“Don’t go to too much trouble.” These were the instructions handed to me when it came time to make a Father’s Day cake. Dark chocolate, light, fruity, and not too much trouble. I’ve never liked easy. But my favourite thing about mousse cakes is that they look a lot more complex than the actually are. The same can be said for mirror glaze. Most of this cake just involves pouring things on other things, but it looks like so much more than that.
Every so often I’ll invite Cameron’s parents over to my place for dinner, wherein I unleash a three coarse feat upon them. Aside from just enjoying their company, it’s also a little way of saying thanks for everything they do for me in the best way I know how. I also just love cooking for Cam’s immediate family in general because they love such a wide variety of cuisine and will try just about everything, quite unlike my family. This time we moved the dinner to lunch time, as it’s the middle of winter here and the long drive between my place and theirs is less appealing of a night time. So when it came to planning the dessert portion, I started hunting for something that would feel more on the refreshing side. Dessert-induced food comas are just less fun at lunch time.
I immediately decided on something citrus-ey. The rest of the dessert followed from there and focussed largely on taking quite sweet things and balancing them to make them feel much less so.
It’s been quite a long time since I’ve played around with a joconde. I have a terrible habit of getting stuck on one idea: I’ll bake almost nothing but that for weeks, and then forget it ever existed for a year. So when my birthday rolled around and I had the opportunity to make whatever I wanted with no restrictions, I decided it was time to return to this awesome cakey medium.
So far I’ve mostly used decorating combs for making patterns in the joconde paste. I’ve been wanting to use the sponge as more of a canvas for unusual designs. You always see them with uniform designs on the sides, but I wanted something a bit more picturesque. I had a number of food stencils, but all were a bit bland for what I was thinking. I hit up my favourite cake decorating store and started rummaging through the stencils until I finally found something that was more ‘me’.
Earlier this month it was my boyfriend’s 31st birthday. As the recipient of practically all the goodies I bake, it can be hard to come up with something special for his birthday dinner and dessert and/or cake. This is exacerbated by the fact that his idea of special and mine exist on opposite sides of the planet. I like busy and complex multi-layered cakes of ridiculousness with fancy decorations, he likes chessecake. I started quizzing him on things he’d like me to make for him and got nothing except requests to make cakes I’d made for previous birthdays. Unsatisfied with that answer I sent him to rummage through my recipe books for ideas.
He returned with an A4 list of cakes. He’s about as decisive as I am.
They were almost all cheesecakes and tea cakes, save for the bread and butter pudding he’d very subtly circled. I resigned to banishing any idea of spectacular gateaux from my mind and baking him a cheesecake instead (whose birthday is it anyway, right?).
I took a basic baked cheesecake recipe and decided to load it with a few of his favourite things.
There’s this thing people at my fruit shop seem to do in abundance that I’ve never understood. Maybe they do it at yours too, or maybe you are even one of these people and can explain it to me? When buying a bunch of bananas, these people become dissatisfied with the number of bananas on the bunch. Maybe there’s 5, but they wanted 4. So instead of just buying the whole bunch of bananas and eating an extra banana, they’ll tear one or two off until it’s the number they want. Nobody else wants the solo rejected bananas, so they sit there, ripening until they’re too ripe to sell.
Fortunately my fruit shop is one of those that has a whole section devoted to the less desirable fruit sold for a large discount, and here’s where these rejected bananas finally find a home. You can usually get a bag of a dozen assorted over-ripe bananas for $2. They’re perfect for baking banana cakes and bread, or for mashing up and adding to a pancake flour mixture for something a little different. If I’m not using them straight away, I’ll pop them in the freezer for when the opportunity to bake arises. But since we’re in the middle of such a hot summer, baking is a no go at the moment. But there was an idea I was introduced to by one of my deviantART watchers during the winter that I’ve been dying to try out: making ice cream using only frozen bananas.
I’m the kind of person who never read recipes first. I’ll be flicking through a cook book, see a picture of something that looks good, quickly browse the ingredients and if I have most of them get started straight away. If it’s a standard thing I’ll have trouble even following the recipe, I’ll just use the quantities and the general order of ingredients as a guide.
About three years ago I saw this recipe for apple confit and needed to make it. After dinner was done and people were washing up I started on this recipe. It obviously wasn’t a standard thing so I followed the recipe as I went along. I put the confit in the oven and referred to the next step to see what I had to do once it was out of the oven. Then I saw it: “Refrigerate overnight until firm”.
I announced we were eating it warm, unfinished and accompanied and resolved to return to it properly prepared one day. One day took quite a while to come around again. But when it did, I was prepared this time.
When we’re doing the grocery shopping, we’ll inevitable turn down the aisle with all the jellies. Next to all the various types of jellies is a shelf full of box-mix chilled desserts, amongst them a packet for jelly slice. Without fail, every single time Cameron will ‘notice it’ and mumble some variation of ‘mmm, jelly slice’. This is always a not-so-subtle hint towards me that next time I’m thinking of making a dessert, I should make jelly slice. Or even if I’m not thinking of making dessert, I should make jelly slice. Or basically that jelly slice should spontaneously happen pronto. So I decided to surprise him with a batch one weekend.
Jelly slice isn’t something that was a part of my childhood, or even adulthood, but it was very much a part of Cam’s. It was a dessert his Oma used to make for them all, and has continued on to be one of his favourite things. I was yet to try it for myself, so it seemed like as good a time as any to see what all the fuss was about.
Jelly slice is a tri-layered Australian dessert. It consists of a biscuit base, a cream, custard or cheesecake centre, and a layer of jelly on top. It’s delicious and incredibly simple to make.
One of the very first things I ever made for Cameron was a peanut butter slice. It was mostly born of a couple of chocolate failures in my early baking days. The chocolate I was working with seized and I didn’t want to waste it, so I whipped it up into some sort of icing. I raided the cupboards for whatever else I had on hand and made a peanut butter slice to go beneath the icing. I thought it was a bit rubbish, but he loved it and regularly nags me for another.
This weekend just gone was Father’s Day in Australia, and we’d planned a gathering with Cam’s immediate family. We had a gorgeous lunch at an Indian restaurant and went to his brother’s place for dessert and chatter. All the ladies usually bring some dessert or munchies along. I was making a mudcake for his dad and figured I should also bring something vegan so his brother and sister-in-law could eat it too. Veganising a basic peanut butter slice seemed an easy way to finally give Cameron the slice he wanted while creating something everyone could enjoy.
I’ve got a jar of dirt. And guess what’s inside it?
I love jar food. It’s so quirky and cute and rustic and just ticks all my aesthetic boxes. It used to be so rare to happen across but now it’s everywhere. It’s even all over MasterChef, and once MasterChef is doing it you know everyone is going to be doing it.
But I have a serious problem. Every time I see jar food, I get a particular sing-song voice stuck in my head. I’ve got a jar of dirt. I’ve got a jar of dirt. And then it’s stuck in my head all day, until I start singing I’ve got a jar of dirt and it gets stuck in everyone elses head. There was only one way to deal with it, and that was to replicate it with food.
On a fairly regular basis I’ll ask my partner for ideas of things to make for him. I tend to ask hoping for some super complex brilliant idea of a dessert he’s wanted for ages but has been some unattainable challenge of epic proportions. But usually, he just wants custard. So I tend to ignore that and make something else anyway. I guess what I’m really asking is, “What do you want that I want you to want?”
Ever since we started going out and I started cooking for him and asking him for ideas he’s asked me for panna cotta. I usually put it off due to its perceived ease. 6 years later, I thought it was about time I finally obliged.
One morning before we headed off to the football I decided to whip up a quick batch of it. I kept it a surprise and wouldn’t tell him what I was making when he asked me. I was almost finished. I strained the mixture into a jug, left it to rest on the sink and turned away to find a safe place to rest the still hot pot it had cooked in. That’s when I heard it. The thud of the unattended jug falling into my sink. I turned in time to see almost the entirety of the mixture swirl down the drain.
Maybe it was trying to tell me something.
There was enough left for a small serving, so I dejectedly poured it into a mould and gave it to him for dessert. He reported that it was the best panna cotta he’d ever tasted. I don’t know if that made it better or worse.
Take two happened a couple of weeks ago. Delicious, but it didn’t end up perfect and pretty like I wanted. So this weekend I embarked on take three. That’s what I get for sneering at this simple dessert. And I suppose the triple batch of panna cotta in the last month is exactly what Cam deserved for waiting so long.
But don’t be fooled by my dose of karma. This is an incredibly simple dessert, and the result is ever so rewarding.