A Cinnamon Tea Cake

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

― Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Is there a more tempting smell than the waft of a hot, fresh cinnamon and sugar sprinkled doughnut on a crisp, clear morning? Years ago I used to walk past a small doughnut stand called ‘Lil Orbits’ every morning as I made my way up Queen Street in Central Auckland on my way to school – even now just thinking of that smell makes my mouth water – they were little morsels of perfection.

I’m extremely liberal with cinnamon in my kitchen – it finds its way into dishes both sweet and savoury. I love Greek food of all kinds where it seems to be used in virtually everything, but I especially love cinnamon in cakes and sweets.

Cinnamon is such an ancient and evocative spice, although usually so underrated – of course, everyone has a jar of cinnamon somewhere in the kitchen, it’s so ever-present as to be virtually forgotten and that is what makes it so perfect for this recipe, where it really shines.

I love any dish that I can knock together from things I already have in the house – this cake is perfect for those times when you have friends coming for afternoon tea and you want to fill the house with the smell of baking. Cinnamon, vanilla, freshly baked cake. It has a beautifully light, soft crumb and a much more interesting flavour than the simple ingredients would suggest.

CINNAMON TEA CAKE

180g unsalted butter, cubed, softened

185g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large eggs

225g plain flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp mixed spice*

125ml milk

Topping:

1 Tbsp butter, melted

1 Tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 170°C. Line the base of a 20cm round cake tin with baking paper and grease and flour the sides. Beat the butter, vanilla and caster sugar in a mixer until pale and creamy (about 6-8 minutes). Add the eggs one by one, mixing well between each addition.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and mixed spice together. Gently beat or fold in about half of the flour mixture, followed by half the milk. When milk is incorporated repeat with the rest of the flour and the remaining milk. Spoon into prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for approximately 50 minutes checking with a skewer inserted in the middle that the cake is done.

Cool for 15 minutes in the tin. Mix the cinnamon and the caster sugar for the topping together. Turn the cake out and brush the top with the melted butter before generously sprinkling with cinnamon sugar.

*If you can’t find mixed spice (here in Germany it doesn’t seem to exist – I managed to find something similar at a small shop in the Turkish Quarter) try a little bit of allspice instead.

 

 

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A Peach Tart for a Grey Sunday

Munich is beautiful in the summer, however the last few days have been unrelentingly hot and humid with none of our usual clear alpine sky showing through the high cloud. It was with relief that a huge thunderstorm rolled in last night and cleared the air, and a pleasure to wake up this morning to a cool, overcast day with gentle rain watering the balcony plants. A perfect day to spend in the kitchen, pottering around drinking lots of tea and listening to chilled music. A rest, a pause to recharge before the busy coming week.

I’ve had a couple of trays of Plattpfirsiche (or flat/Saturn peaches) sitting in the fridge for a week or so waiting patiently to be turned into jam. I’ve loved these peaches since first moving to Germany – they have such a delicate sweet peachy flavour and come away from the stone without sticking so they are easy to eat. Every year during their relatively short season they end up as breakfast several days a week, but I’ve been meaning to cook with them before they all disappear. Today, rather than a jam boiling day, felt like a cake baking day so I “borrowed” a few peaches from my stash to bake into this delicious tart I saw in Donna Hay magazine earlier in the year. The original recipe calls for figs, which I love, but in the spirit of household harmony I made it today with a fruit that we both enjoy.

This tart is gorgeous and rustic to look at, a breeze to make, has an incredible nutty, sweet, honeyed flavour and is so easily adaptable to whatever fruit you have in the house – it has a feel of a frangipane tart about it so would undoubtedly suit pears, peaches, plums, apricots or even berries. Perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon with a big dollop of crème fraîche, some slow jazz on the radio and a good book.

Peach, Honey & Almond Tart

(barely adapted from Donna Hay)

130g unsalted butter, softened

165g caster sugar

1 Tbsp finely grated lemon rind

1 Tbsp finely grated orange rind

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

3 large eggs

180g almond meal

75g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

80g flaked almonds

3-4 peaches, sliced (or other fruit to fit)

honey for glazing

Preheat oven to 160°C (325°F). Grease and flour a 26-28cm loose bottomed tart tin. Put butter, sugar, lemon and orange rind and vanilla seeds in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for about 6 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time beating well to before adding the next egg. Add the almond meal, flour and baking powder and mix to combine. Fold in the flaked almonds. Spoon into the tart tin and spread until smooth. Place the peaches into the almond filling, pressing down slightly. Place the tart tin on a tray and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and, while still hot, brush with honey. Serves 8-10.

 

A Lemon Tart

As an Antipodean, the European January can be quite a daunting prospect. Growing up in New Zealand, January meant school holidays, weeks at the beach, sun tans, sun burns, barbecues, salads, scorching hot days, droughts and as it drew to a close, the dreadful knowledge that come February you would be sitting in a stuffy, un-airconditioned classroom, wearing a too hot school uniform and dreaming of the beach.

Having lived in London for a couple of years and now here in Germany for my third January, one might think that I would be well and truly prepared for this cold, grey month. Old habits however, die hard, and rather than caving to the demands of the season I find myself shopping for (outrageously expensive and admittedly terrible) hot house tomatoes from Holland or strawberries from Egypt and desperately trying to inject a little sunshine into our diet.

Luckily, the saviour of the season is citrus. For my birthday last year my friend Abby gave me a beautiful cookbook by Diana Henry ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’ – full of wonderful recipes with a Middle Eastern / North African / Mediterranean feel. Alongside all the brilliant recipes are some excellent quotes, and a favourite is this from Katherine Mansfield:

‘It is winter now… but the oranges, tangerines and lemons are all ripe; they burn in this clean atmosphere – the lemons with gentle flames, the tangerines with bright flashes, and the oranges sombre.’

And so with a bowl of lemons looking at me invitingly from the kitchen table, and a huge number of egg yolks left over from the double decker pavlova (another story for another day) there could only be one answer. Lemon tart.

Despite all my baking, I don’t actually have that much of a sweet tooth, but I am dangerous around two things. Pain au chocolat, and Tarte au Citron, meaning any visit to France is basically a whirlwind tour of all things patisserie / boulangerie.

After scouring my cookbooks and every online source I could think of I eventually settled on the Australian cook Donna Hay’s recipe (sorry Mary Berry! You were a close second!) for a classic lemon tart and it is every bit as lovely as you might imagine. Pâte sucrée or sweet shortcrust pastry can be, let's be honest here, a freaking nightmare, so this is not a tart to knock together when you’re feeling a bit 'fragile' – rather, when you have some quiet time alone in the kitchen for a couple of hours, and have an occasion when the cool and simple elegance of a lemon tart will suit. Trust me, it's worth it in the end.

Adapted from Donna Hay's lovely recipe which you can find here.

 

Click on the image to view full size recipe card

And just in case you were wondering, in the name of research I DID try the infamous Glühbier at the Christmas markets and was pleasantly surprised. Who knew sweet, hot beer could be drinkable!? Maybe just the one though.

 

December

Well, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Munich – the Christkindl Markets are in full swing, filling the air with the smell of Glühwein, cinnamon, roasting chestnuts and all those hunger-pang inducing cold weather Christmas smells that still seem so exotic to me. The Christmas carols at work are only playing every 5 songs or so, and haven't yet reached the relentless barrage of the end of December. The grey days of late November have been replaced by clear blue skies, and the drizzle by an icy crispness in the air. I think Munich is beautiful at most times of the year (with the marked exception of January and February), but the four weeks of Advent are particularly lovely.

The German Christmas markets are really a special thing, and while there may be more famous ones, our markets here in Munich are a real seasonal treat. From the smaller ones like that at the Rindermarkt (this year selling a dubious Bavarian inspired 'Glühbier'), to the enormous Marienplatz market in front of the town hall, and underneath the biggest Christmas tree I have ever seen, to those a little further out like the Medieval Christmas Market at Wittelsbacherplatz, where every stallholder, performer and cook is dressed in period costume serving up delicacies of the 1300's, they all have something really special to see and do. Naturally the highlight for most people is a warming mug or three of Glühwein to keep the cold at bay.

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Bread

“If you ever stop to read the list of ingredients in your average supermarket bread, with its emulsifiers and fungicides and stabilisers, you'll be amazed at how little goes into a proper old-fashioned loaf: flour, salt, yeast and water. And that's it. If ever you needed an incentive to make your own, you've got it right there.”

Gordon Ramsay – Ultimate Cookery Course

Amen and hallelujah to that! Bread is such a staple of the diet, consumed across the globe in nearly every culture in various incarnations. It is the very essence of homeliness – is anything really more inviting, more hunger pang inducing than the wafting aroma of baking bread? So how did we go so horribly wrong, pumping our shop bought bread full of preservatives and chemicals?

Time. Time, time, time – bread, generally, requires patience. Kneading and resting and rising, proving, baking – often doesn't fit into the every day pace of life – and so, long life supermarket bread was born, and bread making, if at all, is often relegated to the weekend.

Now I love a slow risen, artisanal bread, lovingly crafted over 24 hours as much as the next person, however the reality is that I need day to to day bread as well – for toast in the mornings, sandwiches for work lunches, grab-a-slice-and-go kind of bread.

And if I told you I had a recipe that takes just over an hour from flour in a bowl to two loaves of lovely seeded bread cooling on a rack? Impossible? Think again.

 

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Chocolate Cake…

Is there any greater childhood culinary pleasure than carefully removing the icing from a cake (or the inside of biscuits) for devouring solo? The cake was definitely second fiddle to that luscious icing, full of sugary goodness (and free from the risk of nasty chunks of glacé fruit, or heaven forbid, raisins those enemies of childhood enjoyment).

Now of course, I like to think I’m a grown up and have headed entirely in the opposite direction. I always love the look of those beautiful buttercream frosted creations but they seem too sweet for me – not altogether surprising given the amount of icing sugar involved – so I favour cakes that can stand alone with just a light icing, or, dare I say it, naked – wearing a dusting of icing sugar and a smile.

 

Which brings us to today’s recipe. So often chocolate cake is just a disappointingly dry creation lurking under mountains of ganache to hide it’s shortcomings. Well, never fear, this cake may be small, but it is lusciously rich, soft, and moist. There are no special essences or unusual flavourings, just a deliciously unadulterated chocolate cake done right. Simple pleasures.

 

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A few of my favourite things…

Well, alongside doorbells, sleigh bells and the questionable 'schnitzel with noodles' (naturally), 3 of my favourite things in the culinary world would be pastry, cheese and any type of relish or pickle – a trifecta very hard to beat. I can be a total pastry purist – and there is something soothing, isn't there, about making your own pastry? Rubbing the butter into the flour, not letting it get too warm, rolling and crimping and cutting and blind baking… A feeling of wholesomeness, and I guess for many a lot of fear – I mean, you never really know how perfect your pastry is until you take that first bite of crumbly, flaky, loveliness, and finally know you did well and everything is alright with the world.

 

This pastry purism meant that I came late to the wonders of ready rolled puff pastry (and even then, I will cheerfully spend hours hunting all over Munich for the alarmingly named 'Tante Fanny's Puff Pastry' as it's the only one actually made out of butter) but I am officially converted. So in contrast to the cool, grey weather outside, today's recipe is delicious, light, fluffy, savoury, rich, mini Goat's Cheese Tarts.

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Guilty Pleasures…

Well, chilly Autumn has arrived in Munich with a bang, and despite this being my absolute favourite season anywhere in the world, I have succumbed to a hideous seasonal cold. Still, with some time cooped up in the house and mostly in bed, it gives me a moment to slow down, drink lots of tea, read some of my favourite cookbooks, and generally indulge myself with lots of stodgy winter food (and my OH's incredible chicken-soup-for-the-soul – a sure fire cure for any nasty winter ills).

As such, with my mother here visiting, and some time off last week we have been hard at work in the kitchen – filling the house with all those gorgeous smells from pickle and chutney making, as well as a trip across the border into Austria last week (what better to do on a German national holiday than skip across the border to Austria to do some shopping?) to visit the historic town of Küfstein – only just over an hour away from Munich and a hidden gem.

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Plum crazy…

For the last few weeks I have been obsessed with plums. Strange, as winter is finally coming to an end here (still cold!!) but plums are well out of season so shouldn't be anywhere in sight. Oddly enough there are suddenly plums available everywhere – loads of varieties coming in from such far flung places as South Africa and Chile (I guess it has to be Autumn somewhere in the world) and of course I haven't been able to resist buying masses of them.

When I was a kid, my wonderful grandmother always made the most amazing plum jam with huge Black Doris plums that she grew in her orchard. She always left the stones in the finished product – ostensibly because she liked to suck on them – like natural candy I guess – but of course I now realise that the stones would have helped set the jam. Either way, my grandmother made amazing preserves and her jam was an absolute treat.

While I haven't been able to get my hands on any beautiful Black Doris plums, jam making was definitely on the agenda – as well as Nigel Slater's delicious sounding Plum Chutney – and what to do with the rest? I couldn't resist a Plum Cake – and to round it all off, Baked Pork Chops with Plums and Cider.

Recipe to follow…