn’t have a thermometer.

3. The dials are so old that the numbering has worn off.  To pre-heat the oven I just point due South and hope for the best.

However they say workers should never blame their tools so lets get started.

Red Velvet with Beetroot and Chocolate.

Aesthetically this cake might look like a chocolate covered anthill and would probably make the people who watch Master Chef flinch but it has a lot going for it.  In fact the recipe belongs to someone who won Master Chef and I took it off the internet.

Unlike popular Red Velvet versions made with red food colouring, the beetroot which colours this cake also creates  a denser texture, undermining the overt sweetness of the cream cheese icing  sandwiched in the middle) and produces an overall mud cake effect.  The whole lot is drizzled with chocolate ganache made with chocolate and cream.

Special equipment: 20cm round cake tin


250g roasted beetroot puree

125 g unsalted butter

100 g dark chocolate

3 large eggs

1 tsp natural vanilla

200g caster sugar

2 tsp baking soda, shifted

Cream cheese icing:

125 g cream cheese softened

1/2 cup icing sugar, shifted

1 tbsp lemon juice

50g unsalted butter, softened

Dark Chocolate Ganache

100g dark chocolate

100ml full cream.


Preheat oven to 180.  Or if you’re using mine point in any direction and hope for the best.

Roast beetroot. Wrap each beet in tin foil and 1 tsp of water so they don’t dry out. Roast for 30 – 40 minutes until they can be pierced easily like a potato.

Remove foil wrapping and cool for 5 mins.  Pulverise with a regular and stick blender.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Beat until combined.

Line a 20cm round cake tin with baking parchment.  I don’t know how to do this so I just sprayed it with oil.

Heat butter in small saucepan on medium heat.  When melted, remove from heat and add chocolate.  When both are melted add to the beetroot mixture.

In a mixing bowl (well you wouldn’t do it anywhere else would you), sift caster sugar, flour, baking soda and dark drinking chocolate (I used cocao) and mix roughly so ingredients are combined.  (remember what my gran said about beating them to death – ingredients need air.)

Add the wet ingredients and fold in so that ingredients are combined. Remember to keep it light.  I needed to add a bit of water to this mix as it was too dry.

Pour into cake tin and bake for approx 45 – 50 minutes.  Don’t open oven too soon or cake will sink and no man will ever love you.

To make the cream cheese icing simply put all the ingredients together with the exception of the lemon (I forgot the lemon entirely and it didn’t effect the cake) and whip until pale and fluffy.

When cake is cooled (and don’t be impatient like me), slice in half, spread the icing mix on one side and sandwich together.  To make the ganache, heat cream until there are bubbles.  Remove from heat, add the chocolate and whisk until it is glossy and smooth.  Apply to the cake using a spatula and some common sense.

To eat:  Turn off the television, pour a glass of wine and open a good book.